FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Arthur Smith tried to get sleep Wednesday night. The first-year Atlanta Falcons head coach didn’t say how much, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it wasn’t the easiest time to pick up a full night’s rest.
The next day -- Thursday -- would be too important. Too much of what he’d been working toward for years. For all the work he did in the spring during offseason workouts, this is a little bit different. This is the true start to the lead-up to the actual season.
“You’re restless. You’re excited. It’s like the first day of school,” Smith said. “But once that horn goes ... we’re on.”
And with that, it’s Smith trying to balance his dual roles with the Falcons – head coach and offensive playcaller. The spring, Smith said, helped. So does the trust he has in defensive coordinator Dean Pees and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone. While Smith may call plays, he relies on Ragone to organize and make sure it all works smoothly. That trust allows Smith to do what he did Thursday and wants to do daily: Be a little bit of everywhere to make sure he’s the coach of the whole team, not just the offense.
It’s something he worked through mentally in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s first practice. He looked at practice periods, saw who would be where and decided where he would spend his time.
“And then, sometimes, it’s improv,” Smith said. “You may see something you want to fix over here. So adjust on the fly.”
It’s not clear how much adjusting versus sticking to his plan Smith did on Day 1, although he did have a packed post-practice schedule: Media obligations, watch film, talk to his coordinators, meet with special teams, meet with the whole team, offensive meetings, defensive meetings, a walkthrough. More meetings. Then, who knows, maybe try to sleep again.
Smith had been through all of this before, just in a different situation -- as a position coach or offensive coordinator, not as the head man.
But before all his post-practice work, he had a practice to get through. A tempo and message he wanted to send and create. The style he wants his team to play with.
“It’s deeper than the message. It’s about putting the product on the field, about putting the work in,” defensive lineman Grady Jarrett said. “He made it clear, we’re not going to be about slogans and all this whatever it may be.
“The best player is going to play. The toughest dude is going to play and ain’t no fluff. Going to try to get the best out of everybody day in and day out and I can’t do nothing but respect it. I love that about him.”
That attitude is almost expected. It’s how Smith has essentially approached everything since he was hired. It goes back to the tone he wants to set, the messaging he’s trying to instill. And that starts with the little things, like making sure even though he knows he’s going through some trial and error himself, that he’s moving around and being part of everything every day.
“Just being direct and honest the whole time since we had them in the spring,” Smith said. “You build them up in the way that the rules were in the spring and now you’re out here and you’re getting them in full-speed reps.
“They know what the expectation is when we talk, have a team meeting every day and then out here, a lot of it is pushing them and getting them to understand how we want to practice. And it’s new.”