The story behind Falcons coach Arthur Smith's new look

Falcons coach Arthur Smith, along with defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, showed up to training camp with new facial hair following a USO Tour in Eastern Europe. John Bazemore/AP Photo

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It’s jarring at first, the unexpectedness when you see the face of Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. Now in his third season, he’s gone through a variation of facial hair. There’s been the clean-shaven period, the bearded look.

And now, there’s how Smith started training camp this week: With a mustache.

“It’s a lifestyle change,” Smith said. “It’s not for everybody.”

It’s also been in the works for about a month for both Smith and his defensive coordinator, Ryan Nielsen. The mustachioed duo began their growth in June, when Smith and Nielsen went to Europe as part of a USO Tour, along with players Feleipe Franks, Younghoe Koo and Lorenzo Carter and Steve Cannon, a West Point graduate and Airborne Ranger who is the vice chairman of Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment.

They met with troops, toured bases and the Falcons committed to funding the construction of a USO base in Bulgaria.

Koo called the trip “a humbling experience” to see how troops live their lives daily and what they go through and the sacrifices they make to protect the United States. Smith, whose father served in the military, said they traveled throughout Eastern Europe to places he never expected to visit, including Romania.

“It gives you a lot of perspective,” Smith said. “Certainly, going to Eastern Europe was eye-opening in a great way and getting to visit those troops, you realize how young they are. Eighteen, 19, 20-year-old soldiers when we were visiting the US Army post.

“Unbelievable perspective.”

But in the downtime, Smith and Nielsen found something else to do -- start their facial hair journey. Nielsen, who had a beard pre-mustache, said it’s been “a long time” since he’d been clean-shaven and that his beard “had its time,” and now “it’s the ‘stache.”

“You get on a trip with a bunch of guys and stuff happens,” Nielsen said. “This is one of the outcomes.”

To be clear, the mustache plan is not a superstition thing. It’s not a harbinger of luck or hope. It is not tied into the Falcons upcoming season and neither Smith nor Nielsen committed to having mustaches for the entire season. But it’s been a point of conversation among the players during training camp.

Koo said Smith asked him to also grow out a mustache, but the Atlanta kicker knew it was not a look he could pull off. Koo tried. It failed. But it’s created a buzz throughout the Falcons locker room.

Franks started to grow a mustache, as did linebacker Troy Andersen. Carter said they talked to him about growing a mustache but “I couldn’t rock the ‘stache like the coaches do. But hey, I love it. I love it…for them.”

“Can’t really say what I want to say,” running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. “But I f----- love it.”