Sources: Falcons expected to hire Jags assistant Smith as coach

Updated: January 23, 2008, 5:21 PM ET
By Michael Smith | ESPN.com

The Atlanta Falcons are expected to select Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith as their next head coach, according to league sources. An announcement could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

Sources close to Smith told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli that the Falcons offered Smith the job on Wednesday.

Smith, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (who withdrew from consideration to remain with the Cowboys), and highly-regarded defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, late of the Baltimore Ravens, each interviewed with Dimitroff after the Falcons hired the former New England Patriots college scouting director on Jan. 13.

Frazier, the most recent entry, really impressed new Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and is believed to have been the Falcons' second choice.

But Smith, 48, won over the Falcons with his combination of intelligence, communication and organizational skills, and strong knowledge of personnel. Most important, the team believes Smith to be the most professionally compatible with Dimitroff.

Smith has coordinated Jacksonville's defense the past six seasons. The Jaguars finished 12th in total defense in 2007 after ranking second in 2006 and sixth in 2005. From 1999 to 2001 Smith served as defensive assistant/defensive line coach for the Ravens, helping Baltimore win Super Bowl XXXV after the 2000 season. In 2002, Smith replaced current Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio as linebackers coach.

A Tale Of Two Cities

It was the best of defenses, it was the worst of defenses. With apologies to Charles Dickens, that's what the numbers say about the Jaguars under defensive coordinator Mike Smith and the Falcons, who offered Smith their coaching job on Wednesday:

Jaguars Defense, 2003-07
Season Opp. PPG NFL Rank
2007 19.0 10th
2006 17.1 4th
2005 16.8 6th
2004 16.0 6th
2003 19.8 18th

Meanwhile, in the past five seasons in Atlanta, the Falcons have never allowed fewer than 20 points per game.

Falcons Defense, 2003-07
Season Opp. PPG NFL Rank
2007 25.9 29th
2006 20.5 T-15th
2005 21.3 18th
2004 20.6 19th
2003 25.5 31st

Despite their interest in Steve Spagnuolo the Falcons decided it wasn't in their best interest to wait another week to interview the New York Giants defensive coordinator until after Super Bowl XLII, when the league allows, a source said.

Two factors led to that decision not to wait to interview and likely offer the job to Spagnuolo, with whom Dimitroff struck up a friendship when the two worked together in the then-World League of American Football and whom some believed was the leading candidate.

First, the Falcons feared being left at the proverbial altar -- again. Bobby Petrino resigned as head coach after 13 games last season. Bill Parcells spurned owner Arthur Blank's offer to run the entire football operation and chose Miami instead. Last week both Garrett and Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell pulled out of the running. The Falcons' brass worried they would wait another week, only for Spagnuolo to perhaps remain in New York. Spagnuolo and the Giants already denied one Falcons' request to interview him earlier this postseason, therefore prohibiting a possible second meeting this week.

Second, the longer the Falcons waited to hire a head coach the less likely he would be able to assemble what the team believes is the best possible coaching staff.

The Falcons' search also included meetings with Tony Sparano, since hired as the Miami Dolphins head coach, and Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prior to Dimitroff's arrival.

Michael Smith covers the NFL for ESPN.com. NFL writer Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com contributed to this story.

Michael Smith

NFL Senior Writer
Michael Smith joined ESPN in July 2004 as a National Football League senior writer for ESPN.com, covering league news and major events such as the NFL Draft, NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl, and continues to write breaking news stories. He is also a correspondent for E:60, ESPN's first multi-themed prime-time newsmagazine program, which debuted October 2007.

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