On Sunday afternoon Mike Smith will lead the Atlanta Falcons onto the field inside the Georgia Dome when they host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship and battle for the right to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVII.
Smith – a standout linebacker for East Tennessee State from 1978-81 – has enjoyed a lot of success in Atlanta after being named head coach in 2008. Over the last five seasons, Smith has compiled 57 wins and was named NFL Coach of the Year after guiding the Falcons to an 11-5 record in his first season at the helm.
During his time playing inside the Mini Dome, Smith etched his name into the Buccaneer record book as his 186 tackles in 1981 mark the most in program history. Smith was also a two-time Defensive MVP selection and considered one of the best players in the Southern Conference.
Earlier in the week, the ETSU Athletic Media Relations Department had a chance to catch up with former teammates and support staff members to reminisce about Smith as a player in the Blue and Gold. Below are their comments regarding Coach Smith.
Mike Brown – Linebacker – 1979-81
“I played a few seasons with Mike. I considered Mike a man among boys and looked to him as being an extension of the coaching staff. Mike is a great guy and a class act.”
Steve Meyer – Center – 1977-80
“The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Mike Smith is his intensity. I was the starting center and he was the starting linebacker, so it suited me just fine that we didn’t have to face each other much since the first teamers didn’t go head-to-head very often in practice. Mike’s hitting ability was amazing and he was a very smart player. It should be no surprise regarding all the success Mike has brought to the Atlanta Falcons, because he has surrounded himself with great people and I’m a firm believer cream rises to the top. I’m very happy for Mike and he’s a great person.”
Barry Reed – Kicker – 1980-81
“I don’t know if Mike was too fond of me since collegiate and professional kickers don’t seem to be part of the team until it comes down to kicking a game winning field goal, but after last week’s win over Seattle I’m sure his feelings have changed.
“I’ve considered Mike one of the best linebackers to wear the Blue and Gold and the best in the Southern Conference. He was a 100-percent physical football player and almost impossible to get off the field. He was always one of the first players to arrive at practice and the last to leave. Mike was always around the defensive coaches trying to learn from them and would even give his input. He is the true definition of a football player and a coach’s dream.”
Jerry Robertson – ETSU Athletic Trainer – 1965-2003
“Mike had the true characteristics of a student-athlete. When I say that, I mean he was a good student, well-liked on campus, and also worked hard on the field. Mike is not only a good football coach, but a better person. He’s very interested in helping others. It’s not just about winning football games for Mike, because he takes great pride in helping people.
“Mike knew what it meant to play with some discomfort and pain, and I don’t remember him missing a lot of practice or games. He was a physically and mentally tough linebacker. I know at times he played with discomfort and pain, but he wasn’t a training room toy. Mike wanted to play the game and play to the best of his ability. His success with the Falcons and throughout his coaching career is not a surprise. Mike always worked to be the best and gave everything he had.”
Coach Lee Morrow – ETSU Strength and Conditioning Coach – 1982-present
“The first time I met Mike was when he was a captain of the 1981 football team. I was coaching at Milligan at the time, but I held a graduate assistantship here at ETSU. I was able to rub shoulders with the football coaches and they would always say Mike was a tough player and a strong leader. My first impression of him was a hardworking type of player. Mike was a regular-type person and the scenario he has achieved in his coaching career is exhilarating, because just to see a regular, hardworking individual reach the pinnacle of the NFL coaching profession is great.”
Prior to taking over in Atlanta, Smith put in hard work both at the collegiate and professional ranks. However, after spending time with San Diego State, Morehead State, Tennessee Tech, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Smith finally got his chance when Arthur Blank (Falcons Team Owner/Chairman) hired the hardworking linebacker and the move has resulted in huge dividends. Entering the 2012 season, Smith and the Falcons have generated the NFL’s fifth-best record.
Smith and the Falcons hope to "Rise Up" yet again Sunday afternoon when Atlanta looks to knock off the 49ers and reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998.
For more information on Buccaneer athletics, visit ETSUBucs.com.