FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith’s disdain for the HBO show “Hard Knocks” has been well-documented.
The stories about him avoiding the cameras when he was an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens are legendary.
He’s a football traditionalist and believed that some things that occur in the inner sanctum of an NFL team are sacred.
But after completing the most important offseason of his tenure with the team, Smith reversed field. Falcons owner Arthur Blank said that Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff approved the show after repeatedly turning it down.
Smith, the winningest coach in franchise history, will have the task of rebounding from a 4-12 season while five HBO crews are roaming around and 12 coaches or players are strapped with microphones during training camp, which opens July 25.
Smith, like most old-school football men, cringe at the handling of player transactions on the show. Especially, the early-morning visits from the Turk, the designated person who delivers the news that a player has been cut.
But Smith reconciled that issue because he believes that the TV crew will handle those difficult situations tactfully. He admitted that he had to deal with several other issues.
“There are a number of factors that come in play (with) how I really came to grips in terms of having a comfort level,” Smith said.
He said that all of the games are heavily covered by television, including with audio.
“They capture everything that is happening on a sideline, and they are just there for a two-hour period,” Smith said. “It’s no different. They are just going to be around when we are on the practice field, when we are in meetings, so it really doesn’t change. That’s what we do when we are playing on game day.”
Smith also will have a chance to preview the week’s episode the morning before it airs for “competitive balance” reasons and not content.
Blank clearly is happy that his franchise will be featured coming off its most difficult season in the post-Michael Vick federal dogfighting/Bobby Petrino era.
“The job that these two gentlemen (Dimitroff, Smith) have done over an extended period of time … that story should be told,” Blank said. “That story with our players, fans and personnel folks should be told. We think it’s one that we want to share with as many people as we can, subject to (Smith) and Thomas not getting an ulcer over sharing things that would give somebody an edge.”
Now that the offseason is over and before the camera crews arrive, Smith will get a chance to unplug for a few weeks. He plans to spend some time fishing and some time with his family. However, a back ailment will keep him off the golf course.
“You don’t ever totally unplug,” Smith said. “But there’s going to be some time that I will be able to spend with the family. The coaches and the players, we need that.”
With the Falcons not making the playoffs last season, it was a longer than normal offseason for Smith, who guided the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first six seasons.
“There are different levels, and obviously you hate to continue to have to revisit it, but we didn’t have the season that we liked,” Smith said. “We made lots of observations and did some soul-searching throughout the entire organization. It started at the Senior Bowl.”
The Falcons coached the South squad and used that time to take a closer look at more than 100 draft prospects.
“We embraced it,” Smith said. “It was a wonderful week.”
After the Senior Bowl, Smith switched his focus to free agency. The Falcons determined that they needed to get bigger and stronger.
“We can do that in the weight room to some extent, but we had to bring in bigger bodies and we did that in free agency,” Smith said.
The Falcons signed defensive tackle Paul Soliai, defensive end Tyson Jackson and right guard Jon Asamoah in free agency. They continued to get bigger in the draft when they selected offensive tackle Jake Matthews and defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hagemen in the first and second rounds.
“I was impressed with our rookie class,” Smith said. “There are going to be some guys that will help us.”
In addition to Matthews and Hagemen, Smith is high on running back Devonta Freeman and linebacker Prince Shembo.
“It’s going to be a good battle with the young linebackers to see who is going to step up,” Smith said. “Prince has had a good camp. It’s going to be a very good battle for those young guys.”
Over the break, the Falcons can’t have contact with the players, but Smith is keeping the weight room open every day except for the Fourth of July.
“I asked by a show of hands how many guys are going to be using the weight room,” Smith said. “I was very impressed with how many guys are going to be here.”
He doesn’t want them to lose the gains they’ve made in the weight room over the offseason.
Before dismissing the players, Smith also gave them his annual conduct warning.
“Outside of the football part of it, be accountable,” Smith said was his message to the team. “You have to be accountable first to yourself, then to your family and then to your teammates. Something is going to happen across this league, it does every year when guys have time off.”