Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Falcons to interview Jags' Smith
By Len Pasquarelli
ATLANTA -- Even as they ratcheted up their efforts to pursue Pete Carroll of Southern California as a potential replacement for Bobby Petrino, the Atlanta Falcons continued their consideration of current league assistant coaches, and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith is the latest name to add to the list.
Falcons officials will travel to Jacksonville on Thursday night to interview Smith, a nine-year league veteran who is preparing his unit for Saturday's divisional-round matchup with the New England Patriots. The Falcons will also meet on Friday in Atlanta with Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
ESPN.com last week identified both men as among league assistants the Falcons planned to interview once the club concluded its meetings with candidates whose franchises are in the playoffs but had first-round byes.
A quiet, low-key coach who has presided over a highly-ranked defense, Smith often flies under the radar when teams are seeking head coach candidates. But he is respected by his players, who often go out of their way to commend him, and Smith has made no secret about his aspirations to be a head coach.
In his five seasons in Jacksonville, the Jaguars defense has statistically never ranked lower than 12th in the league. Three times the defense has rated in the top 10.
Smith, 48, worked for four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before joining coach Jack Del Rio's staff with the Jaguars in 2003.
A college linebacker at East Tennessee, he played one professional season in the CFL before moving into the college coaching ranks at San Diego State in 1982.
Schwartz, 41, is a 13-year veteran NFL assistant who has been with the Titans since 1999. One of the brightest assistant coaches in the league, Schwartz holds a degree in economics from Georgetown and makes considerable use of computer analysis in devising game plans. He came very close to landing the San Francisco 49ers head coach job a few years ago.
The Falcons have also sought permission to interview Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who is in his first season in that capacity. Despite reports that New York officials denied permission for a meeting with Spagnuolo, that is not entirely the case. The Giants, who are in the playoffs and preparing for a division-round matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, only asked that the Falcons delay an interview until their season is over.
So far, the Falcons have interviewed four head coach candidates: Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, Indianapolis assistant head coach Jim Caldwell and former Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.