Light a candle for Mike Smith's well-being: He's soon to be the best that ever was for the Atlanta Falcons. Any other NFL franchise might consider it ironic that it takes a sudden health scare for their head coach to remind media and fans that the guy on the sidelines happens to be the best coach in franchise history.
For the Atlanta Falcons, it just seems sort of fitting. And that's to say not completely fitting solely because of what Mike Smith - along with owner Arthur Blank and G.M. Thomas Dimitroff - has accomplished in 59 regular season games for Atlanta.
Entering Thursday's game against Jacksonville, the 8-5 Falcons can clinch their fourth consecutive winning season. That's a franchise record, because their then record-setting third consecutive winning season was last year. And that embarrassingly noted (yet highly cathartic) clinching of consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history after a 9-7 2009 season? Hell, that's history at this point.
Smith is 40-19 as the Falcons' head coach, a stunning record against the biggest names in franchise history (Norm Van Brocklin: 39-48-3, Dan Reeves: 49-59-1). He's won 11, nine and 13 games in his first three seasons, and with one more win in the next three games will, at the worst, match his lowest total. He'll almost certainly be the fastest (and only the second) coach to reach 50 wins in franchise history sometime in 2012.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, they build statues for coaches who win national titles. Atlanta would do well to raise one in Smith's image simply for respectable consistency, and a knack of staying out of the crosshairs of national columnists and would-be sports humorists. That's not to say Smith's tenure has been completely milquetoast - he bore the brunt of a ballsy but correct fourth down call against the Saints this season, and had to be restrained (in hindsight: why, exactly?) from beating D'Angelo Hall's ass during a game two years ago.
But in the framework of Falcons head coaches, he's a wallflower. There's been no Junes Jones sideline drama with his own players, no egocentric Jerry Glanville posturing, no Bobby Petrino high treason, no Jim Mora Jr. frat-assery. And for that he's to be commended. He's never been a hot name in coaching circles and never been willing to entertain the media's demand for shortsighted emotion (throughout Sunday's schizoid comeback, he was even handed throughout).
He's just simply been a quiet, steady and accomplished hand, a shot of Bobby Cox for a franchise that's OD'd on too many bad Ozzie Guillen impersonations. His sheepish deflection of questions about his health on Monday morning was a reminder of how invisible he aspires to be, despite working in a profession that assumes demanding reverential attention is a key to success.
Is Smith flawless? Absolutely not. If Atlanta makes the playoffs (a likelihood) and bows out in the first game again (another likelihood), national pundits will use an 0-3 postseason record to dismiss Smith, Dimitroff, Matt Ryan and the entire franchise as impostors. In the expectations of today's NFL, such a judgement wouldn't be out of line. But in Atlanta, and among long suffering Falcons fans so used to inconsistency, a quiet track record of just above average performance feels world title title worthy.