Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, in his more successful years, has spoken of how he prefers to eschew the spotlight and put it on his players.
Unlike, say, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, it’s just not something that Smith seems to enjoy. When it comes to discussing the team’s internal deliberations, he prefers to keep his answers as brief and unrevealing as possible. His quarterback, Matt Ryan, fits the same mold.
With the announcement on Thursday that the Falcons will be featured on the HBO documentary-style show "Hard Knocks" — which provides television cameras access into almost every sphere of the team’s operations — neither Smith nor Ryan nor anyone else who doesn’t prefer the spotlight (we’re looking at you, Osi Umenyiora) will have nowhere to hide.
Two years ago, the Falcons were considered for "Hard Knocks," but the timing was not right. The organization had just hired a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan and a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter. The team felt that the focus needed to be on allowing those new coaches to get comfortable in their new roles and for the players to adapt to them.
While the football reasons weren’t right, the business ones weren’t necessarily either. The Falcons were coming off a playoff season and did not believe that they could do much for their brand in the local market by participating.
How times change.
Two years later, the Falcons are coming off a 4-12 season and have broken ground on a new stadium. They need to begin the process of selling Personal Seat Licenses, a significant component of the stadium project’s funding. The funding plan is relying on PSLs to cover between $100 and $200 million of the stadium’s $1.2 billion cost.
Coming off a disappointing season, selling PSLs might not be so simple. What is one way to create interest in the team?
Feature it on "Hard Knocks."
"We are excited about the opportunity to give our fans a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to prepare an NFL team for the rigors of a 16-game regular season and beyond," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. "This marks the first time that our franchise will be featured on ‘Hard Knocks’ and we look forward to showcasing our great players and coaches to football fans all across America."
What makes "Hard Knocks" a riveting drama is to hear unvarnished criticism by coaches and team personnel in discussing players and the difficult roster decisions they must make. This is what is likely to create the most unease among Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli both came up through the New England Patriots, the most secretive of NFL franchises.
This is something they all will have to learn to live with.
"We are looking forward to connecting with our fans across the country as the program chronicles our 2014 training camp," Smith said in a statement. "The series will give fans a behind the scenes look at the competition between players as we build our roster and prepare for the season. We are looking forward to the start of camp in late July."
For those who welcome the spotlight, the show could make them into bigger stars. Wide receiver Roddy White would certainly appear to be a candidate in that regard. The press release announcing the move included safety William Moore and Julio Jones. Nolan, the defensive coordinator who is interested in becoming a head coach again, is smart and could also benefit.
One thing is for certain: A Falcons’ offseason already with its share of interesting plot lines just got spiced up.