Arthur Smith expresses 'love and appreciation' for Falcons players in team meeting after firing


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Arthur Smith was back at the Atlanta Falcons' practice facility on Monday morning for a final meeting with his players after he was fired late Sunday night.

Smith had the support of the players but that was not enough to overcome a third consecutive 7-10 finish. The coaching change was announced at midnight, so Monday's meeting was an opportunity to say goodbye.

“Most of us already knew,” rookie defensive lineman Zach Harrison said Monday. “Just having the chance for him to get up there and address us and tell us the last couple of things he wanted to say before he left. It meant a lot to me that he stood up there and looked us all in the eye and told us some things.”

Added Harrison: “He’s a guy you know is going to have your back.”

Said offensive tackle Kaleb McGary: “I'm just bummed for him.”

While Harrison acknowledged he was not prepared for the firing, most veterans were not surprised after back-to-back lopsided losses to Chicago and New Orleans capped a disappointing finish and left Atlanta with six consecutive losing seasons.

“I’ve been in this game a long time so I knew it was a possibility, but I was hopeful,” said Calais Campbell, 37, following his 16th NFL season. “I really respect Coach Smith. He’s such a good guy.”

Another veteran defensive lineman, Grady Jarrett, said he was “a little bit” surprised to learn Smith had been fired. “Only because it was like midnight or whatever,” Jarrett said. “You never know what to expect.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank was expected to discuss the firing at a news conference later Monday.

Smith's firing was announced a few hours after a 48-17 loss at New Orleans. It was the second-worst loss of Smith's three seasons, following a 43-3 rout at Dallas in 2021. The Falcons dropped four of their last five games and were blown out in Smith’s final two contests, losing 37-17 at Chicago a week ago.

“I wish I could have won some more games for him and we’d be playing this week,” Campbell said. “You try your hardest.”

Campbell said he hasn't made a decision about returning for another season in 2024. He said he is “leaning toward playing again.”

Smith was hired by the Falcons in 2021 after a decade-long stint as an assistant with the Tennessee Titans in which he moved up to become their offensive coordinator.

Tight end Jonnu Smith, who played for Arthur Smith in Tennessee and Atlanta, appeared to be especially shaken by the firing. Jonnu Smith said the coach talked to players about "his appreciation and love for us.

“He’d be there for anybody,” Jonnu Smith said as players around him cleaned out their lockers. “He’d bend over backward for the people he loves. Unfortunately in this league that’s not always returned.

“We didn’t have the season we wanted. Collectively as a team we did not do enough.”

Arthur Smith's efforts to establish consistency on offense were derailed by instability at quarterback.

Second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder finished with 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 12 fumbles and couldn't keep the starting job. Backup Taylor Heinicke missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury.

"It happened too much this year,” Smith said Sunday. “The job is to consistently do it, and we didn’t do it.”