NFL teams have gone 1-15 before. But how many have had their franchise quarterback get sent to Leavenworth, and then had their head coach skulk out of town before finishing his first season, leaving "Dear John" letters in his players' lockers?
Yeah, give me Mike Smith. He didn't make chicken salad out of ... what Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino left behind in Atlanta. He made chicken cordon bleu. At least in Miami, when Tony Sparano was entrusted by Bill Parcells to put the pieces back together, there were pieces to put back together.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank deserves credit for choosing all the right people and working to regain the fans' trust (and handling the Vick loyalists' separation anxiety), and Matt Ryan has outperformed any reasonable projections at quarterback. But Smith, a relative unknown hired by a novice general manager has brought it all together, exactly the way a smart, organized, inspirational coach should.
Remember, the Falcons were a virtual expansion team coming into this season. A rookie quarterback, a veteran running back given his first real chance (Michael Turner), a defense full of holes that everyone was convinced needed to be addressed more than quarterback, a group of players who, in a bizarre reversal, had their coach quit on them, and a city that needed to be re-sold on the very idea of pro football. It was the least appealing job opening in the NFL, by far. The clincher? Bill Parcells passed on them to take the Miami gig.
Smith's task was much bigger than Sparano's, and he accomplished it much earlier than anyone thought possible, with fewer proven resources, in a tougher division and with not low expectations, but no expectations.
What Sparano has done is shocking. What Smith has done is a miracle.