By Charles Odum
ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons' new rookie coach already is sounding like the veteran who took the team to its only Super Bowl.
Mike Smith, the former Jacksonville defensive coordinator hired by the Falcons on Wednesday night, could have been reading from former Atlanta coach Dan Reeves' script.
"My goal is to build a well-disciplined, hard-nosed football team that will be able to run the football on offense and stop the run on defense," Smith said. "I've always believed that's what makes championship teams."
Reeves used that formula to take the Falcons to the NFC championship in 1998. Reeves' successor, Jim Mora, also stressed the run in his three years. Then came Bobby Petrino, who lasted only 13 games.
In announcing his first hire as general manager, Thomas Dimitroff said Smith "possesses all of the key qualities we were looking for in a head coach."
Dimitroff said the 48-year-old Smith, a 26-year coaching veteran and the Jaguars' defensive coordinator since 2003, "has strong experience with winning teams, a track record of success, a solid, smart approach to the game, and high character and integrity."
Smith had his second interview with the Falcons on Friday.
Falcons quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was with Smith in Jacksonville for four years, applauded the hire.
"I've played against his defense more than anybody in the world," Leftwich said. "I did it every day in practice for four years. I think he's a great guy for the job.
"A lot of people might not know his name, but I've seen the work he puts in every game, how guys were so prepared on Sundays that they knew exactly what teams were going to do."
Smith, a former defensive assistant with Baltimore, had the league's No. 12 defense with Jacksonville this season after ranking second in 2006 and sixth in 2005.
Leftwich said Smith would never receive enough credit in Jacksonville because many assumed Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, a former defensive coordinator, was the real mastermind of the defense.
Jaguars defensive end Marcellus Wiley confirmed that opinion when he said on ESPN Wednesday that Smith "was just a guy who stood at the front of the room when Jack Del Rio was leading the defense."
Jacksonville defensive end Paul Spicer disagreed, saying the Falcons "are getting a gem."
"He is very competitive," Spicer said of Smith. "He wants the best out of you. He demands the best of you. Mike Smith gained the trust of a lot of Jaguars players over the years. He has definitely gained my trust."