Ric Latarski - Is Smith answer to Falcons' prayers?

The Falcons have a new head coach in the person of Mike Smith, a former assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Why he would want to leave Jacksonville for Atlanta remains to be seen.

He could see, correctly, the Atlanta job is a great challenge. Or it could be he needs medication.

Getting the Falcons' head coaching job has been like winning a free cruise but then showing up and finding out you are the galley slave that will be rowing the boat.

Smith was hired despite the fact he is not an experienced head coach, but that is not new for Atlanta. No one knew Vince Lombardi would be a great head coach until he finally got the chance, so we must hope that is the case with Smith.

The reason this is more than a passing interest is that, for good or ill, a professional sports franchise is often the most visible image a city can present to the rest of the country.

Cities, if not entire regions, appear on television because of their sports teams, and while the real economic windfall they bring to the community may be debatable, they do serve as high profile billboards.

There is little doubt that, win or lose, sooner or later it is usually the taxpayers who are asked to fund things like new stadiums. How well a team operates can have an impact on a city and its taxpayers.

And in the history of professional sports, it would be difficult to find an organization more inept than the Falcons. Actually, it would be hard to find an organization in any business more inept than the Falcons.

Enron might have been as bad, but it is out of business, although former company executive Kenneth Lay demonstrated management skills that qualified for Falcon employment.

It all started with Rankin Smith waking up one morning and saying, "I own the what?" and it went downhill from there.

The first coach was Norb Hecker, who worked with Lombardi in Green Bay. Lombardi reportedly told Smith that Hecker wasn't right for the job, but making mistakes in running the Falcons was Smith's strength.

Hecker sent the Falcons on a trail of hiring hapless coaches who were always tagged with the "best young mind in football" or "great assistant" label, but never had the intangibles that made them the difference between Chuck Noll, multiple Super Bowl winning coach, and Dan Henning, multiple losing seasons as Falcon head coach.

Marion "The Swamp Fox" Campbell was fired after posting a dismal record, but hired as head coach a second time because the Falcons were so bad no one wanted the job. By the second go-around, he was known as "Trench Foot" Campbell.

There were a couple of bright coaching moments, but like the blind squirrel that finds a nut, they were few and far between.

The real trademark of the Falcons has been the ability to consistently and repeatedly draft players with either no talent or too stupid to use the talent they have.

The very first draft pick by the Falcons in 1966 showed great promise for the organization, as University of Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis was selected. The fact Nobis is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is an atrocity.

Nobis played on some Falcon teams that were so horrible they would be hard pressed to even be considered professional. Yet Nobis gave 100 percent on every play and never whined about the fact it was his misfortune to be a Falcon.

After that first pick, finding ways to foul up the draft became standard operating procedure for the Falcons, and they missed the mark so many times it became laughable.

Legends such as tackle George Kunz, linebacker John Small, safety Clarence Ellis and running backs Joe Profit and Bubba Bean, were all first-round choices of the Falcons.

The Falcons picked two cornerbacks from Nebraska - Bruce Pickens in 1991 and Michael Booker in 1997 - as first-round choices, even though the conference was made up of teams in those days that averaged throwing the ball about four times a game.

Even with the team being located right in the middle of where year-in and year-out the best college football in America is played, the Falcons roster would often be ill represented by players from Southeastern Conference schools - which seems almost impossible.

Nine times in the 42-year history of the franchise, they actually traded away their first-round pick. And once, they drafted John Wayne, who played football at the University of Southern California in the 1920s but at the time of the Falcon draft was an aging movie star.

And in an example of astonishing statistics, the team has never had back-to-back winning seasons.

Arthur Blank is the new owner, and by all appearances he wants a winning team and he has had some rotten luck. There is really no reason for a team to be this bad for this long, and we can only hope Mike Smith is the answer.

If not, we'll all need medication.