FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. For 12 years Mike Smith toiled in a place that would seem to embody the NFL coaching wilderness: Cookeville, Tenn., and Tennessee Tech, first as an assistant and, eventually, defensive coordinator.
But, in a way, that period ended up underscoring the saying by Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher and politician (a saying that Smith, whose parents were teachers, might appreciate): Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
As he plied his trade, a relationship that began almost two decades earlier took time to bear fruit. In 1999, Brian Billick was named head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and Billick, who first became friends (and later brothers-in-law) with Smith when they served on the same staff at San Diego State starting in 1982, tapped Smith as a defensive assistant on the Ravens staff.
The move kick-started Smiths NFL coaching career and would ultimately prove beneficial for the Falcons, a franchise that had never posted back-to-back winn...