“Big” Chuck Smith, the former Falcons great and Athens native, often finds himself staring at his cell phone, waiting for it to ring, vibrate or light up.
On this morning, he was up early in Arizona before teaching his pass-rushing classes at Athlete’s Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz. It wasn’t the call from Area Code 404 that he was really wanted.
After a brief coaching career in the NFL and the collegiate ranks, Smith, 44, has started his own business, Football 365, and travels the country as a trainer and pass-rush specialist working with some of the game’s top defenders including Denver’s Von Miller, Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins and Pittsburgh’s Jarvis Jones.
He’s already had one of his dream jobs and would like to have another, coaching the defensive line for the Atlanta Falcons. The position is currently vacant, but he hasn’t received a call and isn’t expecting one.
“I’ll be here and then I’ll fly to IMG Academy, the Friday after the Senior Bowl,” Smith said on Friday.
As far as the Falcons, he seems to know how the coaching fraternity works. They’ll likely hire someone who has worked with head coach Mike Smith or Mike Nolan in the past. Smith has worked with Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.
“I was in denial really,” said Smith, who has 58.5 career sacks and played for the Falcons from 1991-99. “I’ve been a supporter (of the Falcons) since the 1970s. It’s been well-documented that I was a Falcons (fan) growing up in Athens and was blessed to be on the all-time team the last time it was named. All of those different blessings and having the chance to help take my state to the Super Bowl, there is no way that I could not want an opportunity to interview for the job.
“It’s my dream (job), but I’ve been in denial from saying it.”
The Falcons fired defensive line coach Ray Hamilton after their dreadful 4-12 season. They are trying to fill the position before leaving to coach the North squad in the Senior Bowl, Jan. 20-25.
He doesn’t want to request an interview.
“I want to be a professional,” Smith said. “That would be up to them. Those guys know me. I’m friends with coach (Mike) Smith. …I know all of the guys. (Defensive coordinator Mike) Nolan worked me out in college. I’ve known (Nolan) from years ago.
“It would have been an honor just to interview. I know what I’ve learned and I know the things that I teach. I know the results that I’ve gotten in college and the results we got with the Jets when I was with the No. 1 defense in the league. I think that it would be an honor.”
Smith has worked with former Falcons defensive ends Chauncey Davis and Patrick Kerney, who was his first client. He’s also worked with Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora and has former Falcons linebacker Chase Thomas.
“I did teach Osi the cross-chop and how to play the run,” Smith said. “Most of the guys on their line I’ve had a chance to work with.
“Vance Walker is one of my guys. I would have loved to have had a chance to teach him pass rush there. He wouldn’t be in Oakland right now because that guy can play.
“(Falcons tackle) Trey (Travian Robertson) was in my combine. So, it’s hard to watch guys when I know their body. I know what they need. This goes all the way back to (defensive end) Jamaal Anderson. God, it didn’t have to be that way.
“Kroy Biermann, when I told you he was a 10-sack guy, all he’s got to do is throw his rip on the fourth step. So, I’m not saying that to be pompous and cocky, but I believe that God has put me in position (to teach).”
Smith was introduced to Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome by Hue Jackson. He was later hired as a pass rush consultant by Ryan and went with the Ryan to the New York Jets. They reached the AFC championship game after the 2009 regular season.
Smith was the hot young defensive line prospect.
He was in negotiations to stay with the Jets when Tennessee, his alma mater called. He accepted the job on Derrick Dooley’s staff, but things went sour after just one season.
“I needed to lose that opportunity,” Smith said. “I left. I didn’t get fired. We mutually agreed, but I didn’t want to leave. …but as far as the Falcons are concerned it would be an honor just to interview and there is no question that I would like to. It would be my dream just to have an opportunity.”
Because of the success of his company, Football 365, Smith can look back introspectively on the Tennessee situation.
“When I went to Tennessee, I was a hot young (defensive) line coach,” Smith said. “But when I left Tennessee. …there were things that just didn’t work out for the entire staff that affected my career. That’s the best way for me to say it.
“That’s the biggest disappointment for me. I went from having 15 NFL offers and 45 college offers to wanting to give back to my university. It didn’t work out, but it’s been a great testimonial.”
Smith is in his busy season. He’s getting ready to train Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt of Monroe, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and Auburn defensive end Dee Ford to name a few.
After his time at IMG, he’ll travel to the Senior Bowl to consult with his clients and work for the agents who hire him.
Smith said his greatest joy in the training business was when former Falcons great Jessie Tuggle hired him to work with his son Justin Tuggle. The Hammer’s son, who played at Northview, started his college career as a quarterback at Boston College, before transferring to Kansas State and converting to linebacker.
He made the Houston Texans and played in 15 games and made one start last season.
“To me, this is one of the most incredible training stories ever,” Smith said.
Smith has been keeping an keen eye on the Falcons’ situation.
“Bill Kollar was in the mix, but he went back to Houston,” Smith said. “I don’t know who else they’ve talked to, but to me, if I’m them, there are some unbelievably talented young defensive line coaches out there like Marion Hobby over at Clemson. If I’m them, I’d go and try to snatch Kacy Rodgers from the Miami (Dolphins) and give him what the heck he wants. Those guys are truly special at what they do. …I would offer Auburn’s Rodney Gardner and ask him to join my staff. To me, he’s an incredible coach.”
With so much on the line and Falcons owner Arthur Blank publicly stating that the team could go from worst to first next season, Smith expects the team to make a “safe” hire. Likely, someone they know already.
“I understand how it is,” Smith said. “You want guys, number one, that you’re familiar with. But in this day in time, people should look at people who can help you win a world championship. That’s what I believe.”
Oh yeah, you really can’t call him “Big” Chuck Smith anymore. He’s dropped 50-plus pounds and is slim and fit.