After problems with Vick and Petrino, Falcons hope for stability

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- On his first day as coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith summed up the state of his new team by
saying ""There's nowhere to go but up."

As Atlanta's third full-time head coach in three years, Smith hopes to stabilize a franchise rocked last month by the sudden resignation of his predecessor, Bobby Petrino, and the imprisonment of quarterback Michael Vick.

Smith, who spent the last four years as defensive coordinator in Jacksonville, acknowledged Atlanta has problems that aren't easily
dismissed. But he said the off-the-field issues are in the past, and he is concerned with the future.

Many of Atlanta's veteran players strongly disliked Petrino's personality, which they described as aloof and unapproachable. When
Petrino left for Arkansas after going 3-10 in his only season, respected team leaders like Warrick Dunn, Lawyer Milloy and John Abraham called him a coward and a liar.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who joined the team last week after leaving New England as director of college scouting, believes Atlanta has struck a proper balance with Smith.

Longtime NFL assistant Emmitt Thomas, who led the Falcons to a 1-2 record as interim head coach, will return in 2008 for his seventh season with Atlanta. Thomas will serve as assistant head coach and oversee the secondary.
Smith also named Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator. VanGorder, Atlanta's linebackers coach last year, returned to the team after just four weeks as coordinator at South Carolina.

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