Deep Roots

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When Falcons head coach Mike Smith spoke about the shape to come of his new coaching staff following the 2011 season he said he wanted coaches with a wealth of knowledge at the highest levels.

Smith explained his belief that having coaches with a lot of coaching mileage would enable them to help the players as they faced challenging circumstances in some of the toughest games they'll play in their career, high-stakes games in the playoffs.

Combined with Smith, the trio of new offensive and defensive coordinators, Dirk Koetter and Mike Noland, and returning special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, have the most coaching experience in the NFC South.

Their combined 111 years of coaching leads the second-most experienced team, the New Orleans Saints, who have 99 years coaching. The Falcons' top four also have the most tenure in the NFL, with 58 years combined coaching in the league. The Saints are next in line with 45.

The Carolina Panthers have a head coach in Ron Rivera that has spent 14 years coaching, all of it in the NFL, but many of his top assistants haven't been in the business as long as Smith and his team. Combined the Panthers' staff has 63 years coaching and 38 in the NFL.

The Tampa Bay Bucs are in the middle of a staff overhaul, but newly-hired head coach Greg Schiano has 22 years coaching and three in the NFL.

Atlanta's staff is the only one with more than 20 years of experience coaching from all four coaches. Nolan leads the staff with 30 years of coaching, followed by Smith with 29, Koetter with 28 and Armstrong with 24.

Nolan's tenure in the league is impressive. Twenty-four of his 30 years have been spent in the NFL, beginning as a linebackers coach with Denver in 1987. The Falcons gave him his seventh defensive coordinator job and he's also been a head coach during his time in the NFL.

Koetter's path to the NFL was a little different from Nolan's. He began as a head coach in high school in 1983 and jumped to the college ranks as an offensive coordinator in 1985, a role he maintained with five different teams before becoming a head coach from 1998-2006. His jump to the NFL came in 2007 as an offensive coordinator in Jacksonville.

Armstrong has the second-longest NFL tenure among Atlanta's top four. After spending seven years as an assistant in college, Armstrong landed in the pros in 1994, coaching safeties for the Falcons. He became the special teams coordinator for the Bears in 1997 and had a stop in Miami before returning to the Falcons in the same capacity in 2008.

Smith's ascent began in 1982, coaching his way up the college ranks before landing with the Ravens in 1999. He spent six seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars before coming to Atlanta in 2008.

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