Arthur Smith had worked his entire life for this moment, running out of the tunnel getting ready to coach his first game as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. It’s a prestigious place, one of only 32 jobs in the world. He reached this milestone before he turned 40. On the field before the game and in the stands during, Smith’s family watched every move.
In most families, this would make Arthur the celebrity of the bunch. With the Smiths, he may not be the most accomplished sibling. The 10 children of FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith are spread out across industries. They have high-ranking roles at FedEx, worked in the military as a nurse and, of course, Arthur in the NFL.
There’s also Hollywood, where the sibling closest in age to Arthur, Molly Smith, was one of the executive producers of a film turned massive hit — the musical “La La Land.” It was nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars in 2016 and won six, including best director and a best actress win for Emma Stone. Molly and her sister, Rachel, are producers with Black Label Media, an independent film production and financing company which Molly co-founded in 2013.
The Smith children recognize the good fortune they’ve had, the opportunities early on because of the success of their parents. How that perhaps opened doors and allowed them to chase their passions. But the way the Smith children were raised and approached life, the initial opportunity may have been there but it’s all on you to push your way up.
From constant conversations about life to sharing photos of the many children of all the siblings — Arthur and his wife, Allison, have three — the Smiths are almost always in touch. And they provide a sounding board for decisions and a consistent stream of influence for one another, including Arthur.
“All my siblings were a pretty big influence on me,” Arthur said. “Molly and I were close in age so, both of them, really all of them, we’re a close family. We all had an impact on each other growing up. I’m really proud of what they’ve done.”
Back when Arthur was an assistant with the Tennessee Titans, at least once a week his sister Samantha’s phone would ring. It’d be 5:30 in the morning, maybe 6, and Arthur was on his way to work. Samantha, known as the other early riser, would be on her Peleton, answering emails or reading.
When she wasn’t, Arthur would leave a message or send a text giving her guff for missing his call. This was their chance to talk, to catch up on life. To talk about current events or books one of them had read.
It was here where Arthur played one of his family roles – the person other Smith children go to if they want clear, straightforward advice on anything. “He’s always honest,” Molly said. For Samantha, this came when she was trying to decide on major job changes, including eventually taking a role at FedEx.
“He was like, if you feel like you need to do it, do it,” Samantha said. “Because you don’t want to be sitting here about shoulda, woulda, coulda. You’re going to analyze it for years to come if you don’t do it.”
His thought? If you’re wrestling with the decision for more than a day, just do it.
While he’d often call Samantha on the way to work, he’d do the same with Molly or Rachel on the way home — often still does. The benefit of having two West Coast-based sisters means whatever time he’s heading back, they probably will be up. In a profession that’s often packed in a crazed schedule, it gives him a few minutes to decompress and reconnect. He’ll ask about their films and what they are working on — a history buff, he had natural interest in “Devotion,” a soon-to-be-released Korean War movie partially shot in Savannah, Georgia — and they’ll sometimes send him scripts to peruse.
He’s big on details — not surprising for a football coach.
“He’s very inquisitive,” Rachel said. “He’s asking how are we going to shoot this aerial scene or he definitely takes an interest in all the moving parts.”
Molly called Arthur “a real leader in the family,” even though he’s one of the middle children. Molly and Arthur have both talked about team building since their jobs are somewhat analogous, although Arthur views Molly’s job as more equivalent to Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot.
But both have to figure out the right way to construct staffs and make sure the chemistry is right, with the people they are working with and the ones they are choosing to employ. It’s something Molly and Rachel watched intently when Arthur was putting together his first staff with the Falcons, because it felt like what they do for each film.
“Make the environment, people want to work hard for him, and Rachel and I try to do that on our sets,” Molly said. “People that work on movie sets, it’s long hours, it’s grueling, from the PAs all the way to the craft service, you just want to have an environment that at the end of the day we are making a movie so you want to have something they are all excited about working really hard for one vision and to pull off your vision.
“I know that’s how Arthur approaches his team.”
The team building, to Smith, comes from growing up in the family he did. They are 10 children with 10 different personalities. Molly and Arthur, for instance, are similar in a lot of ways but have different approaches.
Navigating that was something Smith watched as a kid. It helped once he got into coaching, showing him how to deal with people. How his tone might be interpreted three ways by three siblings off the same comment.
It became an understanding ingrained in him, something he carried to Tennessee and now Atlanta.
“It just gives you a lot of empathy about other people and about, like, it’s not about just you,” Arthur said. “I think that’s probably what’s helped me. Yeah, I may see it this way, but it’s OK if they see it a different way.
“Probably the best lesson.”
It was getting unwieldy, the Smith siblings group chat. So much so, they had to move off the typical text threads people have with groups of friends and families onto GroupMe. And it’s constant, day and night, a steady stream of thoughts, questions, articles and photos of various families.
And so, so many pictures of the Smith siblings’ children.
Arthur, though, has been a coalescing point. After last season ended, when Arthur was one of the most popular head coaching candidates in the hiring cycle, the text chain was filled with comment after comment and question after question about where he might go.
What should the siblings prepare for? Titans games had become family gatherings, and they wanted to celebrate their brother and start thinking about where they were going next. Any nugget of information from Twitter found its way into the group chat. They’d ask Arthur if they needed to buy red (Falcons) or green (Jets, Eagles).
Arthur told them nothing.
“Arthur had to go silent and couldn’t tell us anything before he told his wife,” Samantha said. “I’m sure he was talking to Allison and trying to get the scoop from her and she was being a loyal wife.”
They found out in a group text message together. Samantha and her family put on music celebrating Atlanta in their home and started dancing around. Rachel was in Savannah on the “Devotion” set and her work colleagues — many of them Falcons fans — shared in her excitement. Molly was with their parents and they were pumped.
Their brother was getting to live his dream. Now they had to figure out how to get there. The Smith family bought season tickets — Samantha is in charge of distribution per game based on requests sent to her by siblings — and almost the entire family came to his debut against the Eagles in September. Frederick W. Smith had them arrive at 10 a.m., 90 minutes before they could get into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The rest of the family — minus Frederick — wandered around tailgates, anonymous to the Falcons fans they mingled with that they were the siblings of the head coach.
When they got inside the stadium, everything was a big deal. Diane Smith, Arthur’s mom, took photos of everything. They screamed when he showed up on the big screen before the game and cheered when he put his headset on as a head coach for the first time.
“You can name coaches of NFL teams and then you’re like, ‘That’s my brother,'” Samantha said. “Bizarre. I can’t tell you how much excitement that was.”
When they aren’t all together at Arthur’s games, the continuous Smith family group text gets a workout. And they don’t remove Arthur. The Smith siblings analyze every play. They take screenshots — since he has progressed from position coach to coordinator to head coach they’ve grown in frequency — every time Arthur is on-screen.
They live all the emotions anyone watching a Falcons game might feel. The ups. The downs. The “heart attacks” running back Cordarrelle Patterson joked about after the win over the Saints two weeks ago.
This is family, the brother they knew as the one who religiously shopped through the Eastbay catalog looking for football jerseys for him and his friends and the one who would sometimes run into his parents’ bedroom in full gear early in the morning on his youth football game days.
Arthur is typically the least active sibling on the group text — sometimes popping in to share a family photo, an article he found interesting or to jokingly make fun of his older brother, Richard, Regional President of The Americas and Executive Vice President for FedEx Express. After games, he will come back to his phone and see hundreds of messages.
“I do laugh at the emotional roller-coaster and that’s why you’ve got to love your family,” Arthur said. “They are so invested and yeah, it’s comical to me. Also reminds me of birthdays, like today is my oldest brother’s birthday and one of my brother-in-laws.
“Stuff like that helps, look at my phone and I’m like, ‘OK.'”
But does he actually read it?
“If we lose, I probably don’t,” Arthur said. “If we win, it gives me some amusement on the bus.”
Arthur’s hectic schedule doesn’t afford him many chances to visit family. Of all the films Molly and Rachel worked on, he has been to one premiere in recent years — the second “Sicario” film they shot — because it fell in a random NFL pocket of the offseason.
On Atlanta’s recent bye week, Arthur gave Molly a hard time because he had time to stop by the set of their latest movie “Reptile,” starring Alicia Silverstone, Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake — filming in the Atlanta area. But they couldn’t make it work.
Arthur has been on one of Molly and Rachel’s sets only once before. In 2018, when Arthur was tight ends coach with the Titans, he flew to Vancouver with Allison and their then-two children, Tanner and Sophie, to visit them on the set of “Broken Diamonds,” the Ben Platt movie they were shooting.
They had seen his public-facing job for years. This was their chance to show their brother what they did. How their Hollywood life worked.
“He was sitting there. He didn’t want to be impeding us doing our job or anything, but he was interested and curious,” Rachel said. “I think what people don’t see a lot unless you come to set is that it’s a lot of sitting and waiting. You do a lot of the same take over and over again.
“He was just fascinated by all the moving parts but also how tedious it is.”
Aunts being aunts and having the rare opportunity to dote on and get their own family involved, they wanted to use Tanner and Sophie in a scene and had a spot for extras.
One problem: Kids being kids, they were being difficult. So Molly and Rachel had an idea. One that led Arthur Smith to make two debuts in 2021: In September on the field as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and in July in the movies.
In one of the final scenes of “Broken Diamonds” — arguably the most pivotal scene in the movie — a man is sitting behind a piece of luggage with his family, wearing a black short-sleeved collared shirt with a large watch on his left wrist.
He’s smiling, staring lovingly at his wife and their two children, playing inside the airport. It’s actually, for an extra, a meaningful moment. And the man on the screen, visible for anyone and everyone to see, is Arthur Smith. Rachel called him “a featured extra.” Arthur, Rachel, Tanner and Sophie are all listed in the credits.
“I didn’t want to be in it,” Arthur said. “I don’t have a line, so I don’t have a SAG card or anything.”
He didn’t campaign for any, either, but the look on his face told everything.
It was a scene as a reminder of the importance of family. Of how we’ll do almost anything for the people we love, whether that’s being a sounding board, traveling to football games, or showing up in a movie you really don’t want to be in because they ask.
And for Arthur Smith, it has always been simple — from the phone calls to the advice to the way-too-long group text. It has always has been, and always will be, about family.