PHOENIX (AP) -Mike Smith faces plenty of challenges in his new job as coach of the Atlanta Falcons: finding a quarterback, beefing up the offensive and defensive lines, winning over a skeptical fan base still reeling from the Michael Vick debacle.
But Friday, stopping by the Super Bowl media center for a meet-and-greet session, Smith's main obstacle was getting heard over a news conference for the NFL's gospel celebration, going on - loudly - next door.
As Smith attempted to answer a question about parity in the NFC South, a voice beyond the wall broke into song. The coach got halfway through his answer, then asked, ``What are they singing over there?''
Composing himself, Smith finished his response. Besides, that's the least of his worries as he tries to rebuild a team that lost its best player to a federal dogfighting case, is on its fourth head coach in just over a year and is coming off a 4-12 season.
``Every team at this time of year is going through transition,'' Smith said, sounding hopelessly optimistic. ``Even the team that wins on Sunday will be going through a transition. You're always making changes.''
The Falcons certainly have plenty of changes to make, beginning at the quarterback position. While not making any commitment on the three holdovers - Chris Redman, Bryon Leftwich and Joey Harrington, all of whom started in place of Vick - Smith made it clear he'll be expecting improvement next season.
``The quarterback position is the most important position,'' Smith said. ``The teams that are the most successful are the most proficient at that position.''
Clearly savoring the first head coaching job of his career at age 48, Smith will spend the rest of the weekend in Phoenix, attending Sunday's New England-New York Giants championship game.
Then it's back to Atlanta to begin the hard process of evaluating players along with new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who'll have final say on crafting the roster. Free agency begins at the end of the month, and the Falcons have some huge needs to fill.
On the job a little over a week, Smith watched film on the flight to Phoenix after meeting with several key players, including defensive end John Abraham and outspoken cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
``I think they're all very excited,'' Smith said. ``There's always a feeling-out process any time there's a change. But the guys will know where I'm coming from, they'll know where we're coming from as a staff.''
Speaking of staff, Smith has filled most of the openings, including Mike Mularkey as offensive coordinator and Brian Van Gorder directing the defense. The only spots left to fill are linebacker coach and a second defensive backs coach.
``It's been a real tough year, not only for the Falcons players, but the organization and its fans,'' Smith said. ``The first thing we've got to do is let the players know we have a plan.''

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