NASHVILLE — Professional football’s Black Monday firing season is nearly upon us as the 2020 regular season gets ready to conclude. Tennessee Titans (10-5) offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s name has been in the head coaching candidate rumor mill for months at this point and rightfully so.
In Week 17, though, only three NFL jobs are available.
Houston, Atlanta and Detroit all fired their head coaches in-season this year and Smith is being widely discussed for those openings. Jacksonville and the New York Jets have not yet fired Doug Marrone and Adam Gase. With a combined three wins between them, those moves are likely coming on the Monday at 2020’s conclusion. Wildcard firings always pop up. The Chargers’ Anthony Lynn makes the most sense based on performance but reports of his early demise might turn out to be unfounded.
With only five potential head coaching roles to fill, does Tennessee’s Smith make the cut?
Smith’s resumé is exceptional as Titans play-caller but lack of availability might keep him around.
“I don’t know if there are going to be enough openings,” Yahoo Sports NFL Insider Charles Robinson said Tuesday on 102.5 FM’s Robby & Rexrode. “Earlier in the season, you’re sitting there thinking ‘Man, there could be eight, nine, maybe 10 jobs open,’ considering you had a number of coaches that were fragged during the season. Now I think that’s dialed back a little bit.”
Smith is one of four main candidates being discussed for head coaching jobs next year.
Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs should have been hired last season. Bills OC Brian Daboll’s work with Josh Allen will surely put him in the mix. Robert Saleh, Niners defensive coordinator, has a six-win team ranked sixth in defensive DVOA (-9.8%) despite all the attrition his team has faced.
Smith’s prolific Titans offense (30.0 ppg) makes as good a case for him as any of the aforementioned coordinators but is decidedly the least talked about (fairly or unfairly) of the four.
Other Receiving Votes
Falcons interm coach Raheem Morris, Byron Leftwich in Tampa Bay and Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus are in consideration. Both Ravens coordinators Greg Roman and Wink Martindale all fall into this category, as well.
There have even been reports of interest in Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck from the college world. Tennessee stands to benefit from another year of Smith. With much of their personnel in flux, retaining the Titans coordinator could be huge. If Smith finds himself as the odd man out this cycle, however, the resumé remains strong.
Any setbacks only delay the inevitable.
Titans Coaching Tree
When Smith does find his next job, it will not be the first time that head coach Mike Vrabel has lost a competent staffer.
Former Tennessee OC Matt LaFleur left after the 2018 season to become the Green Bay Packers next head coach. Assistants Kerry Coombs and Tyrone McKenzie departed at the end of the 2019 run for Ohio State and the Detroit Lions respectively. Vrabel’s football acumen helps him identify similar competency in coaching. Smith’s ability to survive multiple Titans regime changes speaks more to him than anyone else. Vrabel, however, had the presence of mind to retain and promote Smith when he tossed his hat into the offensive coordinator ring.
The result has been a trickle-down effect.
“I lean on (Smith) for a lot of stuff,” first-year Tennessee defensive play-caller Shane Bowen said on Thursday about his role. “Not just in terms of the in-game play-calling aspect and the expectation of what its going to be, but other stuff, maybe even more operationally throughout the week that comes up. He’s been an asset to me, for sure, and I’m going to keep turning to him for stuff because he’s obviously moving in the right direction.”
Bowen has yet to find the same success that Smith has as a Titans coordinator. It is important to note that it took Smith almost half of his first season and a quarterback change to find his footing, too. Tennessee fans should look at the current pass rush failures in that same light: as a personnel issue more than coaching.
In the meantime, the Titans should hope that the number of job openings stands pat. It will be their best chance to keep Arthur Smith in the fold next year.
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