In deciding to fill their vacancy at offensive coordinator by promoting from within the organization, the Tennessee Titans bucked a national trend. They also showed what’s most important to them this season.
The Titans hired Arthur Smith, who had previously been the team’s tight end coach, to be their new play-caller on offense. Smith has been with the Titans franchise in some capacity since 2011.
He’s been there a while.
It certainly seems that Smith is doing something right, as he has survived three staff changes. He is the only member of the current Titans coaching staff that head coach Mike Vrabel held over from previous head coach Mike Mularkey’s staff.
Smith also coached under previous head coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Munchak.
“I am excited for Arthur and for our team to be able to elevate a deserving coach,” said Vrabel via a press release distributed by the Titans on Monday. “I was impressed throughout the season in gameplan meetings with his ideas, in-game with his understanding of situations and the ability to get the most out of his position group.
“We spent a good bit of time last week talking about this opportunity. He has a great deal of familiarity with our players and the continuity of the offense will allow our players to continue to develop and improve.”
Bucking a Trend
Due in large part to the recent success of younger, offensively minded head coaches such as Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Matt Nagy, most NFL teams with head coaching vacancies spent the early parts of this month looking for “the next” up-and-coming offensive guru.
That trend is the reason the Titans had an offensive coordinator vacancy in the first place, as 39-year old Matt LaFleur was whisked away to be the Green Bay Packers’ head coach. Other, more unexpected names like Kliff Kingsbury and Zac Taylor were also hired as head coaches as a part of this trend.
Instead of trying to find the next young, offensive mastermind for their offense and quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Titans made a decision in favor of stability. As many other writers have noted over the last 24 hours, perhaps no coach in the NFL understands Marcus Mariota’s career better than Arthur Smith.
Smith has coached alongside all four of the play-callers that Mariota has had in his career, and he has spent a great deal of time around the quarterback.
Continuity Over Ingenuity
By hiring Smith, the Titans showed that providing comfort to Mariota in a crucial year for him was the most important factor in their decision-making process. They likely didn’t want to hire a young guru who would have been hired elsewhere as a head coach following any semblance of success.
“For what it’s worth,” said Mariota one day after the 2018 season ended, “it will be nice to get back into the building when we have the opportunity to do so, to be familiar with what’s going on. I think everybody will have an opportunity just to go out there and get ready to play, and you’re not really trying to engulf a new system.”
Mariota gave that statement with the belief that the familiarity and continuity he spoke of would be coming from LaFleur. Now, it will be coming from Smith.
It seemed a couple weeks ago as though losing LaFleur would be a crushing blow to the Titans offense. With Smith as his replacement, it won’t be nearly as big of a hurdle.
The Titans offense won’t have to worry about learning new terminology or becoming comfortable in executing an all-new scheme. Instead, they will be able to continue developing the comfort they already have.
Mariota is most important.
That comfort is going to be crucial for Mariota. He is certainly going to be the Titans quarterback in 2019, but his status beyond that has become a major question mark thanks to his propensity to miss multiple games each season due to injury.
To the eyes, he gives the Titans a great chance to win anytime he’s on the field. But statistics do have their place, and a 24-23 TD-INT ratio over the span of two seasons (29 games) is pretty unacceptable.
Mariota will need to be a much more productive player in 2019 in order to earn himself a contract extension or franchise tag. The Titans know that, and it seems they’re going to put him in the easiest and most comfortable position to prove himself.
Smith’s hire is the first step in that process. There remains more to be done.
Cover image: USA Today/Kirby Lee