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Calculated Conspiracy Theory: Could A Sale Be Coming?

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As the ownership silence continues, questions arise.

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The noise regarding Titans ownership (or lack of) is increasing with each loss, and it is only October. It has been a topic that has been on my mind a lot since the loss to Miami. As I went back and read some old news articles surrounding some of the events that took place in the spring, I found a lot of notable bits of information that led me to believe that a sale could be coming. In this post, I will discuss a number of factors that led me to this conclusion. As a full disclaimer, this is complete speculation on my part. There is a lot of incomplete information that led to guesswork and assumptions. I fully stand by my beliefs, but my speculation should not be taken as fact. Without further ado, my theory on why a sale could be coming:

Tommy Smith's Sudden Retirement: In many ways, this was the start of the ambiguity. It's important to take a step back and review the entire situation. Until March, it was quite clear that Tommy Smith was at the top. Susie Adams was the controlling owner, and her husband Tommy Smith was the "face." He acted as team president for about 18 months. He orchestrated several moves within the organization that indicated long term commitment. Most notably he fired Don MacLahlan and hired his replacement, but there were a number of moves made. According to an ESPN.com article written by Paul Kuharsky (which I suggest that everyone should read in its entirety, given what we know now), "since the season ended and before Smith announced his retirement, the Titans forced out their top administrative guy, Don MacLachlan; fired ticket manager Marty Collins; fired director of ticket operations Tim Zenner; fired events and customer service coordinator Tracy Holliday; promoted Start Spears to chief revenue officer; hired Bob Flynn as head of facilities and game-day operations; hired Brooke Ellenberger as vice president of ticketing; hired Amber Harding as social media coordinator; promoted Brent Akers to director of team operations; and promoted Shereme Siewnarine to director of finance." Also, Smith was quoted a number of times, touching on his commitment to turning the team around long-term. None of this indicated a "retirement" any time soon. However, that is exactly what happened on a random Friday afternoon in March.

The reality is that Tommy Smith was forced out by the rest of the ownership group. According to an article written by Jim Wyatt, there was a "shift in thinking" within the family. Wyatt's article states that "there was no longer a consensus among ownership that Susie Adams Smith should be the controlling owner, which contributed to Tommy Smith stepping down." The question is, why? What was the "shift in thinking?"  It's not as if there was a single, isolated incident that contributed to this. Again, this is complete speculation on my part, but I think that there are some within the family that want to sell the team. Tommy Smith and Susie Adams did not share the opinion--hence the number of moves within the organization that indicated long term commitment. A sale couldn't have happened with the two operating as controlling owner. What else could a completely out of the blue "shift in thinking" indicate? Backing things up for a second, let's disregard my theory. The fact that there was any kind of "shift in thinking" within the family is certainly indicative of some form of a split, regardless of the motive. Even if the "shift in thinking" in March wasn't about a sale, who's to say that it may not come given the split within the family, especially given the way the season is going?

Steve Underwood's Role: When Tommy Smith "retired," the Titans named Steve Underwood as the interim president/CEO. As Paul Kuharsky questioned in the previously mentioned article, "Why put an interim president in place rather than stay on the job long enough to hire him yourself?" Well, seven months later, he has still not been hired. As a matter of fact, the Titans never even started the hiring process. They only received unsolicited applications before announcing that Underwood would stay on for the year. Since then, he has spoken for ownership in every instance. Not once have we heard a single comment from "controlling owner" Amy Adams Strunk. There is something very odd about both of these things. For one, why did the Titans never start the hiring process before announcing that Underwood would remain with the team for the rest of the year?  It would be different if they looked, didn't like what they saw or didn't feel comfortable, and then postponed their search. The fact that there was never a search tells me something. Pair that with the fact that Underwood speaks for ownership on a full time basis, and I am of the personal belief that we have something.

League Influence: When Roger Goodell spoke at the owner's meetings, he did not exactly express confidence in the Titans ownership structure. According to an article from the Tennessean, the league and the Titans had been involved in dialogue that would continue. Goodell said, "We want to ensure that the team is under the proper ownership structure, as well as making sure it is being represented properly not only in Nashville and the Tennessee market, but also at the league level." The article later states that "the NFL’s finance committee is currently not in agreement with the team’s ownership structure and has asked the team to make adjustments." Goodell touched on this when he said ""There is a commitment,’’ Goodell said. "I met with the ownership … (and) they understand our priorities and what needs to get done and we’ll continue to work with them with our finance committee." While I don't think that the league is forcing the team to sell, I do believe that they are not happy with the Titans' ownership structure. I would not be surprised if they played a big role in Steve Underwood coming out of retirement and speaking for ownership. He is well-respected in the league office, and the league probably wanted someone outside of the ownership group to act as the leader until the wheels began turning in regards to a sale, while the ownership group kept quiet. If Amy Adams Strunk's silence continues, I will believe this more and more. Not liking the limelight is one thing, but complete and utter silence is deafening.

Bonus: In the original post, I forgot to attach the email from the Titans that was sent to the candidates, who sent their unsolicited applications for the CEO job. According to ProFootballTalk, the Titans sent this email out:

"Considering the significant changes at our club over the past 18 months, our ownership has concluded that making another leadership transition at present could be exceptionally difficult," the team advised the candidates via email.  "Selecting and installing a new leader with so little opportunity to relocate and begin work could be counterproductive.  None of this, of course, is in any way a reflection on you or your obvious qualifications for leading an NFL team.  At present, the owners expect to review our club’s overall status at the end of 2015 and will consider renewing the search for a permanent leader at that time."

My main takeaway is the last two sentences. It matches with what is said below, regarding Amy Adams Strunk's status. My other takeaway is the fact that the team said that it will "consider renewing the search for a permanent leader." I'm not sure what the alternative would even be, considering the fact that Steve Underwood has stated multiple times that he does not want to keep the job permanently. The uncertain language is notable to me. Considering all of the complaints regarding ownership, the way the season is going, the league's initial disapproval, signs of infighting, and more, you have to wonder what the league will think when they review the situation when the season ends. If a sale is the ultimate destination, my guess would be in 2016 after the league takes a full look at the situation.

Amy Adams Strunk's status: There is not much certainty regarding Amy Adams Strunk's status as controlling owner. In a couple of articles, there was something that indicated one way or another that she may not be the controlling owner on a permanent basis. The first indicator was in another ESPN.com article that I referenced last week in a separate post. The article, citing comments from Steve Underwood, stated that "The team has an understanding with the league that Amy Adams Strunk, one of Bud Adams' daughters, is operating as controlling owner. . .Strunk may be interested in the role permanently though "our ownership group is still undecided about what to do on a permanent basis." As I continued to look back, I noticed more uncertainty. In the same article from the Tennessean that touched on Roger Goodell's comments, there was a quick mention that the league still had to approve Amy Adams as controlling owner. As far as both Underwood and Goodell's comments regarding Amy Adams Strunk's status, there has been no follow up since then.

Does all of this mean that a sale is definitely coming? Of course not. Only the league and the ownership group know what is going on. However, there is a lot of information that makes you think. Anyone that has read my posts before, or even follows me on Twitter knows that I want a sale, and I'm sure there are many more who want the same. Given the amount of confusion surrounding the situation, I believe that it is definitely fair to wonder if the wheels are in motion for a sale. We can only speculate and hope.