You can list this under headlines that would have seemed absolutely insane back in Week 6, but here we are... Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has officially popped up on the head coaching radar.
Read into it what you want, but Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero are as plugged in as any NFL analysts in the business. You can check out the full list of 25 names here, but this is what they had to say about Smith:
Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, 37: In his ninth season with the Titans, Smith was an obscure name until Mike Vrabel promoted him from tight ends coach after last season. He has taken advantage, impressing with his even-keeled demeanor and work with a revitalized Ryan Tannehill.
There is a ton to unpack here.
First, what a turnaround for Arthur Smith. Most Titans fans were ready to fire him by Week 6 and the media was even asking Mike Vrabel questions about Smith’s job security during press conferences. Nine weeks later, he’s making a top 25 list for head coaching jobs. Fortunes can change in a heartbeat in the NFL.
The reason that Smith is appearing on this list is pretty clear. He fits two of the biggest qualifiers for becoming a “sexy” head coaching candidate in 2019 (or 2020):
- Offensive playcaller who has shown even a hint of success.
Smith’s success is growing more and more undeniable by the week. With 15 points on Sunday, the Titans will surge past the 2008 and 2016 Titans (375 points and 381 points, respectively) for the third highest scoring season the franchise has seen since they became known as the Titans in 1999. With a 26 point outing, they would leapfrog the 1999 team (392 points) for second place behind the out of reach 2003 squad (435 points).
The team is currently ranked 10th in scoring among their contemporaries for the 2019 season and appears a near lock to become the first Titans team since 2003 to finish higher than 14th in scoring.
If you prefer advanced metrics, things get even better. Football Outsiders DVOA ratings has the Tennessee offense as it’s 6th best unit for the entire season (that mark is even higher if you consider just the Tannehill portion of the season) and they’re ranked 3rd in explosive run rate, 4th in explosive pass rate, and 2nd in explosive play rate per Sharp Football Stats.
The Titans have scored at least 20 points in every game since Ryan Tannehill took over behind center. The only other team in franchise history to have a streak of at least nine games with 20 or more points was the 1988 Oilers (whose streak ended at ten games).
I don’t know whether or not Smith’s success as a playcaller would make him a great head coach — we’ve seen great playcallers go on to be sub par in the big chair before — but his diverse background will be attractive to teams looking for coaches. Prior to taking over as offensive coordinator this season, the former college offensive lineman served as a tight ends coach, a college scouting assistant, and a defensive quality control coach. He’s seen this business from a lot of angles and he’s done it under a lot of coaches. Smith has famously survived three separate regime changes in Tennessee since being hired by Mike Munchak in 2011.
Obviously, this would be horrible news for the Titans if Smith were to leave for a head coaching position. Losing assistant coaches to head coaching jobs is a problem that we haven’t had around here in a long time, but losing offensive coordinators in back to back years would be especially tough. Part of the reason Smith was promoted to offensive playcaller to begin with was an effort to maintain continuity within the offense after losing Matt LaFleur to the Packers last offseason.
Smith and Tannehill have clearly clicked and this offense seems to really fit the dynamic personnel that Jon Robinson has assembled on that side of the ball. Getting a second year of Smith and Tannehill together should be priority number one this offseason. The Titans cannot block Smith from interviewing or taking a head coaching job by league rule, but they should do everything in their power to keep him here.
One approach to doing that would be convincing him that if he were to stay for another year and put up a similar result in 2020, he would become the hot head coaching candidate on the market and would likely have his pick of several positions.
Another approach would be to give him a hefty pay raise. While the son of FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith is probably not hurting for money, sometimes a pay raise is as much about recognizing an individual’s worth as it is about the cold, hard cash (though that’s nice too).
Should Smith get poached by a rival club, the Titans could look within for a potential replacement again. Tight ends coach Todd Downing has some playcalling experience at the NFL level, and of course, quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara has a strong relationship with Tannehill and some experience with playcalling, though it was at the high school level.
Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.