The Tennessee Titans officially introduced Arthur Smith as the offensive coordinator on Tuesday afternoon with a press conference at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
Following Dean Pees’ appearance at the podium, Smith was asked about his rise through the ranks and his plans for the Titans offense going forward.
These are the key takeaways I noticed from the press conference...
- Smith started off by talking about getting hired in 2011 by Mike Munchak and Jerry Gray on the defensive side of the ball and how fortunate he was to continue getting promoted as new coaching staffs rolled through, moving from defense to offense to assistant tight ends/OL, to assistant tight ends, to tight ends, and finally to where he is now.
“I was able to learn from a lot of good people, and luckily I just kept my head down and tried to do a good job with the job they gave me.”
- Smith was asked of all the offenses and coordinators he’s coached under, which one most closely aligns with his beliefs.
“Well it’s this one. I like this system a lot. You know, there are different variations. You can go through this and call things your ‘system,’ but whether this was Paul Brown to Mike Shanahan to Mike Heimerdinger, Gary Kubiak to Kyle Shanahan — and you’ve seen the people who worked under Mike Shanahan: Kyle, Sean McVay, and obviously Matt LaFleur — there’s a lot of different variations, but at its core, I’m a big fan of it... The first offense I ever coached in was similar to this... When Dowell [Loggains] took over, obviously he had been with Mike Heimerdinger, that was in 2013, we integrated a lot of that stuff. The keeper game, how you teach the quarterback, how he’s going to read the progressions, and then obviously when Matt came in here, it was a little bit different... So to answer your question, I’m a big fan of this offense. This is kind of the third time I’ve been in it, so to speak.”
One concern that was raised when it was announced that Arthur Smith would be running the same system as Lafleur was to wonder just how well he actually knew this system after being in it for just one season.
It’s clear to me now that Smith truly understands the keys, the history, and the nuances of the “West Coast” offense. He was asked to give a percentage on how much the scheme would stay the same compared to what he wants to implement, but he didn’t commit to a percentage, knowing that things will change from the offseason install to the gameplans in the fall.
I like that he’s acknowledging the need to be flexible and prepared to adapt while also not really giving anything away about what the offense will actually look like.
- Smith also confirmed that the language for the offense would not change.
“For the players, it’s a lot easier to keep the language the same, so when they come in here on April 15th, it’s not a whole new playbook, they’re not spending the first couple weeks just trying to memorize what we’re calling this formation, what’s this guard-center combination block, what’s our protection calls. We can just get in here and hit the ground running with what we want to accomplish and how can we improve.”
This was the expectation, and Mike Vrabel said as much at the Senior Bowl last month, but it’s still nice to hear it from Smith along with his explanation. Comforting even if it is the obvious response.
- Paul Kuharsky asked, “What’s the key to maximizing Marcus?” Smith said that having familiarity with the system and an improved offense around him would help Mariota improve.
“When he comes in here [in April], he’ll know exactly how we are reading plays, he’ll know exactly how we are calling plays, and that just allows him to take another step. So to answer your question, I think as the whole offense improves, in Year 2, it’ll help the quarterback.”
Not to read into that answer too much, but it sounds like the Titans will place an emphasis on improving the players around Mariota in an effort to maximize their quarterback’s own abilities.
- When asked if there’s anything the coaches can do to help ensure that Mariota plays 16 games, Smith said there are plenty of things they can try to accomplish, and that there are a lot of factors in keeping the quarterback upright, including playcalling, understanding week-to-week matchups, changing the quarterback’s launch point, and having a successful run game, and capped it off by saying, “There definitely will be a conscious effort to keep him healthy.”
- Jim Wyatt raised the question about Derrick Henry and how involved he’ll be in the offense moving forward.
“Well Derrick’s going to be a big part of our offense. You know, Derrick has a rare skill set, he’s a home run hitter. And like I said, we’re taking another step hopefully with him. What he did the last five weeks will open up a lot of things, and hopefully to improve on what he did, but Derrick will be a big part of the offense.”
Smith mentioned Henry a few times unprompted, and he definitely sounds excited to have the young running back as a part of his offense.
- When asked if the Titans would remain a primarily zone-blocking concept team, Smith was pretty noncommittal. He said that while zone is a great starting point for the team, Henry and Lewis, and even David Fluellen (or “whoever else on our roster that we’re going to hand the ball to”), could fit into a multitude of schemes.
“Whether you’re running zone, gaps, pin-pulls, zone reads, doesn’t matter, there’s a certain mentality we want to play with coming off the football. We want to be physical and knock people back, but that’s not necessarily saying we’re going to only run gap schemes, we’re going to only run zone schemes. We’re going to try to give us an advantage.”
- Smith talked about the ways Mike Vrabel will help prepare him to call plays, something he’s never done before, throughout spring practices and training camp.
“I haven’t called a play in the National Football League yet, so I’ve got to get those reps in. And luckily, the way we’ll set up — and Coach Vrabel did a great job with Matt last year, Matt hadn’t called a play until he got here — the way we go through practices in the spring and put myself in situations to call it with the play clock, and obviously the four preseason games will certainly help.”
Obviously the ability to call plays is the number one question mark concerning Art Smith’s promotion. We won’t know how well he can do it until he actually does it, but it’s nice to hear the ways they’ll be practicing this all-important aspect of his new job.
- Jim Wyatt asked what the ideal run-pass ratio would look like at the end of the season. Smith responded by saying, “Again that’s another thing you don’t want to put a number on,” noting that different games will call for different ratios of run and pass. “We’ll try to be as balanced as we can, but again we’re going to do what we have to do to win a game.”
- He mentioned that as long as everyone is healthy, “12” and “13” personnel will be big parts of the gameplan because of the mismatches they can create with the tight ends on the roster.
- Smith talked about how playing “physical” doesn’t just mean in the run game, that it applies to pass protection, how you finish plays with the ball in your hands, if you’re running with your teammates downfield, and added that the “passing game will evolve to fit our players’ skillsets.”
- Mickey Ryan pointed out the advantage Smith has taking over this position with a roster he’s already familiar with. Smith expanded on that point:
“Certainly, it’s a much faster transition. When Matt got here last year, or if I’d gotten a job somewhere else, you have to spend the first couple months getting to know the players, getting to know how the building operates, certainly the roster, what their skillsets are. So now, I’ve been with these guys for a long time. It definitely helps. It helps because you know who they are, what they need to improve on, and how we want to plan to go forward.”
- When asked about his family background and his father’s status as the billionaire founder of FedEx, Smith gave a great answer.
“You know, obviously I’m very proud, I’ve been lucky that my dad has had a positive influence, but I’ve never mistaken his success as my success. He’s always told us to go earn your own success. It’s the attitude — he’s the most humble man I’ve ever met, that’s had an impact on me. He’s never been impressed with himself. I’m certainly not impressed with myself or think I’ve ‘arrived’ just because I’ve been given the chance to be a coordinator. I’ve got a lot of work to do to improve myself, and that will never stop as long as I’m coaching.”
- Someone asked Smith, “Do you think it’s more important now for fans to have kind of a high-powered entertaining offense more so than it was 5 or 10 years ago?”
“If you can look aesthetically pleasing, people will like that in the short term, but at the end of the day we have to win games, and it’ll always come down to that. You can lead the league in points — and certainly we’re going to try to score as many points as we can — but at the end of the day, we’re going to try to win as a team in all three phases... Certainly we want to improve in the red zone, which will help, but just to be aesthetically pleasing? That’s not the end goal. The end goal is to be the best offense we can be and to win that game... but we’re going to certainly try to get explosives, and I think that’s always the goal, to get explosive plays.”
- Smith discussed how he’s had a chance to get up and present something in front of the team under every staff he’s worked for, and how that experience should prepare him well for his new role.
“I’ve always tried to pick the brains of the coaches and players I worked with, and London Fletcher always told me, ‘If you get up there and you know what you’re talking about and you give me one thing that can help me on Sunday, you’re good.’ So I always remembered that.”
Today’s press conference gave us an outstanding first impression of the Titans new offensive coordinator. He quelled many of the concerns that were raised about his lack of coordinator experience by exuding a quiet confidence. His answers were intelligent. He wasn’t reliant on “coach speak,” answering most questions in detail while still managing to avoid giving away any secrets about how the offense will actually operate.
Coach Art showed off some personality, including a bit of humor when he joked that he “failed upward” to achieve this position, and later said he hopes that the players who endorsed him when he got this job will “still feel that way in Week 2.” He also threw in a funny comment about Gregg Williams being a “genius, a Mensa, and you can tell Gregg I said that,” drawing laughs from the room.
Smith has a humble, hard-working mentality that shined today. He consistently used words and phrases like “luckily” or “I was very fortunate,” passing off the credit for his hard work and success to factors outside his control.
Despite his reluctance to admit it, Arthur Smith got to the position he now holds by working hard and contributing wherever he was able. Whether or not he is capable of designing an offense and calling the right plays to maximize the talent on the roster is yet to be seen, but he’s not shown us any reason to be concerned thus far.
Overall, King Arthur came across as a very intelligent, relatable, and hard-working coach who is determined to be successful and do whatever it takes to win football games. I’m behind Art Smith 100%.