It was not the Tennessee Titans’ win-loss record. It was not any of the marks running back Derrick Henry established. In fact, it is not actually listed in any record book.
Still, it is the one aspect of Arthur Smith’s tenure with the Titans that so impressed Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank it helped set him apart from a field of more than half a dozen head coach candidates and figured into Blank’s decision to go with Smith as his new head coach.
“The fact that he’s been at Tennessee and there’s been three coaching changes there, and in each case, they’ve chosen not only to keep Coach Smith but to move him up the pipeline, move him up the ladder in terms of his responsibility is probably a record in the NFL for 101 yards,” Blank said. “That never really happens.”
Blank and the Falcons formally introduced Smith as their coach Tuesday, four days after the decision was made, and officially closed the book on Smith’s time with Tennessee, which began in 2011 as a defensive assistant/quality control coach under then-coach Mike Munchak. When Ken Whisenhunt replaced Munchak in 2014, he retained Smith as his assistant tight ends coach. Mike Mularkey kept Smith on staff from 2016-17 as the tight ends coach and Mike Vrabel used him as tight ends coach (2018) and offensive coordinator (2019-20).
The only other NFL franchise for which he worked was Washington, where he spent two years as a defensive assistant/quality control coach. His first season was under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and his second was under Jim Zorn, who took over in 2008 when Gibbs retired for the second time.
“(Gibbs) texted me (Monday) and said, ‘I want you to know that this young man, who I had in the very early stages of his career, did a superlative job for me. I always thought he was going to go places in the league. He was always hard-working. Very thoughtful. Bright.’ … It was nice to hear that from a Hall of Fame coach.”
Smith, 38, never has been a head coach at any level. He inherits a team that played in the Super Bowl five years ago but has made just one playoff appearance. The Falcons, like the Titans, are one of 13 NFL franchises that has never won a Super Bowl.
Blank purchased the team in 2002 and recently has shown patience with his coaches. Smith’s immediate predecessors, Dan Quinn and Mike Smith, each had extended runs in the role. Smith guided Atlanta from 2008-14 and Quinn followed from 2015 through the first five games of 2020.
Now, it is Smith’s turn.
“On all the references that we got, there were a couple things that came out consistently – extraordinarily hard-working, great humility, cares deeply about the players, always put players in position to win,” Blank said. “… He definitely has great humility, which speaks well for him.
“… He’s got a great background, great credentials. He had a ton of experience in Tennessee.”
Under several different coaches.