Arthur Smith knows a lot has and will continue to change for him. The former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator does not shy away from the fact.
Named the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons this past Friday, Smith will have many more responsibilities. He will call the plays for the Falcons offense in addition to being responsible for the rest of the roster. He will also be involved with constructing a roster and establishing a culture and an identity in the locker room.
The 38-year-old will begin all of those duties without the one player that made his offenses in Tennessee over the last two seasons so dangerous: Derrick Henry, who has led the league in rushing in each of the last two seasons and just became the eighth 2,000-yard rusher in league history. Smith admitted the obvious, and that is that there is no clone of Henry.
“There is only one Derrick Henry,” he said. “It’s like having Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. You have to feed the big fella and certainly, we did that in Tennessee.”
Smith used the word ‘adapt’ extensively throughout his introductory press conference with the Falcons on Tuesday. Constructing and leading a team and offense without a workhorse like Henry will be one of the biggest things Smith has to adapt to.
Smith said the Falcons will play to the strengths of the players that will be on the roster. While Falcons currently have a four-time Pro Bowler in Matt Ryan at quarterback, along with a talented group of pass catchers, headlined by Juilo Jones and Calvin Ridley, there is no star running back on the roster.
“If you’ve got two guys (running backs), that’s great. Cleveland (Browns) has had a lot of success with that this year,” Smith said. “... Every year is different. That’s an example of playing to our strengths. There are multiple ways to do it. You’ve got two guys or three guys, or if you do find one (workhorse running back). I think we have to be flexible.”
Smith’s offenses in Tennessee certainly embodied how he hopes the Falcons will perform. Smith used the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry, who is faster than he appears, to the Titans’ advantage. He also got the most out of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who enjoyed two of the most successful seasons of his career under Smith’s leadership of the offense.
“Playing to the strengths of your players,” Smith said. “...We’re not going to find the next Derrick Henry. We’ll adapt to the players we have and the ones we add to the roster. Ryan (Tannehill) was very decisive, and we had a lot of guys that could make plays. We just tried to use the full force of our offense. We didn’t want to be an isolation football team.”
Smith has plenty of work ahead of him with the Falcons, who just finished a 4-12 season. Under four different head coaches, Smith But had six different roles on the Titans coaching staff over 10 seasons. Adapting has become one of his strengths.
Clearly, it’s a big reason why he thought he was the right man for the job.
“I was very confident in what we had done,” Smith said. “I thought it was a great fit. First off, it was an unbelievable opportunity to sit in front of (Falcons Owner Arthur Blank) and Rich McKay [President and CEO] to present why I can be a head coach, using my history of what I have done as a coach in different backgrounds and aspects of the entire team, not just the offense.
“... Just look at the body of work. And that is what I wanted to present to them: Here’s my body of work. Here’s what I have done.”