A year ago, all eyes were on Arthur Smith. More accurately, every NFL team in search of a head coach wanted to get a look at him.
The interest was understandable given all that happened during his two years as Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the 2019 Comeback Player of the Year, courtesy of his best season to date. Running back Derrick Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Wide receiver A.J. Brown became the 11th player ever to top 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. There’s more, but you get the picture.
Smith bounced across the country in a series of interviews before he accepted an offer from the Atlanta Falcons to take over that team.
Chances are Titans coach Mike Vrabel largely – if not completely – will keep his staff intact this offseason. Coordinators Todd Downing and Shane Bowen have distinguished themselves in their own ways in their first years in those roles, but they likely will need another season before they are considered legitimate head coach candidates.
That does not mean that other franchises won’t look to Tennessee as they try to fill significant openings over the coming days and weeks.
After all, coaches are not the only ones who get fired at this time of year. General managers get the ax as well, and right now there are three teams that have decided to shake up their front offices.
It will be a shock if at least one current member of the Titans personnel department is not in charge of another team’s football operations before long, based on what happened during the just-completed regular season.
No deep dive is required to know that what the Titans did was impressive. Two figures say it all: 91, the record number of players the Titans used during the regular season; and 12, the number of games they won, which was good enough for the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the postseason.
It is difficult to imagine that there is a team in the NFL right now that does not want to find out some of what Tennessee knows and how it operates.
However, the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants are the ones that have fired their general managers and have started to search for replacements.
As it happens, the Titans have two legitimate candidates in vice president of player personnel Ryan Cowden and director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort. Both have interviewed for general manager openings in recent seasons – Cowden with Kansas City in 2017 and Washington in 2021, Ossenfort with Cleveland in 2020 and Carolina in 2021 – to no avail. Never, though, have they brought such clout to the process.
People often talk about the NFL as a copycat league. Typically, that applies to schemes on offense and defense. Once one team concocts something that is effective, it is just a matter of time before virtually every other club incorporates the same thing – or a reasonable facsimile – into their playbooks.
In this case, the Titans manipulated their roster over the course of 18 weeks – and amidst an ongoing worldwide pandemic – in ways some clubs probably never imagined. They found solutions when Henry, Brown, Julio Jones, Rashaan Evans and so many others were injured. Along the way Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson routinely changed up the bottom of the roster from week to week based on what they need to match up with each opponent.
The Giants, reportedly, already plan to interview Cowden and Ossenfort. It remains to be seen whether the others have a similar degree of interest in trying to capture a little of Titans’ front-office mojo and introducing it to their organizations.
Cowden has been with the Titans since 2018, the same year Robinson hired Vrabel, and Ossenfort arrived in 2020 after Cowden was promoted. Each has figured prominently in the current success of the franchise, which has a bye into the divisional round of the playoffs.
And it seems likely that one – or both – will be gone before too long.