When Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith left to become the new head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, it opened a rather large hole on a team otherwise plagued with very few.
Now, head coach Mike Vrabel finds himself searching for not one, but two coordinators and he faces a slippery slope of deciding whether to promote from within for continuity sake or go outside of the organization to hire someone with a more proven track record.
Smith led all offensive coordinators over the last two seasons (including the postseason) in offensive touchdowns with 120. Under his guidance, the Titans became the first team ever with a 2,000-yard rusher and 3,500-yard passer in the same season in NFL history.
The Titans set franchise records in 2020 for total yards (6,343) and first downs (381), and they scored the second-most points in franchise history (491). In the last 20 NFL seasons, Smith-led Tennessee offenses rank first in red-zone efficiency, second in yards per play and fourth in scoring.
Tennessee was tied for second in the NFL in 2020 in total yards per game (396.4) and they ranked second in rushing yards per game (168.1), total touchdowns (62) and rushing touchdowns (26). Tennessee tied for third in first downs (381) and ranked fourth in points per game (30.7), fifth in third-down conversions (46.2 percent) and eighth in fourth-down conversions (62.5 percent).
Smith was also responsible for quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s career renaissance and the emergence of running back Derrick Henry. Tannehill completed 65 percent of his passes just twice in his six seasons in Miami. He did so both years in Tennessee, including a career-best 70.3 percent last year. Tannehill also had a passer rating of at least 106 both years working with Smith.
Henry averaged 118.4 yards rushing per game, 5.4 yards per carry and 16.5 touchdowns per season under Smith. In his previous three seasons, Henry had just one 1,000-yard season, averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 7.3 touchdowns per season.
Below are the top candidates to replace Smith in 2021:
Titans QB coach Pat O’Hara, WR coach Rob Moore, OL coach Keith Carter
Keeping continuity might be the best course of action for the Titans. The team can survive if receiver Corey Davis doesn’t re-sign. The same cannot be said for a regression by Tannehill or a diminished role for Henry.
Promoting from within might be the only way to prevent a mass exodus of assistant coaches. Any one of O’Hara, Moore or Carter could be a solid option and mean the 2021 Titans aren’t much different than the 2020 Titans, offensively.
"With consistency and continuity, it helps build on what you did so we'll see what happens there," Tannehill said. "Like I said, I don't know exactly what's going to happen there with Arthur (Smith) or a similar system or whatnot. It's all out of my hands at this point. But, consistency definitely helps in any turnover."
O’Hara might be the leader of the pack here considering his work in Tannehill’s development the last two seasons. Moore proved his value the last two years, turning A.J. Brown into a bona fide No. 1 wideout and helping Davis resurrect his career in 2020. The Titans offensive line also surrendered just 35 sacks this season under Carter, and that’s despite losing both Taylor Lewan and Ty Sambrailo to major injuries.
Chargers quarterback coach Pep Hamilton
Hamilton is about as well-rounded of a coordinator that the Titans could hope to land. He has coached Andrew Luck at both Stanford and the Colts and he has also has several NFL stops including with the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and the Chargers.
Hamilton’s presence could help keep Tannehill sharp as the 46-year-old helped develop rookie QB Justin Herbert, who set rookie records for passing touchdowns (31), total touchdowns (36), completions (396), 300-yard games (eight) and multi-touchdown games (10). He also had the second-most single-season passing yards for a rookie behind Luck.
Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott
Although several reports have Elliott remaining at Clemson, he could probably be enticed to leave the Tigers for the right opportunity. What better opportunity than to coach the two-time NFL rushing champion and a quarterback that has ranked in the top five in both touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating each of the last two seasons? Elliott has overseen the development of both Trevor Lawrence and Travis Ettiene — two of college football’s top players at the quarterback and running back position, respectively. The Titans reportedly reached out to Elliott five days ago.
Others in the running: former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and former Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien.
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