A year ago, all eyes were on Arthur Smith. Specifically, every NFL team looking for a head coach wanted to see him.
The interest was understandable given everything that happened in his two years as the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the 2019 Returning Player of the Year, thanks to his best season yet. Running back Derrick Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Wide receiver AJ Brown became the 11th player to exceed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. There’s more, but you get the picture.
Smith bounced around the country in a series of interviews before accepting an offer from the Atlanta Falcons to take over that team.
Chances are Titans coach Mike Vrabel will largely — if not completely — keep his team intact this offseason. Coordinators Todd Downing and Shane Bowen distinguished themselves in their own ways during their early years in those roles, but they’ll likely need another season before they’re considered legitimate candidates for head coaching.
That doesn’t mean other franchises won’t look to Tennessee as they try to fill major openings in the days and weeks ahead.
After all, coaches aren’t the only ones getting fired at this time of year. General managers also get the axe, and right now there are three teams that have decided to shake up their front offices.
It will come as a shock if at least one current member of the Titans personnel department isn’t in charge of another team’s football operations for a long time, based on what happened during the regular season. which has just ended.
It doesn’t take a deep dive to know what the Titans did was awe-inspiring. Two numbers speak volumes: 91, the record number of players used by the Titans in the regular season; and 12, the number of games they won, which was good enough for the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
It’s hard to imagine there’s a team in the NFL right now that doesn’t want to find out some of what Tennessee knows and how it works.
However, the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants are the ones who fired their general managers and started looking for replacements.
The Titans happen to 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 positions 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, however, have they brought such weight to the process.
People often refer to the NFL as a copycat league. As a general rule, this applies to attack and defense regimes. Once a team cooks up something effective, it’s only 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 have manipulated their roster over the course of 18 weeks – and in the midst of an ongoing global 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 regularly changed the bottom of the roster from week to week depending on what they needed to face each opponent.
The Giants have already planned to interview Cowden and Ossenfort. It remains to be seen if others have a similar interest in trying to capture some of the Titans front office mojo and introduce 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 featured prominently in the current success of the franchise, which has a bye to the divisional round of the playoffs.
And it seems likely that one – or both – will be gone before too long.