The Atlanta Falcons announced Friday that they agreed to terms with Arthur Smith to become their new head coach, and the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator brings a lot to the table.
Smith has a reputation for being humble and hard-working, something Titans head coach Mike Vrabel alluded to when asked about Smith's prospects as a head coach.
"I think Arthur would do a great job," Vrabel said. "I've got a lot of respect for Arthur. Arthur has always done the best job in the job that he's had. He hasn't worked the telephones and tried to undercut anybody. He's always come to work, and I have a lot of trust in Arthur as a person, first and foremost. I know he'd do a fantastic job leading anybody's team."
Spending 10 years with the Titans organization under four different head coaches, Smith has a background as a tight ends coach, which is fitting given his versatility in blending the run and pass as offensive coordinator.
Upon replacing Matt LaFleur, who has gone on to have success as a head coach, himself, Smith took the Titans' offense to a new level. In 2018, the final season with LaFleur as offensive coordinator, Tennessee ranked 25th in total offense, with 312.4 yards per game, and 27th in points per game, averaging 19.4. In 2019, the Titans ranked 12th in total offense, with 362.8 yards per game, and 10th in points per game, averaging 25.1.
This season, Tennessee made yet another noticeable leap forward. The Titans tied for second in total offense, averaging 396.4 yards per game. They were the fourth-highest scoring offense in the league, putting up 30.7 points per game. Smith has been lauded for his run schemes and effectiveness at blending play-action passes off of them.
That hard work and unassuming mindset helped others achieve success equal to his own. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a former first-round pick, appeared in jeopardy of never again becoming a starter until the Titans made the decision to turn to him midway through the 2019 season. Tannehill led Tennessee to a 7-3 record as starter and a late-year surge en route to being named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith also had a hand in helping Derrick Henry become one of the most feared offensive players in the game. Behind a late-season renaissance, Henry reached 1,000 yards for the first time in his career in 2018. In his two years working with Smith, Henry was never in jeopardy of missing that mark, topping 1,500 yards in both 2019 and 2020. This year, he became only the eighth player in league history to gain 2,000 rushing yards, totaling 2,027 yards.
"It's a credit to where we're at, offensively, to be in that conversation," Smith said of the attention he's gotten as a head coach. "There's so many factors that are involved, and credit goes to so many people, players and staff."
While the Falcons don't have a running back on the roster with the recent success Henry has enjoyed, they've got plenty of offensive weapons for Smith to enjoy. Matt Ryan ranked fourth in 2020 with 4,581 passing yards, Calvin Ridley had a breakout season and finished the year tied for fifth with 1,374 yards and Julio Jones still averaged nearly 86 yards per game in an injury riddled season.
Owner Arthur Blank has said the team's new head coach and general manager will be able to make determinations about all players on the roster, including Ryan and Jones, but it's interesting to think how a coach with Smith's offensive acumen could use them, especially in the red zone. Tennessee ranked second in red zone percentage this season after finishing first in that category in 2019. The Falcons have finished no higher than 25th in the red zone the last two seasons.
One of the hottest head coach candidates this offseason, Smith interviewed with a large number of teams seeking to fill that role. There may be some fans who aren't familiar with Smith's prior work, but the results speak for themselves, even if he's not one to openly promote them.
"If things work out, they work out," Smith said. "I don't worry about it. I don't try to run an election campaign; I just don't believe in that. I've got to do a good job at the job I have, and that's all I care about."
The former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator becomes the 18th head coach in Atlanta Falcons franchise history.