NASHVILLE – When Titans head coach Mike Vrabel promoted Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator back in January of 2019, current players raved about the move.
They cited Smith's unique offensive mind, his ability to adapt and teach, as well as his personality in dealing with players.
"The dude knows what he is doing," Titans tight end Delanie Walker said of Smith at the time. "He understands football."
But Walker predicted something then: "Arthur will be a head coach one day."
Well, that day has come. On Friday, Smith was named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. The long-time Titans assistant coach, who just finished his second season as the team's OC, is expected to be formally introduced in the coming days.
Vrabel issued the following statement on Friday:
"I want to congratulate Arthur, and his family, on becoming the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Arthur's leadership and the relationships he built with the players and staff led to on-field success. I personally appreciate the dedication and hard work he put in for the Titans and and we look forward to seeing his continued success."
Earlier in the week, Vrabel discussed Smith's qualities when asked what would make him a good head coach.
"Arthur would do a great job," Vrabel said. "I've got a lot of respect for Arthur. Arthur's always done the best job in the job that he's had, hasn't worked telephones and tried to undercut anybody. He's always come to work. 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."
Smith did a nice job with the Titans, who in 2020 became the first team in NFL history with a 2,000-yard rusher and a 3,500-yard passer in the same season (2,027 rushing by Derrick Henry, 3,819 passing by Ryan Tannehill).
The Titans scored 30-plus points in 20 games in 2020, and 40-plus points in five games.
Titans guard Rodger Saffold said earlier this week he was rooting for Smith, even if it meant changes for the Titans. Smith was promoted from tight ends coach to replace Matt LaFleur, who was hired to be the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
"Arthur deserves everything that he gets," Saffold said. "He's done a fantastic job being a motivatior, an instructor, teaching everybody the offense and the way it needs to be played. He really deserves everything that he gets. It will definitely be a big loss to this team to lose him. He was always teaching us about the growth mindset, so why would be limit his growth because of our own selfish desires? I hope that he does get a head coaching job somewhere. I think he deserves that. I think that is the next step in his evolution as a coach. I couldn't be more proud to be one of his players underneath this offense. But at the end of the day, the players have to be the ones to make the plays, and regardless of who our offensive coordinator is we have to make sure that we do our job. …. Losing Arthur would be a huge hit, but I want him to get a head coaching job because I think he deserves it."
The Titans finished the season with 2,690 rushing yards and 3,653 net passing yards while surrendering only 25 sacks. They became the first team in NFL history to generate at least 2,500 rushing yards and 3,500 net passing yards while surrendering 25 or fewer sacks.
In 2020, the Titans finished the season with the most total yards in franchise history (6,343), the most first downs in franchise history (381) and the second-most total points in franchise history (491).
"(Arthur) is a great coach all the way around," said Tannehill, who threw for 3,819 passing yards in 2020 while setting a franchise record with 40 combined passing touchdowns (33) and rushing touchdowns (seven) in a season. "Everything that you look for in a coach and a leader and a great offensive mind he does a good job with. I'd love to have Art back, but if he does get a job it's well deserved."
Now, the question for the Titans becomes: What will Vrabel do to replace Smith?
Vrabel was always aware this day might come, and on Monday he said he'd be prepared for it.
Tannehill said the offense will need to build on the success of 2020 in 2021 no matter who is named OC.
"Obviously Arthur has played a big part in it no doubt about it," Tannehill said. "But with the guys that we have, the core that we have coming back, and the foundation that we've laid, the pillars of the program that we believe in, and how we like to play the game, and the way that leadership on this team, and the way that guys have bought in, I feel strongly that no matter who fills that role … that we can build on what we did this year."