NASHVILLE – Titans head coach Mike Vrabel believes in his staff, and in the power of continuity.
The Titans on Friday announced they will fill their two top positions under Vrabel – offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator – by making promotions within the staff.
Todd Downing has been promoted to offensive coordinator, where he'll replace Arthur Smith, who was named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons earlier this month. Also, Shane Bowen has officially been named defensive coordinator after leading the defense a year ago as outside linebackers coach.
The Titans have been to the playoffs in two of Vrabel's first three seasons. The Titans won the AFC South in 2020 for the first time since 2008 while finishing with a record of 11-5. In 2019, the Titans advanced to the AFC Championship for the first time since 2002.
In addition to elevating Downing and Bowen, Vrabel promoted Luke Steckel to tight ends coach, Ryan Crow to outside linebackers coach and Matt Edwards to assistant special teams coach.
Also, the Titans have hired Kenechi Udeze as a defensive line assistant. He'll work under current defensive line coach Terrell Williams.
"I spent the last two weeks evaluating our current staff and talking with others outside our organization. I am excited for all of these guys taking the next step with us," Vrabel said. "Todd did a great job with the tight ends over the last two years and had important role in the game-planning process each week. I was impressed with the details of his teaching and the production from his group and the offense in general. I am sure he will have some new ideas to implement, but the core system will be in place to build upon, which I think is important. Shane will move into the dedicated role of coordinator, with Ryan taking over the outside linebackers this year, and I am looking forward to him growing in that role. We are going to work hard to improve that side of the ball through better coaching, improving our system and our players. I like the group we have on the defensive staff and I am confident that we will improve."
At the end of the season, several players discussed the importance of continuity this offseason.
The last time Vrabel was faced with filling the OC spot was when Matt LaFleur was hired as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Vrabel promoted Smith from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, and the offense took off under Smith's guidance.
Downing just finished his third season with the Titans, and his 21st in the NFL.
Downing joined the Titans after spending 2018 with the Minnesota Vikings as tight ends coach. In his one season with Downing, Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the second highest reception (64) and yardage totals (634) of his eight-year career.
"He is a great teacher, and his knowledge of the pass game is as good as anybody I've been around," Rudolph told TennesseeTitans.com of Downing after he was hired in 2019. "He works really, really hard in terms of technique in the run game, providing you with tools that can help you. He's just a really good coach. With his experience, he brings a lot to the table. … I felt each and every week he prepared me as well as anyone I've played for in terms of getting ready for Sundays."
With the Titans, Downing has been instrumental in the development of tight ends Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser and MCole Pruitt.
Downing served as the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2017 after spending two years as quarterbacks coach. During his Raiders tenure, he helped Derek Carr earn three consecutive Pro Bowl berths (2015-17). In 2016, Downing helped the Raiders offense finish sixth in the NFL in total offense (373.3 yards per game) and guided Carr to a career year, finishing with 3,937 yards on 357-of-560 passing (63.8 percent) with 28 touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 96.7.
Prior to joining the Raiders, Downing coached quarterbacks for the Buffalo Bills in 2014 after previously coaching for the Detroit Lions from 2009 to 2013. In Downing's three seasons as quarterbacks coach in Detroit, Matthew Stafford started all 48 games and passed for at least 4,600 yards and 20 touchdowns each year, including a 5,000-yard, 41-touchdown season in 2011, which led to the Lions' first playoff berth since 1999. Under Downing's tutelage, Stafford went on to become the franchise leader in attempts, completions and passing yards, and he ranked second in touchdowns with 109 by the end of 2013.
At season's end, quarterback Ryan Tannehill expressed confidence in the team's potential to sustain their success from 2020, when the team finished 2nd in the NFL in total offense while averaging 31 points per game.
"With consistency and continuity, it helps build on what you did so we'll see what happens there," Tannehill said. "Consistency definitely helps in any turnover. 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," Tannehill said, "I feel strongly that no matter who fills that role (as O.C) … we can build on what we did this year."
Bowen just finished his third season as the outside linebackers coach with the Titans and his sixth season coaching in the NFL.
With Bowen as the defensive play-caller last year, the Titans finished seventh in the NFL in takeaways with 23, which tied for the most by a Titans defense since 2013. Those 23 takeaways led to 71 of the 491 points scored by the Titans this season, a total that ranked fourth highest in the NFL. Also, the Titans ranked seventh in the NFL with 15 interceptions, the Titans since 2012 (19).
While working with the outside linebackers, Bowen has helped Harold Landry development since the second-round pick entered the NFL in 2018. Landry's 19 total sacks over the last three seasons are the second most among the 2018 draft class.
In 2020, the defense did struggle on third-down while failing to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks following an offseason without an offseason program, OTAs or a minicamp. The Titans tallied nine sacks in the team's final two games in 2020, and will look to build on that momentum in 2021.
Bowen joined the Titans after spending two seasons with the Houston Texans as a defensive assistant. In 2017, the Texans ranked fifth in third-down defense and set a franchise record for fewest yards per carry by opponents (3.97). In 2016, he was part of a coaching staff that produced the NFL's top-ranked defense (301.3 yards allowed per game) for the first time in franchise history. The 2016 squad, which also gave up the fewest first downs (17.0) and second-fewest net passing yards (201.6) per game, won the AFC South Division and advanced to the Divisional Playoff Round.
Before joining the Texans, Bowen was hired by Kennesaw State University in 2013 as one of the first coaches to help launch the school's new football program. He spent the 2012 campaign as a defensive graduate assistant at Ohio State. The 2012 season at Ohio State was the first time Bowen and Vrabel were on the same staff. They reunited from 2016-17 with the Texans.
Steckel just finished his eighth season with the Titans, and his seventh as an assistant coach. As an offensive assistant in his tenure with the Titans, he assisted as a coach with the running backs (2014-15), tight ends (2016), wide receivers (2020, 2017-18) and quarterbacks (2019). He originally joined the Titans in 2013 as the assistant to the head coach. He served in the same capacity with the Cleveland Browns (2009-12), before coming to Tennessee.
Crow just finished his third season with the Titans and his first year as assistant special teams coach. He arrived in Tennessee in 2018 as a defensive assistant after spending seven seasons in the college coaching ranks.
Edwards also finished his third season with the Titans in 2020 and his first year as defensive assistant. He joined the team in 2018 as assistant special teams coach after spending 15 years coaching in the college ranks. Edwards will assist Titans special teams coach Craig Aukerman.
Udeze joins the Titans after spending one season with Vanderbilt as their linebackers coach. He previously served as a analyst on the defensive staff during LSU's 2019 National Title season. He entered coaching at his alma mater, USC, in 2015 as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for one season and then spent three seasons (2016-18) on the defensive staff for the Trojans. As a player for USC, Udeze earned All-America honors during his senior campaign, totaling 16.5 sacks. He was the 20th overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2004 NFL Draft and went on to play four seasons, before a battle with Leukemia cut his career short.
At the end of the season, Vrabel said it's going to take everyone to build on the success of 2020.
"We'll coach better. We'll play better," he said. "But those are things that we have to do in all three phases. There were times that it looked like we put all three phases together, played really well, and then there were stints where we didn't do that. We're going to evaluate the roster and the coaching staff, the plays that we run, and the scheme that we have and everything across the board. We ultimately didn't win a championship."