2021 New NFL Head Coach Hire Fantasy Impact Study: Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans
I have to say, right away – this study/research into Arthur Smith was a GIANT letdown.
I was like most people going into this: Smith did a good job with Tennessee’s offense the past few years and getting such production out of Ryan Tannehill feels like a modern miracle, so it seemed like Smith was as good as anyone to land a head coaching gig.
With that, I also don’t think head coaches matter all that much – in the sense that I am more wanting to make sure the coach doesn’t get in the way of the talent with a cockamamie ‘system’ or poor choices for personnel/starters (like Anthony Lynn’s attempted destruction of the Chargers). I’d love to see a genius at head coach doing genius things, but all the coaching geniuses seem to have elite QBs who fell in their laps and that’s the source of their genius…and when that elite QB is gone/hurt or was never there…the coaches are on a countdown clock for future-getting fired.
That’s the fork in the road where Arthur Smith’s rise to head coach occurs…with the Ryan Tannehill story. Really, all of our (the group of us) entire ‘feelings’ on Smith rests on the answer to the question: Did Ryan Tannehill resurrect on his own, once he was away from the stink of Miami…or was it mostly magic fairy dust sprinkled on by Arthur Smith?
What else is there to discuss? Derrick Henry? Henry, as a runner, is the Patrick Mahomes of RBs…there is nothing like Henry, and it wasn’t ‘special coaching’ or ‘play calling’ – it was simply ‘get him the ball’. It’s a very viable question to ask -- did Derrick Henry help make Ryan Tannehill more than Arthur Smith?
The Tannehill question is everything to figuring out Arthur Smith. Where do you weigh in on the Tannehill question (Tanny or Smith, or Henry, as the ‘credit’)? Where do I weigh in? We’ll get to that. First, let’s look at some Arthur Smith background to help try and answer the Tannehill question…
There are three things you need to know about Arthur Smith…
1) Offensive play calling reputation…
Recently, Sean McVay boasted of stealing many of Arthur Smith’s plays because he’s so respectful of what Smith does. Since ‘knows or was near Sean McVay’ is the biggest resume item required in obtaining an NFL head coaching job, Smith getting accolades from the Shanahan-McVay ‘tree’/clique – this sets up Smith as a great offensive mind among the football establishment.
And he may be…
But I wonder how much of Smith is centered around having Derrick Henry dominate a ground game like no other back the past few years. Sean McVay was a genius with peak Todd Gurley a few years ago, and not so much since. Will Smith suffer the same fate once separated from Henry? If he pulls off a top offense/winning team (not just garbage time stats) with Mike Davis as the lead back and no Julio Jones for Matt Ryan – then Smith might be the best offensive coaching mind in all of football.
Smith has a reputation…from the clique of McVay, which is the biggest factor out there.
How big of a rep?
Well, Eric Bieniemy couldn’t get the same head coaching hire rub from his time as O-C for Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes. Why? People think ‘it was all Mahomes’…and, also, look at the Reid tree failure via Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson of late. The McVay-Shanahan clique hasn’t had time to fail, so it’s all GOOD and no BAD being in the ‘clique’.
There were seven new head coach hirings in 2021, three of them from the McVay-Shanahan clique (Smith, Staley, Saleh). None from the Belichick or Reid clique.
Real or perceived on Smith’s actual coaching abilities…it mattered that he had the right friends to get a head job in 2021.
2) Smith is a ‘good ‘ol boy’ network/Blueblood hire…
I think Eric Bieniemy will be a terrible head coach, but he’s just as deserving as Smith from a resume standpoint. Is it racism from Atlanta with this hire? Doubtful, they hired a minority candidate to be GM right after hiring Smith. If there’s a color bias at play…it was green (money) but really it was more about blue(blood).
Let me rapid fire ‘facts’, and you decide what to do with them/how to connect them…
-Arthur Smith is the son of FedEx founder Frederick (Fred) Smith. Arthur was born with a silver spoon in his mouth the size of your car.
-Falcons owner Arthur Blank made this hire, not the GM (he had none at the time). Blank is the incredibly wealthy founder of Home Depot.
-At the Arthur Smith intro press conference, Arthur Blank took some time to discuss/bloviate how well he knows Smith’s dad and how much he respects his dad, blah-blah-blah. I’m sure Blank and Fred Smith knew and/or had contracts with each other as top wealthy entrepreneurs at the same time 20+ years ago. Why not tip your cap to a connection with your hiring? Will there be other business ramifications (positives) to such a ‘back scratch’ hire? You want Fred Smith as an ally/friend, no?
None of these things (above) solves the question of whether Arthur Smith is a football coaching genius or not…I’m just stating the facts on how Smith has friends (and family) in high places – Arthur Smith is probably the most worldly/politically/wealth connected guy in the NFL head coaching fraternity.
Do you think it would be good personal business to criticize Arthur Smith, from a media standpoint? If there is a ring to kiss…it would be Smith’s. If there is a guy to protect…it is Smith. You don’t want the machine behind him mad at you and turning it’s vast resources against you. No one cares about pissing on Anthony Lynn or Doug Pederson, but I’d be careful criticizing Smith along the way. Newspapers and sports networks are going to have to be very careful about what they say about Arthur Smith…because there will be ripples or burned bridges/connections looming if you piss off the wrong people here. THAT is now the NFL (and life) really works…your precious football is not an immune utopia of ‘best man wins’.
Could that last paragraph have led to a favorable push for Smith in the media the past few years…or few months of press when contending for jobs?
I can tell you which one of the new head coaching hires will not be fired first…
How about his series of ‘facts’:
-Oh, and do you know where Smith’s first job in the NFL was? He got it one whole year after being a grad assistant at UNC (where he was an ex-player of little note). His first NFL job was with the Washington (then) Redskins.
-One of the biggest minority owners of the Redskins, at that time = why it was none other than FedEx founder Fred Smith.
-Arthur then parlayed that NFL ‘push’ into a year as an assistant at Ole Miss and then right back to the NFL with the Titans.
-Who was trying to buy the Titans from the Bud Adams family a few years later? FedEx founder, Fred Smith.
But I’m sure none of Smith’s career rise has anything to do with any connections or desired connections to his father.
Hey, I’d not sneeze at a ‘push’ from connections when I started my career…or tomorrow, if anyone can lend me a hand – but the fact remains, there’s a lot of ‘help’ here trying to ascertain just how talented Smith really is at coaching.
3) Arthur Smith’s Personality…
Right now, this very moment, after reading this far…NOW how do you feel about Arthur Smith’s coaching talents/prospects ahead? Probably a little more negative than positive? I might have ruined him for you…? You are starting to get a picture of a guy given a favorable push through the system by ‘the man’?
But all the ‘push’ talk/speculation is (somewhat) meaningless if Smith is the reason Ryan Tannehill resurrected from the dead, right?
Or…what if Smith is just a great personality, connecting with the players regardless of the Tannehill question/answer?
Well, I watched Smith’s intro press conference and about 2-3 hours of other interviews and things where Smith was speaking to the press, or players, or in more informal settings – and he’s the same guy every time…an incredibly dull, uninspiring guy. Perhaps a football genius, but I saw no signs of it…but personality-wise there will definitely not be any players biting kneecaps or running through brick walls for him. I guess Derrick Henry literally did do that for him, but…more so his dad hired companies to remove brick walls for him. I digress.
Smith seems unpassionate and uninspiring, regardless of his background. He loves his job and is capable enough, obviously…but I noted that he cracked one kinda smile once in the 2-3 hours of tape I watched. He never says anything clever or telling...or any-anything as a reaction. It’s just empty, lifeless, monotoned coach-speak. Again, not a crime…but not inspiring a ton of confidence. He doesn’t command a room…and that could be a problem as ‘CEO’ of a football team.
Smith’s tape of interviews, etc., was so incredibly dull that I was taken aback. I expected to see some form of life or excitement from this differently background young coaching rise to power -- but all I saw/heard was ‘nothing’. He looks (body posture) like a ‘lump’…he acts like a ‘lump’, in interviews.
You might think ‘no personality’ is really bad, but in the NFL…it’s not as bad as most leadership professions. Smith is going to be preferred by free agents to play/work with because he’s not going to be Dan Campbell aggression…or Mike Zimmer or Bill Belichick cranky codger all day long. Playing for Smith, you also have Atlanta/Georgia, a nice place to live for climate and flying out of and living in Florida (for taxes) and jumping over to GA as needed…plus, a dome stadium to play in and all south of the Mason-Dixon line divisional opponents to face in the winter. Atlanta is a nice place to live and play football, indoors.
So, to recap – connected blueblood push through the system, capable at calling plays, and incredibly dull with no discernable ‘system’ trying to be jammed down anyone’s throat. He’s a nice room temperature drink of tap water. He’s going to be reliable. He’s going to be friendly, non-aggressive to the owner and GM. He’s going to be a good, dutiful, controllable employee.
Whether he changes a culture or wins games or anything – we’ll see. He brings no real culture to the table, but he does know how to call plays and organize practices…so, he’s got as much of a fighting shot as anyone (most new coaching hires are destined for failure within 3 seasons). In the long run, it looks like he will go as far as the GM/owner’s talent supplied to him takes him.
Impact to Fantasy?
If you go…”Well, look at his offense and what he did with Derrick Henry!” – then just stop, please.
Derrick Henry is a whole different animal, a once-in-a-decade type talent/size/ability/healthiness. If you think Mike Davis is now going to lead the league in rushing because of the Smith + Henry of the recent past…you’re nuts, but we kinda all think it…don’t we…that Smith is a run-oriented coach because of the recent past? But that’s too simple/it’s apples-and-oranges.
The question on projecting his skill/future is still, to me – did he make Ryan Tannehill or not? Tannehill has been one of the best QBs, statistically, in the NFL for the past few years. Was it because of Smith…or Vrabel…or Henry?
When you watch Tennessee’s offense, do you get excited? Do you live in fear of facing or betting against Tannehill?
If Tannehill was his own thing, a really good QB not tainted by Adam Gase finally…or was lucky to be bolstered having Derrick Henry to hide behind – then Smith is meaningless…and then we don’t know what’s about to happen in Atlanta.
I suspect nothing FF-magical will happen in Atlanta, per se…nothing beyond Smith being smart enough to know where his bread is buttered/will not get in the way of things -- so he might go heavy on Kyle Pitts as fast as possible. He seems ready to use a cheap (payroll) RBBC run attack…which is also a sign of ‘smart’, and confidence (even if false) in his offensive play calling. Smith can be simultaneously ‘unfairly pushed’ and ‘smart at his job’ all at the same time. Matt Ryan is as good as Ryan Tannehill, in a general sense, so Ryan should be able to run the offense properly/successfully but not to amazing FF-heights, just efficiently.
The Titans passing game was not electric. Tannehill was efficient and definitely took advantage of teams playing Henry to run, any QB would. The 2021 Falcons don’t have that, so I have no idea what Smith will do without the Henry benefit. Marcus Mariota was the QB before Tannehill, and Mariota’s career died with Smith…so, no magic fairy dust/play calling there. Smith has only had two years as O-C, and the Falcons situation is way different than Tennessee’s was for him.
I wish there was a simple, definitive answer on predicting Smith in Atlanta…but there is not. It’s a mystery we can only hazard guesses at.
Matt Ryan is solid. Arthur Smith is solid enough calling plays, I guess. The Atlanta offense will likely be what it has been for years now – not great, but not an embarrassment. Dean Pees is coming out of retirement (again) to be the D-C, and that’s a good thing for Smith.
Atlanta has solid/OK personnel and coaches, and Arthur Smith is not going to disrupt that…so I assume everything will be solid/OK right away for the Falcons, not special or awful, but OK. Perhaps the playoffs in the next year or two if the schedule breaks right. Perhaps a team of the future if they upgrade at QB/O-Line.
Atlanta is not going to get radically worse under Arthur Smith. But will they get sustainably better? None of us really knows because none of us really know if Smith can be a CEO/head coach of an organization at a high level. His background says that he might NOT be ready to be a head man, that he’s more good support as an assistant coach…but we’ll see soon enough.
All I do know is…Arthur Blank won’t fire him for many years, so he’ll have time to learn on the job if needed.
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