With Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith looking more and more likely to leave for a head coaching job in the next few days — he’s had second interviews with multiple teams and is widely considered the favorite for the Falcons job — Mike Vrabel has began poking around to gauge interest in potential replacements for Smith. We got the first reported name connected to the likely opening today, via ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
She reported that the Titans and Dolphins had both reached out to Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott about potentially making the leap to the NFL.
As Anderson’s tweet indicates, Elliott has told both teams that he intends to stay with Clemson at this time, but the Titans interest is noteworthy for a few reasons.
For one, it tells us that the team is pretty confident that Smith is going to be leaving. It’s normal for coaches to have a shortlist of potential replacements ready to go when their assistants leave, but it’s pretty unusual for them to start making calls to those replacements without being pretty sure that an opening is coming soon.
It also tells us that Vrabel is willing to look outside of his immediate sphere of coaching contacts. A widely held criticism of Vrabel’s coaching moves in 2020 was that he leaned to heavily on coaches he had worked with directly. Anthony Midget replaced Kerry Coombs after working alongside Vrabel in Houston for many years. Jim Haslett had coached Vrabel in Pittsburgh many moons ago and was hired to replace Tyrone McKenzie as inside linebackers coach. You could make a strong argument that those position groups were among the weakest on the Titans roster this season.
However, some of Vrabel’s most inspired hires have come from outside of his previous experience. Arthur Smith, Keith Carter, Tony Dews, Rob Moore, and Terrell Williams are all coaches who had not crossed paths with Vrabel prior to coming to Tennessee and all of those coaches have done a nice job for him at their respective positions.
It also shows that Vrabel isn’t afraid to draw from the college ranks. He reportedly offered Ryan Day the offensive coordinator position on his original staff before pivoting to Matt LaFleur, so we had some sense that he had interest in college coaches, but Day was working under his former boss at his alma mater at the time, so there were some strong connections to lean on. There are fewer with Elliott, who played wide receiver at Clemson and then rose through the coaching ranks exclusively in The Palmetto State, starting at South Carolina State, moving to Furman, and then working his way up from running backs coach to offensive coordinator at Clemson.
Elliott is not from the Shanahan West Coast/Outside Zone tree. He runs the power spread offense that is extremely popular in the college game, but less frequently employed in the NFL. I would assume that Elliott would be expected to blend his favorite concepts from the Clemson offense with the base concepts that the Titans have run recently to great success.
We don’t need to go too far down the Elliott road for now, as it sounds like he is passing on making the jump at the moment, but he has been tremendously successful as Clemson’s playcaller for the last six years, including helping the Tigers become the first team to produce back-to-back 650-point seasons since Yale in 1888-1889.
The Titans still have several internal candidates that could make some sense if they want to maintain continuity, led by tight ends coach Todd Downing and offensive line coach Keith Carter, but this link tells us that the net will be cast far wider than just the hallways of Saint Thomas Sports Park and that’s encouraging.