Falcons agree to terms with Arthur Smith to become head coach

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith agreed to terms with the Falcons to become their new head coach Friday.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith agreed to terms to become the head coach of the Falcons on Friday, the team announced.

Smith, who has no NFL head coaching experience and has been a coordinator for only two seasons, completed his virtual interview for the head coaching position with the Falcons on Monday. He had a second interview Wednesday, according to NFL Media. The Falcons confirmed the first interview, but would not confirm the second interview.

He will replace Dan Quinn, who in five-plus seasons went 43-42 in the regular season and 3-2 in the playoffs. He was only the second coach in franchise history to take the Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they lost 34-28 after leading 28-3 against the Patriots.

Smith, who some agents believed was the Falcons’ front-runner from the outset of the search, also had interviews with the Jets, Eagles and Lions.

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Smith was free to interview this week after the Titans were eliminated from the playoffs Sunday by the Ravens. His unit could muster only 13 points, and running back Derrick Henry was held to 40 yards rushing on 18 carries after leading the league in rushing with 2,027 yards.

The Falcons have closed in on Terry Fontenot as their new general manager. He would replace Thomas Dimitroff, who was fired along with Quinn on Oct. 11. Fontenot, the Saints’ vice president/assistant general manager-pro personnel, won’t be officially announced until after the team is eliminated from the playoffs.

Smith, 38, is the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith. He played guard at North Carolina and worked his way up through the coaching ranks after starting as a defensive assistant with the Washington Football Team from 2006-08.

He was out of football for a couple of seasons before going to the college ranks. He was at Ole Miss as a defensive intern and administrative assistant in 2010. In 2011, he joined the Titans at the defensive quality-control coach. In 2012, he was an offensive quality-control coach. In 2013, he was named offensive line/tight ends assistant coach. In 2014 and 2015, he was the assistant tight ends coach and the tight ends coach from 2016-18.

The Smith hire signals a return to the Kyle Shanahan offensive system that the Falcons used during their 2016 Super Bowl season and to their offensive attack under former coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Smith inherited the attack from Matt LaFleur, who left Tennessee after one season to become the head coach of the Packers. Smith also worked with Mularkey from 2014-17 as his assistant tight ends coach and then as the tight ends coach when Mularkey was the head coach from 2015-2017.

The Titans ranked second in the league in rushing at 168.1 yards per game in 2020. They were third in the league at 138.9 yards per game in 2019.

Henry led the league in rushing with 2,027 yards last season and 1,540 in 2019.

The Falcons have not had a 1,000-yard running back since 2016, when Devonta Freeman ran for 1,079 yards.

Smith has noted that there are a lot of variations to the outside-zone offense that actually dates to Paul Brown and the Browns.

In addition to Smith, the Falcons held virtual head-coach interviews with six other candidates:

Saleh agreed to terms with the Jets after Urban Meyer agreed to terms with Jaguars on Thursday.

BIO

Name: Arthur Smith

Age: 38

Current role: Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator

Background: Played guard in college at North Carolina. Worked his way up with the Titans from quality-control assistant in 2011 to offensive coordinator in 2019. His father is FedEx founder Fred Smith.

When interviewed: Monday, Jan. 11 (confirmed by team). Wednesday, Jan. 13 (reported by NFL Media).

Why he makes sense: He runs the same type of power offense that the Falcons ran under former coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey with variations of the Kyle Shanahan system that he learned from Matt LaFleur. You won’t see any jet sweeps on third-and-1. The Falcons will have to find him a power running back in the mode of Michael “The Burner” Turner and Derrick Henry.

Why he doesn’t make sense: He’s never been a head coach and has been a coordinator for only two seasons.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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