By CHARLES ODUM
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have chosen offense and youth as the calling cards of their new coach.
Atlanta agreed to terms with Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith on Friday to become the team’s head coach.
Smith, only 38, has no experience as a head coach.
The Falcons’ last full-time hire, Dan Quinn, had a background as a defensive assistant. He was fired following an 0-5 start in his sixth season with the team, and Raheem Morris completed the 4-12 season as interim coach.
Smith held a virtual interview with the team Monday, and he also interviewed with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. The Jets reached an agreement with Robert Saleh on Thursday night to be their coach.
Smith has served on Tennessee’s staff for 10 seasons, including two as offensive coordinator. The Titans finished this season tied for second in the NFL in total yards.
Under Smith’s leadership, the Titans finished behind only Kansas City in total offense with 396.4 yards. They had the NFL’s second-best rushing offense as Derrick Henry became only the eighth back to rush for at least 2,000 yards.
Atlanta’s choice of Smith was applauded by Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown, who said on his Twitter account: “Held me accountable from day 1. Always trying to improve. Atlanta got a good one.”
Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel congratulated Smith in a statement released by the Titans.
“I want to congratulate Arthur, and his family, on becoming head coach of the Atlanta Falcons,” Vrabel said. “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 we look forward to seeing his continued success.”
The Titans’ offensive success, especially on the ground, may have been especially appealing to the Falcons, who finished ahead of only five teams in rushing this season. The Falcons averaged only 95.8 yards rushing per game.
Smith will face important decisions about the offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan is 35 and wide receiver Julio Jones, coming off a season hampered by injuries, is 31.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said the team’s new coach and general manager will be free to make decisions on a possible rebuild that could impact all players, including Ryan and Jones.
The Titans went 11-5 to win the AFC South, but were eliminated from the playoffs Sunday with a 20-13 loss to Baltimore. It was Tennessee’s fewest points of the season. The loss freed Smith for an in-person interview with the Falcons this week.
Quinn left Atlanta with an overall regular-season record of 43-42, including a 14-23 mark since the beginning of the 2018 season. He was 3-2 in two postseason appearances.
Quinn led the Falcons to their second Super Bowl appearance in the 2016 season. Atlanta returned to the playoffs the following year but couldn’t achieve sustained success.
Smith will take over a team coming off its third consecutive losing season while facing salary cap issues.
Smith was one of seven candidates to interview with Atlanta, including Morris.
Other offensive coordinators to interview with the Falcons were Green Bay’s Nathaniel Hackett, Carolina’s Joe Brady and Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy. Saleh and Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles also interviewed for the job.
Morris went 4-7 as the interim coach.
Smith’s father is FedEx founder Fred Smith. Arthur Smith played offensive guard at North Carolina from 2001-05 before becoming a graduate assistant with the Tar Heels.
Smith coached Tennessee’s tight ends before his promotion to offensive coordinator. He worked under four head coaches at Tennessee after he was hired as a defensive assistant and quality control coach in 2011. He also was an offensive assistant/quality control coach (2012), offensive line/tight ends assistant (2013) and assistant tight ends coach (2014-15). He took over as tight ends coach in 2015.
In 2019, Smith helped the Titans rebound from a 2-4 start to advance to the AFC championship game for the first time in 17 years.
Smith helped the Titans offense gain momentum with quarterback Ryan Tannehill as the starter. Over the final 11 weeks of the 2019 season, Tennessee ranked third in the league in total offense and scoring, and Tannehill was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith, a native of Memphis, Tenn., worked under coach Joe Gibbs as Washington’s defensive quality control coach from 2007-08. He spent 2010 as an administrative assistant at Mississippi before returning to the NFL.
One candidate to become the Falcons general manager is New Orleans Saints executive Terry Fontenot. The Falcons have had a virtual interview with Fontenot, the Saints’ vice president and assistant general manager of pro personnel, but are unable to conduct an in-person interview while New Orleans is alive in the playoffs.
Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 seasons and would become Atlanta’s first Black general manager.