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Do Failed Head Coaches Like Arthur Smith Make Good 2nd-Time Coordinators?

Arthur Smith was a successful offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans before failing as the Atlanta Falcons head coach.



Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator Search Candidate Arthur Smith Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) stand on the sideline during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Pittsburgh Steelers have hired former Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith to be their new offensive coordinator, according to multiple reports on Tuesday. While everybody knows he struggled during his time in Atlanta, Smith was once the Titans’ offensive play-caller and was pretty good at it as the Titans ranked fourth in points scored and second in total yards during his final season in Tennesseee.

Smith is indeed a “bounce-back hire,” meaning he was promoted from being coordinator to head coach but now finds himself back in a coordinator role. This begs the question, how do bounce-back hires look in their bounce-back?

As a quick answer, not so good, at least for the offensive-minded guys. Some of the defensive-minded coaches have made solid bounce backs but most of the offensive guys have not.

Since the 2018 season, some of the “bounce-back” guys from the offensive side of the ball include Nathaniel Hackett, Matt Nagy, Anthony Lynn, Freddie Kitchens, Pat Shurmur, Dirk Koetter, Jay Gruden, and Jason Garrett.

With most of those guys out of the league entirely or in lesser roles now, the best bounce-back from any of those guys was Matt Nagy but he gets the benefit of having Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback and Andy Reid as his head coach. For the more realistic candidates, let’s look at Garrett and Hackett.

After starting his career as the Cowboys offensive coordinator, Garrett was promoted to head coach in 2010. He held this role for 10 seasons before being fired for lack of playoff success. He was quickly signed as the New York Giants offensive coordinator in 2020 and held that role for a year and some change.

In his lone full season as the Giants’ play-caller, the offense was ranked 31st in both points scored and total yards. After struggling at the start of the 2021 season, the Giants fired Garrett who never found another role within the NFL coaching landscape.

Hackett went from coaching Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense to a head coaching role with the Denver Broncos. After not even a full season, the Broncos canned Hackett and he later signed with the Jets as their offensive coordinator for 2023. While he was expected to have Rodgers as his quarterback again, he ended up with a hodgepodge of Zach Wilson and Tim Boyle.

While it may be unfair to judge Hackett due to losing his top quarterback, the situation surrounding Zach Wilson is a similar situation that the Steelers have with Kenny Pickett. Hackett did little to progress Wilson in 2023 as the Jets’ offense struggled and ranked 29th in points scored and 31st in total yards.

In summary, if recent trends have anything to say, Smith is facing an uphill battle to get back to being a great offensive coordinator. While the Steelers do have talent on the offensive side of the ball, the unit is different than the unit he guided in Tennessee.