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Steelers Analysis

Why Does Arthur Smith Make Sense for Steelers OC Job?



Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator Candidate Arthur Smith

The Pittsburgh Steelers interviewed former Atlanta Falcons head coach and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith for their offensive coordinator vacancy on Sunday, the club confirmed.

Let’s take a look at what makes the 41-year-old Tennessee native an attractive option for the Steelers.


Head coach Mike Tomlin said in his season-closing press conference that he would prefer a candidate with NFL play-calling experience.

The problem with that stance is that finding someone with NFL OC experience that’s available usually also means finding someone that has been fired for failing as an OC. There are exceptions. Klint Kubiak had his head coach fired from above him in Minnesota, for one.

But of the experienced OC’s on our Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator Search Big Board, Smith’s resume probably has the fewest blemishes.

He was an offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Tennessee Titans in 2019 and 2020. He took over an offense that been 27th in scoring and 25th in yards the year before. Though Derrick Henry was a force, with the Titans finishing sixth in rushing in 2018 and Henry himself finishing seventh, the rest of the offense didn’t work.

Of course, that really shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering the personnel. The Titans had Marcus Mariota at quarterback, and the top receivers were Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor.

In the middle of Smith’s first season as OC in 2019, he made the switch from Mariota to Ryan Tannehill, which combined with the play of rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, sparked the Tennessee offense. The Titans finished 10th in scoring and 12th in yards in Smith’s first season as OC, Henry led the league in rushing, and the Titans made a run all the way to the AFC Championship Game.

The next season, they were even more dominant. Brown went for over 1,000 yards for the second straight season, Henry went over 2,000 yards and the Titans won 11 games and finished first in the AFC South.

In terms of the depth and quality of NFL offensive coordinator experience compared to the rest of the candidates available, Smith’s isn’t the longest, but it might be the best.


The Steelers have never made it much of a secret that they would prefer to be a running offense, from the desk of Art Rooney II on down.
It’s clear that Rooney’s top lieutenants feel the same way. The obvious focus on player acquisition this past offseason from Omar Khan and Andy Weidl was in the trenches, where the Steelers added priority free agent Isaac Seumalo, first-round pick Broderick Jones and third-round pick Darnell Washington to their offensive blockers.

Weidl’s Philadelphia Eagles teams were similar in their commitment to the running game, and it seems clear what type of team the Steelers are looking to have in Pittsburgh. Smith is certainly that kind of offensive coordinator candidate. He will have not problem running the ball and making the Steelers’ dynamic running back duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren the focal point of the offense.

That’s not to say that the Steelers wouldn’t consider another offensive style — reported interest in someone like Kliff Kingsbury shows the potential for a very wide net.

But the big advantage for someone like Smith is that the Steelers have the personnel to run his offense right away. They have good running backs, their offensive line is better-suited to run-blocking than pass blocking, and they lack elite quarterback play that some more up-tempo passing offenses might require.

Smith is not a perfect fit though, as there are a couple of reasons to worry that he might not work out if hired as the Steelers next OC.

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)


This is more of a beige flag than a red one. After Smith turned his 2020 success into the head coaching job in Atlanta, things did not go well. The Falcons finished 7-9 in three consecutive seasons, he never found or was able to develop a quarterback, and he didn’t seem to get the most out of his key playmakers Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson.

Part of that seemed to be a disconnect between Smith’s style and the Falcons front office. He built his Tennessee teams behind a stalwart offensive line, one that Smith had helped develop as offensive line coach.

In Atlanta, his offensive line was awful at the outset, and though it improved over his tenure, it did not have the same kind of investment in the position that he had in Tennessee. Meanwhile, consecutive top 10 picks went to Pitts, London and Robinson despite a lack of a quarterback to get the first two the ball and the Falcons already having a promising young running back in Tyler Allgeier before drafting Robinson.

Some people make good coordinators but not good head coaches. That’s a lesson the Steelers learned well when it came to brining Dick LeBeau back to run their defense. More recently, Todd Haley had the same career path. It doesn’t mean that hiring Smith still won’t be a success, but it does give reason for some pause in the process.


This is the more pressing concern for the Steelers. Smith was not a quarterback, has never been a quarterbacks coach, and has not had a lot of success in developing quarterbacks at the NFL level.

He made the right call in switching from Mariota to Tannehill with the Titans, but Tannehill was an NFL vet at that point already, and never really rose to great heights, even when he was leading a successful offense.

In Atlanta, things were a mess. Smith brought Mariota with him, but he failed. Ridder never took a necessary step forward and a 2023 experiment with free agent Taylor Heinicke was no better.

The Steelers have committed to giving Kenny Pickett another shot at quarterback, and while Smith’s passing offense might take some of the pressure off a young quarterback, his development is still an important part of the next OC hire. Someone like Smith would have to come with a serious upgrade to the quarterback coach position, or another experienced offensive staff member to aid in Pickett’s development.

All in all, Arthur Smith is a candidate with obvious reasons to be on the Steelers’ list, with his success NFL offensive coordinator experience giving reasons to put him near the top. But there are reasons that he wouldn’t be a slam dunk hire, and the Steelers may want to wait to interview for Kubiak or others before making a decision.