NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New Tennessee Titans general manager Ran Carthon received the welcome of a lifetime to start his first day on the job Thursday. A collection of Titans staffers lined three stories of stairs as controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk escorted Carthon into the facility to a standing ovation.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel wasn’t among the welcoming committee, but his excitement was clearly elevated during Carthon’s introductory news conference Friday.
The relationship between Vrabel and Carthon will be one of the most important for the Titans going forward. Strunk wanted the next general manager to be “talented in all areas but more than anything else, someone that can collaborate.”
That was one of the main reasons Carthon was hired to help reload the Titans’ roster after a 7-10 season ended on a seven-game losing streak.
There was a particular constant whenever questions about roster control or player decisions were directed at Carthon.
“The one thing I take away from it is it goes back to that word collaboration,” Carthon said. “Collaboration truly works. I could be the greatest talent evaluator of all time, but if I can’t bring Mike the players that he needs to fit his system, then it is not going to work.”
Carthon said building a relationship with Vrabel is at the forefront of things he needs to do as he starts his tenure with the Titans. Together they have to come up with a plan to build the roster.
For Carthon, the key is to first identify Vrabel and the coaching staff’s vision, then proceed to find the right players to carry it out.
Vrabel and Carthon had never met in person before last Tuesday when he was hired. But there is some common ground.
Carthon was a running back for the Indianapolis Colts from 2004 to 2006 before finishing his final season in 2006 with the Detroit Lions. Vrabel would have faced Carthon when he was with the New England Patriots, but Carthon was inactive for the game.
Although, Vrabel’s first season with the Kansas City Chiefs was in 2009, Ran’s father, Maurice, was also in his first year with the team as the running backs coach. The elder Carthon also played fullback for the New York Giants.
“I just believe in his history,” Vrabel said. “I believe in where he has been, his pedigree and what he believes about making relationships.”
“He is a former player who grew up around the game,” Strunk said of Carthon. “He has a strong record of success in evaluating talent and roster building with multiple teams.”
Vrabel also admitted that long conversations with Carthon felt like 15 minutes. He said that’s an indicator of how comfortable they already are with each other.
Carthon’s time in San Francisco as director of pro personnel and player personnel gave him a front-row seat at how the relationship between general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan blossomed. Lynch hired Shanahan and Carthon in 2017 to help him turn around a 49ers team that only won two games the year before. The results were three NFC Championship Game appearances and a Super Bowl berth in a six-year time span.
“The best way I have seen it done is when the head coach and the GM are in lockstep,” Carthon said.
The 41-year-old vowed not to come in and make drastic changes, as he’s looking to learn the systems and processes already in place.
However, analytics is an area that could be up for adjustment. The Titans were among the final teams to venture into the analytics world when they hired Matt Iammarino to be the assistant developer/analytical researcher in August of 2021.
The time in San Francisco helped Carthon see a collaboration of traditional film watching and an analytical approach to aid talent evaluation. Carthon shared the example of how the marriage of two concepts helped yield University of Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round of the 2021 draft.
Then 49ers’ manager of research and development, Demitrius Washington, came to Carthon saying his “numbers’ were telling him that Mitchell was the best outside zone running back in the draft, but he wanted Carthon to take the traditional evaluation approach by watching the game film.
Carthon agreed with Washington so they took their findings to Shanahan. San Francisco defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans agreed as well, and the 49ers selected Mitchell instead of a linebacker they originally planned on taking with the pick.
Injuries thrust the rookie into duty in 2021, and Mitchell’s 963 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games helped push the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game.
That’s an example of the collaborative efforts going right. This is what needs to happen in Tennessee.
It seems that Carthon is already on the same page with Vrabel as far as the style of play is concerned. Both want to be able to have a physical brand of football that is built for the end of the season.
“It’s cute to play Golden State Warriors football in October and September,” Carthon said. “But when those conditions change and you can’t throw the ball up and down the yard, you better be able to run it, and you better be able to defend it.
“If you look at the teams that are in the playoffs and are still playing at this stage, everybody is able to run the ball. You can win championships that way.”