The Tennessee Titans have many options for their new OC, but if it’s continuity they desire, then current QB coach Pat O’Hara should be considered.
Tennessee Titans fans were blindsided by Monday’s news that Tennessee offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur had been hired as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The hire was somewhat surprising, as LaFleur was the architect of a rather underwhelming Titans offense that finished 25th in the NFL in yards per game. There is obviously the issue of QB Marcus Mariota needing to learn yet another new offense in his young career, but for the most part it seems that fans are excited about the prospects of a new OC. Coaches like Freddie Kitchens, Adam Gase, Mark Helfrich are all impressive offensive minds who could help Mariota reach his supposed potential. However, I find it interesting that one name is absent from the OC discussions: current Titans QB coach Pat O’Hara.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. O’Hara certainly wouldn’t be a sexy hire like Gase or Kitchens. And he has yet to be a coordinator at the NFL level. But, digging deeper, it makes some measure of sense. The most common complaint in regards to LaFleur leaving is the lack of continuity for Mariota. While hiring O’Hara wouldn’t be the same measure of continuity as if LaFleur stayed, it would be an easier transition for the signal caller than if he had to learn a brand new offense. O’Hara is not only intimately familiar with LaFleur’s offense, but also with Mariota. He knows his personality, his likes and dislikes, and his skill set. Any OC that is hired from the outside will face a learning curve in that regard.
Additionally, we have to give some credit to GM Jon Robinson and HC Mike Vrabel. They aren’t dummies; they must have been aware that there was a good chance that LaFleur would only be in Nashville for one season. You don’t think they had a plan in place for when he left? Something that gets overlooked is that Vrabel hired most of his assistants before his actual coordinators. LaFleur was a flight risk because of his hype around the league, and 68 year old DC Dean Pees was wooed out of retirement and will most likely only coach another year or two. Vrabel actually hired O’Hara as his QB Coach five days before hiring LaFleur as his OC, which is something not seen very often in the NFL.
Vrabel has a relationship with O’Hara from their time together in Houston and it’s entirely possible that he brought in O’Hara to be the heir apparent OC. He would most likely want to hire someone that would retain all of the other coaches he hired, and bringing in a new OC (who might want his own people) could jeopardize the chemistry he has worked to build. And, unlike hiring someone like Gase, O’Hara isn’t a risk to follow in LaFleur’s footsteps and be hired away after one season. Even if O’Hara isn’t the guy, Vrabel surely has a short list of possible OCs on hand should LaFleur leave.
All of this is just circumstantial and does not speak to O’Hara as a coach. Sure, he makes sense in terms of continuity for Mariota and his relationship with Vrabel, but relationships don’t make you a good OC. There have been plenty of hires in the NFL based on continuity and/or relationships that have turned out poorly. As for O’Hara, I can’t speak to his offensive prowess or play calling ability. Vrabel and Robinson will be the ones to determine whether or not he has the capability to jump to OC.
What O’Hara does have is a bevy of experience, having coached and played in the NFL, NFL Europe, and the arena league. He has been an offensive coordinator (where he called plays), head coach, and director of player personnel in the arena league. Some people might not value his time spent in the arena league, but it obviously hasn’t held him back in terms of impressing the NFL teams that have hired him. His career actually closely mirrors Washington HC Jay Gruden, who spent 10 years in the arena league as a coach before breaking into the NFL as the Cincinnati Bengals’ OC. Does that mean he will be as success like Gruden? No, but it’s important not to completely devalue his resume just because he doesn’t have a history as an NFL OC.
O’Hara surely learned a lot under LaFleur, but his three years coaching under Houston Texans HC Bill O’Brien might be more influential on his offensive outlook. Say what you will about BOB as a head coach, but he has had a lot of success in his 10 years in the NFL. O’Hara was on hand to see O’Brien prime Deshaun Watson for a breakout rookie season. He may be able to employ some of the play action that makes Watson so lethal. Mariota also can be effective using play action, but his ability didn’t flash much under LaFleur’s play calling.
Hiring O’Hara would understandably upset some Titans fans. In a Sean McVay-crazed league where youth is prized, a 50-year-old who has only been a QB coach for one year would not be the most exciting choice. But look at Freddie Kitchens; after years as a lower level assistant, he first called plays at age 44 in 2018 and is now the talk of the NFL and landing head coach interviews. The fact that he isn’t some offensive wunderkind doesn’t mean O’Hara can’t coach.
I can’t pretend to know the true relationships between O’Hara and the rest of the organization, or his capabilities as a coach. But, from what I can tell, he’s a smart guy who Vrabel trusts and who can provide a measure of continuity for the Titans, along with a wealth of experience. He may not ultimately be the right choice for the Titans, but he should at least garner consideration from the team.