The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 16, 2021 1:00 am

NFL notebook

Falcons tap Titans' assistant to be coach

Associated Press

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Falcons agreed to terms with Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to become the team's head coach, the Falcons announced Friday.

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, 38, has served on the Tennessee 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.

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 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 Falcons also are seeking a replacement for general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who was fired along with coach Dan Quinn following an 0-5 start that led to a 4-12 finish. Quinn was hired as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator on Monday.

Jets hire Saleh as coach

The New York Jets were searching for a leader, someone who could bring a frustrated, playoff-starved franchise back to respectability.

They think they found their guy in Robert Saleh.

The Jets reached an agreement in principle with the popular and energetic San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Thursday night to hire him as their head coach. Saleh replaces Adam Gase, who was fired by Jan. 3 after going 9-23 in two seasons.

Saleh, 41, believed to be the first Muslim head coach in NFL history, emerged as a favorite for the Jets job when he was brought in for a second – and this time, in-person – interview Tuesday night and those discussions extended into Wednesday. He was the first of the nine known candidates New York interviewed remotely to meet with chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, team president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas at its facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.

“YESSS SIRRRRRRRRRR,” an excited defensive tackle Quinnen Williams wrote on Twitter.

Saleh, recognized as an energetic leader who is well liked by his players, had been the 49ers' defensive coordinator under Kyle Shanahan since 2017, overseeing San Francisco's defense that ranked No. 2 overall on the way to the Super Bowl last season.

Saleh, the son of Lebanese parents, is the second minority coach to be hired by the Jets in the last six years and first since Todd Bowles, who is Black, in 2015. He's the fourth active minority coach in the NFL, joining Miami's Brian Flores, Washington's Ron Rivera and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.

Extra points

Joel Bitonio's playoff wait with the Browns is over. The Pro Bowl left guard was activated from the COVID-19 list after missing last week's wild-card win over Pittsburgh and will play Sunday against Kansas City in the divisional round. The Browns have been getting key pieces back this week. On Wednesday, coach Kevin Stefanski returned in person to the team after also missing last week's game with COVID-19 while cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson both were activated from the COVID-19 list. ... The conditional reinstatement of wide receiver Josh Gordon has been rescinded by the NFL, and Gordon is once again under suspension. ... Broncos linebacker Von Miller is under investigation by police in a Denver suburb. Parker Police Department spokesman Josh Hans confirmed the investigation Friday, but couldn't provide additional details. Hans wrote in an email that, “if the investigation determines a crime has occurred, charges will be submitted to the DA's Office for their review.”

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