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Tennessee Titans tight ends coach Tony Dews gives instructions to players during an NFL football practice Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
TERESA M. WALKER AP Pro Football Writer
Published: 11 December 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Coaching Derrick Henry almost seems too easy, so Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel switched Tony Dews to overseeing tight ends this season.

Call it a resume booster for Dews, involving him more in the passing game to help someone the Titans believe in so much they sent him to a second coaching accelerator program at the NFL' s spring owners meetings in May.

The program is designed to connect minorities with owners and presidents who make hiring decisions. Anyone in the NFL has seen owners like Jerry Jones, David Tepper, Mark Davis or Amy Adams Strunk on TV. Getting in the same room with those owners who make the hiring decisions is the key.

Even if the actual sessions are the league's version of speed-dating.

The NFL’s fourth accelerator program for front office staff and general manager candidates starts Monday in Dallas as part of the league’s winter meetings, which end Wednesday. Dews believes it works because the Titans hired Ran Carthon as the franchise's first Black general manager in January after Carthon attended this session a year ago.

Dews said it's great for everyone to see people working to promote change and improve diversity.

“I’m thankful for the NFL that they’re putting programs and doing things, putting things in place to continue to help with the diversity of the league, be it people of color as well as women," Dews said.

A year ago, the Titans were the only NFL team with a GM opening because Strunk had just fired Jon Robinson. That meant everyone wanted an opportunity to get at least five minutes with the woman needing a new GM.

The actual program involves breakfast and lunch with specific tables and groups. A mixer allowing candidates to meet different owners, more meet and greet than chance to build a relationship. But the opportunity for face to face contact didn’t exist before for the people attending.

Carthon attended as San Francisco's director of player personnel. Becoming an NFL general manager had been his goal since he came into the league as an undrafted rookie running back out of Florida.

His conversation with Strunk didn't last long, more of an introduction followed by some quick chit chat.

“Then you start to feel other people over your shoulder, trying to come in, and I’m just like, ‘Hey, you know what? That’s probably my cue to leave,’” Carthon said. "And so I exit stage left, and it was brief.”

Carthon also talked briefly with Titans President Burke Nihill and had a longer conversation with Adolpho Birch III, the team's senior vice president and chief external and league affairs officer. Carthon knew of Birch, who previously worked in the league office.

When the Titans sent the first email requesting to interview Carthon, he said those brief talks gave him a feeling about who they were as people — even if he didn't know much about the franchise's organization.

“I walked away from that meeting feeling like, ‘You know, these were genuinely good people that I wouldn’t mind working for,’” Carthon said. ”So I thought it was really beneficial.”

For this accelerator program, Indianapolis is the only team of the league's 32 not sending at least one person while 11 teams are sending two.

The Titans are sending only assistant director for pro scouting Kevin Turks. Carthon said that's because Anthony Robinson, now the Titans' assistant general manager, already has been twice after being sent by Atlanta. Tennessee also has sent director of pro scouting Brian Gardner twice.

“I felt it was necessary to go with some new blood,” Carthon said of Turks, who has a variety of experience in the NFL making him a quality candidate.

Dews wasn't sure at his second coaching accelerator program in May if anyone truly remembered him. He left having talked with enough people feeling he had made some initial connections from that first trip.

“I certainly remembered them,” Dews said. “And it was a great opportunity, again, to interact with the ownership groups and front office personnel. So, again, it was a great opportunity, got a lot of great information.”

Coming from a winning franchise helps most.

Carthon had spent six seasons with the 49ers, helping a franchise that lost the Super Bowl in February 2020 before reaching the NFC title game for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Davis and Tepper will be top targets at this session. Davis needs both a GM and a head coach after firing both general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels to start November. Tepper fired his coach in Carolina on Nov. 27.

Yes, Dews has noticed the success of first-year coach DeMeco Ryans, who has AFC South rival Houston currently in the seventh and last playoff spot with a winning record, and Antonio Pierce who is 2-2 since taking over the Raiders as interim coach.

“Obviously anytime someone has success, it can open doors for others,” Dews said.

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