New Tennessee Titans NFL football team general manager Ran Carthon speaks during a news conference Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

By Teresa M. Walker,
AP Pro Football Writer

Ran Carthon looked up, pausing before answering a question his aunt warned would come.

He is the first Black general manager in the history of the Tennessee Titans, a franchise founded in 1960 as the then-Houston Oilers in the original American Football League.

“I understand I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and there have been plenty of men that have come before me that have laid this foundation that allowed me to be in this spot,” Carthon said Jan. 20 at his introductory news conference.

Carthon, who turns 42 in February, has been too busy putting himself in this position and hadn’t had time to contemplate the history of the moment. Not after a whirlwind week of interviews, a wild-card playoff victory with the San Francisco 49ers and accepting his new job.

Becoming an NFL GM had been Carthon’s only goal after he went from undrafted rookie running back out of Florida to a brief playing career before front-office jobs in Atlanta and with the Rams and the 49ers.

“It’s paramount in my mind to do the work and be successful to leave the door open for other Black men that are coming behind me because there are a lot of talented young Black men who can do the job,” Carthon said. “They just need the opportunity.”

The Titans made Carthon the sixth person of color among the past eight GMs hired, and he now is the NFL’s eighth Black general manager and ninth person of color overall.

The NFL has held two accelerator programs since late May to promote more minority candidates for front-office jobs. Carthon said he met Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk and Burke Nihill, the team’s president and CEO, during the owners’ winter meetings in December.

For Strunk, the hiring moved quickly starting Jan. 12. The Titans interviewed two internal candidates, and Arizona hired their director of player personnel, Monti Ossenfort, on Jan. 16.

Carthon interviewed with the Titans on Jan. 13 in Nashville, flew back for the 49ers’ wild-card win over Seattle, then returned to Nashville for a second interview Jan. 17. He learned he was being offered the job while at the airport.

He replaces Jon Robinson, fired Dec. 6 in his seventh season in the midst of what wound up a seven-game skid as Tennessee finished 7-10. The Titans missed a third straight AFC South title with a loss in the regular season finale in Jacksonville.

Strunk said Carthon stood out as the clear choice with his background as a former player who grew up around the game. Carthon’s father, Maurice, not only played in the NFL but also coached with seven different teams.

The Titans also liked Carthon’s record of success evaluating talent as a pro scout for the Atlanta Falcons starting in 2008, as director of pro personnel for the Rams between 2012 and 2016 and his last six seasons with the 49ers, the last two as director of player personnel.

“We called as many potential references as we could find to learn more about Ran as a person, talent evaluator and leader,” Strunk said. “Whether current and former colleagues, the scouting community, the former teammates, the feedback was unanimous. Ran is exceptional.”

Carthon, who also interviewed last year for general manager jobs with Chicago and the New York Giants, said his vision for the franchise includes lifting trophies and holding parades in Nashville. Strunk said she has those same high expectations despite how this last season ended.

“We have some big questions to answer offseason, but I’m excited for what the future brings,” she said.

The Titans are projected to be $23.3 million over the 2023 salary cap by Spotrac.com. Both quarterback Ryan Tannehill and two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry, who finished second in the league in rushing in 2022, are going into the final seasons of their current contracts.

Two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons has made clear he wants an extension. The Titans also hold the No. 11 overall pick in the April draft.

Carthon and coach Mike Vrabel, 48-34 in his five seasons in Tennessee, both emphasized their plans to collaborate on roster building down to position coaches working with scouts to identify talent.

“We got a lot of work to do,” Vrabel said. “We’re excited to get to work on that.”

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