Arthur Smith says its a ‘dream come true’ to work for Steelers, explains his first goal with Kenny Pickett

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Arthur Smith’s coaching philosophy in line with the Steelers Way. As Pittsburgh’s new offensive coordinator, Smith is hoping to build relationships with his players before beginning the work of helping turn the Steelers’ offense around. 

Smith, 41, arrives in Pittsburgh after spending the previous three years as the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach. He spent his first decade in the NFL with the Titans that included two highly sucessful years as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. 

“It’s such a unique opportunity to be able to be able to work for an organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Smith told Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews in his first interview since becoming the team’s new offensive coordinator. “With the history, the culture here, the opportunity to work with Mike Tomlin. To me, it’s a perfect cultural fit.”

Prior to hiring Smith, Steelers president Art Rooney II said he wanted to hire someone who would work with the personnel Pittsburgh already has on offense. Smith said he will do that, but “there’s a certain identity we want to have,” an identity that appears to fall in line with what the Steelers’ offense traditionally wants to be. 

“Any offense I’ve been a part of, it’s going to be a physical brand,” he said. “You want to win the line of scrimmage, but it’s also about playing to strengths. Obviously, trying to create explosives. 

“Want to have a very smart unit, because in the National Football League, it’s going to come down to situational football, which kind of encompasses third-down, two-minute at the end the of the half and games. Obviously, red zone. We have to score points. You’re going to have those four-point swings and create touchdowns.” 

Smith considers himself fortunate to have worked with several notable quarterbacks during different phases of their careers. He worked with Ryan Tannehill when Tannehill enjoyed the two best seasons of his career. In Atlanta, Smith coached former league MVP Matt Ryan when Ryan was nearing the end of his career. Smith spent the 2023 season working with 30-year-old veteran Taylor Heinicke and second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder. 

Smith said he’s excited to work with an offense in Pittsburgh that is build with “a lot of young players” that includes quarterback Kenny Pickett. Here’s what he hopes to see from young quarterbacks like the one he is about to work with in Pittsburgh. 

“Being efficient, being able to get the ball out and making the smart decisions, getting the ball into playmakers’ hands, and taking care of the football,” Smith said. “A lot of things come with the responsibility of playing football in the National Football League. There are pressure situations that happen all game, and having command of those situations and ultimately putting the ball in the end zone. … There’s a natural evolution that happens with the quarterback.” 

Smith had a quick answer when he was asked about the first thing he wants to work on with Pickett, whose 2023 ended prematurely due to an injury. 

“First off, there’s a relationship that’s got to be built between me and Kenny, and that’s so paramount between the play-caller and the quarterback,” Smith said. “There’s a trust that’s got to built daily, and it goes both ways. I’ve got to earn Kenny’s trust, and vice versa. 

“As we build this offense, there’s all of the things that we want to work on and want him to work on and take command of this offense.” 

While Smith’s offense never truly got off the ground in Atlanta, the Falcons did have a rookie who amassed more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of Smith’s first three seasons there. In Nashville, Smith’s offense enjoyed considerable success. Tannehill was named to the Pro Bowl in 2020 after throwing 33 touchdowns against just seven picks. Running back Derrick Henry won the rushing title during Smith’s two years as his OC that included a 2,000-yard campaign. 

The Titans’ success on offense during that span led to an AFC championship game appearance in 2019 and another playoff berth in 2020. 

“Chemistry and fit matters,” Smith said about the success the Titans’ offense had during that time “There’s so many great players and coaches in this league, but a lot of it is about chemistry and fit and how those guys come together. There was a lot of shared values between a lot of those guys in Tennessee, and that was a big part of it, and that is real. … There was a great chemistry among those guys and those offenses that I was able to be a part of Tennessee.”

Smith has worked previously with a bevy of coaches with Pittsburgh connections, including Mike Vrabel, who started his playing career with the Steelers in the late 1990s. Smith specifically talked about the working experience he had with former Steelers assistant coach and NFL lifer Tom Moore. Smith said Moore often talked to him about Chuck Noll, the Steelers’ Hall of Fame coach who led Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl wins during the ’70s. 

“There’s not a lot of literature about Chuck Noll,” Smith said. “I love his humility. 

“There’s so many people that have Pittsburgh connections that it’s kind of a dream come true to be able to work here. I’m somebody that loves the history of this game. … Everybody to a person talks about how special it is to work here in Pittsburgh. I don’t know many places like this at all in professional spots with the history. … When people see that Steelers logo, they know what it is. The fan base is real football fans here. They love it. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

While they haven’t had much success, the Steelers’ offense has several notable players, including Pickett, wideouts George Pickens and Diontae Johnson, running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, tight end Pat Freiermuth and offensive linemen Broderick Jones and Isaac Seumalo. The unit, which had been struggling since 2021, started to show signs of what it can do moving forward during the second half of the 2023 season, especially in the running game. 

Like Pickett, Smith wants to help each of Pittsburgh’s offensive players reach their potential. But something must happen first before that can happen. 

“Everybody I’ve ever tried to coach … you try to build a relationship and get to know the better first,” he said. “It’s that trust and the relationship that I’m excited to try to develop with every player of our offense.”

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