Why Titans turned franchise over to Ran Carthon after just one year as GM

In 2011, his last year as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons, Ran Carthon read “The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy.” The book outlines how corporate America can bridge its gap with the new generation of consumers. 

Carthon was intrigued by the author, Steve Stoute, who went from being a well-regarded music executive — he produced albums for the likes of Mariah Carey and Nas — to succeeding in the advertising space. So Carthon went to Stoute’s company website, figured out the email sequence of employees and tracked him down. 

“Your jump from music to advertising with no experience,” Carthon wrote in his email, “was it a leap of faith or a calculated risk?” 

Stoute replied within an hour. 

“Literally haven’t talked to him since,” Carthon told FOX Sports. “And I’ve emailed him a few times in the past and never got anything back, which is fine because he didn’t owe me and he didn’t know me. But those are the types of things that I’m willing to do, is reach out. 

“There have been several other people that I’ve reached out to and never heard anything back from,” he added, “but if there’s an answer that I’m searching for, I’m going to go look for it.” 

Carthon’s curiosity is one component that has enabled him to quickly earn significant trust with Titans ownership. Entering his second year with Tennessee, the 43-year-old Carthon has been promoted to executive vice president, giving him total football power in the wake of coach Mike Vrabel’s firing. Carthon was given final say over the roster and oversight over new coach Brian Callahan and his staff, among other responsibilities.

In a statement, controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk touted Carthon’s “exceptional reputation” as a talent evaluator and culture builder, adding that he makes the Titans a “destination for the league’s top talent.” 

“Our organization will now benefit more completely from Ran’s unique ability to build and lead a championship-caliber football team,” Strunk told the team website. 

Why Titans chose former Bengals OC Brian Callahan as new head coach

The way Carthon sees his enhanced position, nothing has changed in how he navigates team headquarters, even with more initials on his title.

He bounces around team headquarters at Saint Thomas Sports Park, meeting with people from different departments (he encourages others in the organization to do the same). Carthon does it, in part, to show folks he’s not just a football guy. He wants to understand the entire organization (and how he can help). He views his role holistically.  

Titans president and CEO Burke Nihill often sees Carthon in the cafeteria or in the hallway interacting with colleagues.

“Ran is a master relationship leader,” Nihill told FOX Sports. “He invests in his team. He invests in the players. He just has this ability to perceive kind of what they need to hear. He’s different. I’ve only been in football for eight years, but he’s different from any leader I’ve been around in that way. And I think it’s a skill that would translate anywhere. It would translate into business. It would translate into community leadership. 

“But in football, it stands out.”

Carthon looks at his relationship with Callahan and his staff as a “working partnership” — one in which he seeks not only to acquire the best players with the best physical traits for the coaches, but also the character attributes needed to succeed in their system. 

“It’s one thing to understand how it reads, right? ‘Oh, we want this player to look like this; we want them to play like this,'” Carthon said. “But there are our attitudes and functions that you have to learn from these specific coaches, what their attitude is like and not just what the paper says. And the only way you can do that is by forging a relationship with them, to spend time with them. 

“By the time I left San Francisco, I knew exactly what our scheme required and what skill sets are meant to play in the scheme, and you can see that on the tape,” he added. “I would be able to go to Kyle Shanahan and say, ‘Hey, yeah, Kyle this player fits, but this player would drive you crazy,’ because I had spent the time with Kyle to understand what Kyle liked in players. … Then Kyle can go and say, ‘This guy is talented, but he would frustrate me.'”

Carthon spent six seasons with San Francisco, first as director of pro personnel and then as director of player personnel. He credits president of 49ers Enterprises & executive vice president of Football Operations Paraag Marathe with taking him under his wing and helping him understand the football business. But Carthon’s inspirations extend far beyond sports. He credits Bill Spottswood, a real-estate developer in his adopted home of Key West, Florida, as being the first person to show him the value of relationships. He counts Marvin Ellison, the chairman and CEO of Lowe’s, as a mentor. He has leaned on venture capitalist Rudy Cline-Thomas, a former sports agent and prominent voice in the athlete investor community, for advice.  

Carthon has also built a relationship with the reggae band Inner Circle. He’s close with one of the founding members of the group, Roger Lewis. When Carthon is in Miami during the summer (“I’ve been off and on living in Miami since 2004,” he says), he’s often in the studio with the band. It’s not because he has musical talent; he gets value from seeing the group’s members put tours together and watching how their business works.

“That kind of all encompasses what a football organization is,” Carthon said of his influences from various spaces. “You look at it from that standpoint: These NFL teams and owners are now making investments into other sports leagues, into other spaces and areas. I’m the type of person that sees that, and I sit back and watch.”

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During the interview process for their general manager role in January 2023, the Titans brass asked candidates many of the typical questions: Who are your mentors? Who do you look up to? Who did you learn from? 

Almost every candidate discussed coaching influences from college. They brought up the personnel executives they’d leaned on. Carthon had many of those same responses, but he also listed billionaires, according to Nihill. He mentioned those who work in real-estate development, private equity, the technology space. 

“I think that’s a super growth mindset development skill to not just be limiting your growth to things that are purely football,” Nihill said. “Football is a very different business, and putting a football team on the field and having a football team performing at a high level is different than running a bank or running a factory or real estate development. But at the end of the day, these are all human businesses, right? It’s about identifying the best talent, attracting the best talent, inspiring the best talent, aligning the best talent, getting them to perform at a high level. And there are absolutely things that a football team can learn from people in totally different business segments, who are operating at the highest levels in the world. 

“He definitely has that curiosity.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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