NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry absolutely believes his position coach Tony Dews would make a great head coach in the NFL.
Henry just has one request.
”Hopefully he can stay with me as long as he can until then,” Henry said.
Dews is the assistant coach the Tennessee Titans sent with pro scouting director Brian Gardner to Atlanta in May to the NFL’s first session of a program designed to boost minority candidates for head coaching and general manager jobs.
How? Getting minority coaches and executives in the same room with team owners to chat with someone they might never meet otherwise. Also, the opportunity to learn more about the whole hiring process.
For all the game plans at every level of football, there is no manual on how to be hired as an NFL head coach.
”It was an unbelievable experience,” Dews said. ”It was very educational. I got some really good information that could potentially help me grow.”
The NFL is holding its second such program Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the owners’ winter meetings in Dallas. The Titans, now looking for a new general manager, are sending Gardner again to mingle with owners or their representatives at this latest session.
Being a head coach has been a goal for Dews, 49, since playing tight end at Liberty. His first job came in 1998, coaching the defensive line at Division II Millersville, and he has coached every position working his way across the college landscape from West Virginia and Holy Cross to Central Michigan, Pittsburgh and Arizona.
His NFL opportunity came in 2018 thanks to Matt LaFleur who interviewed for the Titans head coaching job. Mike Vrabel then hired LaFleur as his offensive coordinator, and LaFleur recommended the man he coached with at Central Michigan.
Now the Green Bay Packers head coach, LaFleur said the key is hiring the person first and coach second. Dews stayed in touch to keep learning even after LaFleur moved to the NFL.
”He’s got such an infectious personality and brings a lot of life, not only to your staff but to your team,” LaFleur said. ”I thought he created an amazing culture in that running back room in our time together at Tennessee. I think he’s a damned good coach.”
Vrabel agrees. Coaching in the NFL requires long hours spent together, and Vrabel says Dews’ energy and passion for teaching is contagious.
Vrabel also appreciates how Dews took whatever job needed to improve himself as a coach, taking his family through 11 moves before the Titans hired Dews in 2018.
Being a great coach isn’t enough to get noticed. That’s why the NFL instituted this program as part mixer/get together to introduce the owners to a deeper pool of candidates.
Vrabel’s key to being hired? Making a connection with the person picking the head coach. Being a great play-caller is not the biggest factor.
Connecting with a team and having the same vision is more important.
”Calling plays for good defense and good offenses isn’t and shouldn’t be a prerequisite for being a head coach. It’s not,” Vrabel said. ”It’s about being able to adjust to all the things that come up and and make the right decisions at the right time.”
Henry believes Dews has all those qualities by how the assistant coach keeps him focused on the little details, fundamentals and techniques to keep improving. He sees a great leader never satisfied, willing and wanting to work hard every single day.
”You never, never arrive,” said Henry. ”And I feel like that’s his mindset and never complacent, always stay hungry and come out here with a growth mindset to want to get better and be the best player you can be.”
That’s why Dews has quizzed everyone from former- Titans general manager Jon Robinson to Vrabel, vice president of player personnel Ryan Cowden, and Monti Ossenfort, their director of player personnel. He’s also talked with Vin Marino, the VP of football administration who oversees salary cap and contract issues.
Dews has continued trying to educate himself as much as possible. That includes coaching clinics, podcasts, reading books or talking to potential GM candidates and former Titans colleagues/turned NFL head coaches such as LaFleur and now Arthur Smith, now the Atlanta Falcons head coach.
Dews said everyone has been open and willing to answer any of his questions. What he’s learned helps him in the job he has now and potentially the opportunity some day to be a head coach.
”I know it sounds cliche-ish, but we ask our players to learn something new every day so we too can learn if we have a growth mindset and you’re open to learning,” Dews said.
Dews also knows he may never get that head coaching job no matter how hard he works. He’ll be ready in case he does.
”If you get an opportunity to be a head coach, go be who you are and do the best job that you can do,” Dews said. ”And if it’s good enough, you have success. If it’s not, they move you on.”
That’s one coaching lesson Dews knows very well.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report.
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