NASHVILLE — 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 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 Friday at his introductory news conference.
Carthon, who turns 42 in February, had been too busy putting himself in this position to take 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 the University of Florida to a brief playing career before front office jobs with the Atlanta Falcons, the St. Louis and Los Angeles 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 general managers hired in the NFL, and he now is the eighth Black GM currently in the league and the ninth person of color among current GMs.
The NFL has held two accelerator programs since late May to promote more minority candidates for front office jobs. Carthon said he met Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk and Burke Nihill, the team's president and CEO, during the owners' winter meetings in December.
For Strunk, the hiring process moved quickly after starting Jan. 12, when the Titans interviewed two internal candidates, including director of player personnel Monti Ossenfort, who was hired as GM of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday.
Carthon interviewed with the Titans on Jan. 13 in Nashville, flew back for the 49ers' wild-card win over the visiting Seattle Seahawks last Saturday, then returned to Nashville for a second interview Tuesday. He learned he was being offered the job while at the airport.
The Titans had wrapped up the search process just that morning by interviewing their seventh candidate overall.
Carthon 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 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season. The injury-riddled Titans, though, were in the hunt for a postseason berth and a third straight AFC South Division championship to the end, losing that opportunity only when they lost their regular-season finale on the road to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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 Falcons starting in 2008, as director of pro personnel for the Rams from 2012 to 2016 and during 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 the Chicago Bears 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 season ended for the Titans.
"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, according to Spotrac.com. Both veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill and two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry, who finished second in the league in rushing during the recently completed regular season, are going into the final seasons of their current contracts.
On top of that, two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons has made clear he wants an extension from the Titans, who hold the No. 11 overall pick in the April draft.
In five seasons in Tennessee, coach Mike Vrabel is 48-34 with three playoff berths, highlighted by an appearance in the AFC title game three years ago. On Friday, Carthon and Vrabel both emphasized their plans to collaborate on roster building down to position coaches working with scouts to identify talent.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Vrabel said. "We're excited to get to work on that."