Ran Carthon, a former running back at Key West High School, is now Tennessee Titans’ general manager. CONTRIBUTED

Why are so many Key West sports fans suddenly rooting for the Tennessee Titans?

Because the Titans’ new general manager, Ran Carthon, is — and always will be — a Key West Conch, though not by birth, but choice. 

The Titans news broke Jan. 17 and Key West fans have been celebrating ever since.

Carthon, who turns 42 on Feb. 10, was in eighth grade when the military stationed his family in the Southernmost City. He attended Horace O’Bryant Middle School, then Key West High, graduating in 1999. While Carthon made an immediate impression on coaches, teammates and parents, the island made an impression on him.

‘Key West is home’

“Key West is home,” Carthon told the Keys Weekly from his Titans office late Thursday evening, Jan. 26. “When anybody asks me where I’m from, I say ‘Key West.

“As a military kid, we bounced around. People in Jacksonville will say I’m from there. I was born in Arkansas, but left when I was 3, and people there will ask when I’m coming ‘home,’” Carthon said.

But the Key West Conchs football helmet, pennant and varsity letter that hung in his 49ers office are en route to Nashville, he said. His fitted red KW ball caps are already in Tennessee with him, he added.

“I rep Key West wherever I go,” Carthon said. “It’s always a conversation starter. Everyone’s amazed that people actually LIVE in Key West. ‘And yes,’ I tell them, ‘Black people DO live in Key West.’”

His chuckle is deep and authentic. Casual and unhurried, Carthon gives one the sense that he’s leaned back in an office chair, with all the time in the world to speak to a local news reporter from his hometown. His smile was nearly audible at the mention of familiar Key West names and places — Bill Spottswood, Coach Jerry Hughes, Jack Niles, Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium.

“Everything about Key West is who I am as a person — laid back, chill, accepting, and open to new things and new people,” he said. “I was that way naturally, but Key West brought it out more fully. Of every place I’ve ever lived, Key West fit with who God made me to be.”

Apparently, God also made Carthon the coolest, most gracious general manager of an NFL team I’ve ever interviewed. (Granted, he’s the only general manager of an NFL team I’ve interviewed, but still, he’s a tough act to follow.)

Conch, Gator, Colt, Lion….

From Key West High School, Carthon was recruited to play football for the University of Florida Gators under Coach Steve Spurrier. 

He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2004 and played for three seasons in the NFL with the Colts, then the Detroit Lions, according to Wikipedia.

When his playing career ended, Carthon returned to the University of Florida and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2008.

He has since worked in executive scouting and personnel positions for the Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. Carthon spent the past six years with the 49ers, most recently as director of player personnel.

Then Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk made a game-changing announcement.

Now in Nashville…

Carthon expertly handled his first press conference as Titans general manager on Jan. 20 in Nashville. He emphasized the importance of “working together and forging a relationship” with head coach Mike Vrabel. When asked specifics about next season’s roster, Carthon jovially reminded reporters that he’d just gotten to town.

When I mentioned on our call that Titans running back Derrick Henry has two super-fans on South Street in Key West, Carthon chuckled again and recounted a good-natured TikTok exchange he’d just had with Henry.

“It’s funny,” Carthon told the Keys Weekly. “My daughter was watching some video clips of me the other night and said, ‘This is soooo weird. Dad’s, like, sort of, famous.’”

But back to Key West…

“In my 40-plus years of coaching high school football, I have been blessed to have coached some superior athletes and outstanding young men. Ran Carthon is one of those exceptional student athletes,” Carthon’s Key West High School coach, Jerry Hughes, told the Keys Weekly on Jan. 24. 

“As a junior, he rushed for more than 1,300 yards and gained over 500 yards DESPITE missing several games due to a high ankle sprain,” Hughes recalled.

 “My first conversation with Ran was very impressive — eye contact, firm handshake, confidence, respect — all attributable to his family’s military background and the parental guidance he had growing up,” Coach Hughes continued. “On the practice field, my impressions grew even stronger due to his work ethic, leadership and athletic abilities. I am so proud of Ran for being determined and relentless in pursuing his ultimate goal, all with the ‘attitude of a champion.’ GO TITANS,” Hughes said.

Bill Spottswood, whose son Billy was a few years behind Carthon in high school, beamed with pride when he spoke of Carthon. 

“He was over here all the time,” Bill Spottswood said. “He calls me Pops, and when he wanted to list me as a mentor on his resume, he told me, ‘You were tough on me, Pops, but you were tough on your own kids, too, and you loved me.’”

The collaborative spirit, communication skills and team-focused mindset that helped Carthon get the Titans GM job started on the field in Key West, Spottswood said.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.