Vrabel: Titans owner sent clear message to win championships

December 7, 2022 GMT
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Tennessee Titans' Mike Vrabel watches action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
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Tennessee Titans' Mike Vrabel watches action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

NASHVILLE Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk left coach Mike Vrabel to explain her decision to fire the team’s general manager during one of the best stretches in franchise history.

Strunk fired Jon Robinson on Tuesday with five games remaining in his seventh season as general manager with the Titans (7-5) holding a big lead while chasing a third straight AFC South title.

Vrabel said Wednesday that Strunk informed him of the decision and he couldn’t speak to either the timing or what prompted the move. The Titans coach, whose contract was extended in February along with Robinson’s, spoke for nearly 23 minutes addressing the stunning move instead of Sunday’s game with Jacksonville (4-8).

Strunk’s statement came through pretty clearly.

“The message is the same as it’s always been, is we’re charged to win,” Vrabel said. “We’re here to win championships, that we all have a job to do and we’re held to a high standard and that we’re evaluated each and every day on that job. And it’s the same thing I told the football team and the players this morning.”

The Titans have done a lot of that since Robinson took over a team that went a combined 5-27 in 2014 and 2015. Since being hired in January 2016, Robinson oversaw a streak of six straight winning seasons that is the second-longest active streak in the NFL and trails only the Kansas City Chiefs’ stretch of 10.

Robinson was the franchise’s GM with the most winning seasons and a 69-47 overall record that trails only the late Floyd Reese.

Tennessee went 12-5 last season, winning the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time since 2008.

The Titans also are closing in on a third straight division title, which would be the franchise’s first such run since Strunk’s late father, Bud Adams, founded the then-Houston Oilers in 1960 in the AFL.

Strunk mentioned roster construction in her statement announcing the firing, and the man who drafted two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry and two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard never signed one of his first-round draft picks to a contract extension. Henry and Byard are the only players still left from his first draft.

Robinson has had several high draft busts with the worst being offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson. The 29th pick overall in 2020 was suspended by the team before his rookie season ended, and Dillon Radunz, a second-round pick in 2021, is a backup.

The offensive line Robinson built gave up a season-high six sacks in last week’s loss to Philadelphia, a game featuring the wide receiver the Titans traded to the Eagles during the first round of the NFL draft in April. A.J. Brown has more catches, yards and touchdowns by himself than the Titans’ top two receivers combined.

Vrabel said he appreciated how Robinson included himself and the rest of the coaching staff in the evaluation process. Vrabel, who said he ultimately reported to Robinson and that they talked every day, was in no mood to second-guess the decision to trade away the franchise’s best receiver in years.

“We made a decision, I mean, that we felt like was in the best interest of the football team and the decision and (direction) that we wanted to head at the time,” Vrabel said. “And so A.J. is in Philadelphia, and we’re moving forward.”

The firing surprised the Titans. Byard learned of the firing on Twitter, quickly refreshing for more information. Byard said his wife is close with Robinson’s wife, but the owner made a decision that they all have to respect.

Now the attention has to turn to the Jaguars with a chance to eliminate Jacksonville from playoff contention Sunday and take a step closer to another division title.

“Everything that we want to accomplish and that we set to accomplish this year during the offseason and training camp, it’s still right in front of us,” Byard said. “To go out and try to win a division and make a run in this playoff and try to go win a championship, so that doesn’t change. It’s not going to change at all.”

NOTES: The Titans activated the 21-day practice window for WR Racey McMath (hip) and DB Josh Thompson. Vrabel made clear Monday they would be cautious with McMath, who was placed on IR before the season opener. WR Treylon Burks (concussion protocol) did not practice after being knocked out of the previous game.


Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker


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