The most surprising of this year’s head coach firings came out of Nashville. Although steady smoke about Mike Vrabel discontent emerged over the past several weeks, the Titans were connected to a trade — not an outright firing. But the organization took the latter route Tuesday morning. Vrabel is out after six seasons.
The Titans considered making a concerted effort to trade Vrabel’s rights elsewhere, as the Saints did with Sean Payton last year. But controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said the team did not want to risk a lengthy trade negotiation, during a search in which interested teams would also need to comply with the Rooney Rule, delaying the team from finding a suitable Vrabel replacement. This led to the firing, with Adams Strunk informing Vrabel today.
“Yes, we thought about it, but at the end of the day, with league rules the way they are, it would have maybe put us back three weeks,” Adams Strunk said during an appearance on 104.5 The Zone of a trade. “Honestly, to get the right head coach, I was not willing to go to the back of the line and take a chance of missing out on someone we really wanted.”
Rumors of a rift between Vrabel and first-year GM Ran Carthon had surfaced, and while Carthon attempted to shoot those down, Adams Strunk said the team wants “an aligned and collaborative team across all football functions.” Vrabel also may have sought more of a say in personnel, per SI.com’s Albert Breer. The Titans gave their veteran HC such input when they fired Jon Robinson in December 2022, but the team added Carthon and assistant GMs Chad Brinker and Anthony Robinson this offseason. Both Vrabel and Carthon reported to Adams Strunk. Tennessee’s ensuing moves provided a rebuilding outlook, something that might come to fruition this year.
Furthermore, Adams Strunk did not choose the GM candidate Vrabel wanted last year. Vrabel is believed to have preferred the team to elevate interim GM Ryan Cowden to the full-time role, according to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin. Vrabel and Cowden shared responsibility to close out last season, following the surprising Jon Robinson ouster. Vrabel and Robinson had signed extensions in February 2022; Robinson’s went through 2027, Vrabel’s through ’25. Cowden ended up with the Giants this past offseason.
Not in the meeting when Adams Strunk fired Vrabel, Carthon will lead the Titans’ HC search, the Athletic’s Dianna Russini tweets. The ex-49ers exec said others will be part of it. Tennessee’s assistant coaches will be retained until a new coach arrives.
While Carthon said a Will Levis-centered approach will not drive the search, the young GM did point out (via TitanInsider.com’s Terry McCormick) the team will seek a head coach willing to work with the 2023 second-round pick. Ryan Tannehill is a free agent in March and appears likely to join Derrick Henry in leaving. Although Henry being handed a microphone to thank Titans fans after the season sends a pretty clear signal he intends to move on after eight seasons, Carthon said the door is not closed on a third Henry contract.
Adams Strunk has now fired both the pillars who helmed the Titans to three playoff berths from 2019-21, with Robinson also in place for the team’s 2017 sojourn to the divisional round. She has developed a reputation as impulsive, Breer adds. With the Titans coming off back-to-back losing seasons, the second-generation owner will assemble a new power structure. She did not confirm who would report to whom just yet.
Regarding the obvious Vrabel fit, the Patriots should be considered likely to express interest. Bill Belichick has been connected to every non-Titans HC opening, and while not all of the teams with vacancies may ultimately be interested, it does seem some interest would be out there. The Patriots’ goal could soon be to hire Vrabel, who is now available without draft picks changing hands, and trade Belichick. That would leave Jerod Mayo, who held the inside track on being Belichick’s heir apparent when Robert Kraft stepped in and authorized an extension last year, on the outside looking in. But Vrabel — a Patriots mainstay from 2001-08 — has been connected to the Patriots for months, being viewed as a “home run hire.”
Helping to smooth out this process: Belichick and Vrabel share an agent, Volin adds. Belichick is aiming to stay on in New England for at least one more season, and he sounds willing to adjust the personnel aspect of his job. One season remains on Belichick’s contract. It still sounds more likely than not the legendary HC will be elsewhere next season, and the separation process is expected to take some time. Vrabel being unattached, however, could conceivably expedite these proceedings.