Mike Vrabel interview requests have not come in yet, but they almost certainly will soon. The well-regarded HC is done after six Titans seasons, with Tennessee’s 2023 offseason laying the groundwork for Tuesday’s firing.
Confirming a previous report of Vrabel preferring Titans interim GM Ryan Cowden over Ran Carthon for the full-time post, The Athletic’s Dianna Russini and Jon Rexrode report Vrabel suggested to Amy Adams Strunk the team make Carthon the assistant GM due to not viewing former the ex-49ers No. 3 exec — behind John Lynch and Adam Peters — as ready for the GM role (subscription required). With Strunk not taking kindly to that suggestion, it does not appear she and Vrabel’s relationship bounced back.
Despite the report of a rift between Vrabel and Carthon, the latter was not involved in the firing, according to Russini and Rexrode. Carthon came to Tennessee after six years in San Francisco, being hired Jan. 17, 2023, and the former 49ers director of pro personnel interviewed for the Cardinals’ GM vacancy last year. Peters declined both Arizona and Tennessee’s requests; he is now a finalist for Washington’s director of football operations post.
The Titans began to tear down their previous power structure by firing Jon Robinson in December 2022, doing so 10 months after extending the GM through 2027. While Vrabel is not connected to pushing Robinson out, the six-year HC subsequently made his case for full roster control, according to The Athletic, believing he had done enough to earn it. Strunk did not want to give a head coach such power, citing issues with Jeff Fisher having control during the latter part of his Tennessee tenure.
This request and Vrabel’s stance on Carthon appears to have damaged his relationship with ownership, with Russini and Rexrode adding Strunk did not view the head coach as showing sufficient faith in her. This did not lead to Vrabel wanting out, however, with ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler noting the defense-oriented HC wanted to give the Titans another year — trade rumors notwithstanding — and that Strunk orchestrated this decision.
Strunk considered firing Vrabel last year, Russini and Rexrode note, but still believed in him as a head coach. Her goal was to start fresh at that point, though she had previously authorized a through-2025 extension for the former linebacker. Additionally, the Titans’ next draft will be the first one Carthon runs. Cowden is believed to have managed the Titans’ 2023 draft board for continuity purposes. Teams often move on from scouts and executives after the draft in order to not shake up things before big-picture investments are made, but it is a bit unusual another strong candidate for GM to wield such control. The Titans fired Cowden soon after the draft; he is now with the Giants.
The Titans’ 2023 draft looms large regarding their long-term future. The team was involved in trade talks with the Cardinals in Round 1, with the pre-draft target being C.J. Stroud, and did move up for Will Levis the following night. Carthon said Tuesday the team will hire a head coach that is interested in developing Levis and also alluded to first-round pick Peter Skoronski being an option (via Titans.com’s Jim Wyatt) to become the team’s long-term left tackle. The Titans kept Skoronski at guard during his rookie season, though the Northwestern standout played only tackle in college.
Fall developments also played a role in Vrabel’s ouster. Strunk had planned to keep Vrabel as recently as November, but it appears the last straw was the Titans’ 19-16 overtime loss to the Texans in Week 15. That is viewed as the point Strunk was ready to move on, Vrabel’s three straight playoff appearances (from 2019-21) notwithstanding. Strunk was also not thrilled about Vrabel’s trip to Foxborough during the Titans’ bye week, according to The Athletic. The Patriots inducted Vrabel into their Hall of Fame that week, and he was seen sitting with Robert Kraft during the ensuing Buffalo-New England game in October.
Strunk’s firing record, which includes canning Mike Mularkey after a divisional-round appearance, has led to an impulsive reputation. The Vrabel move, despite the Titans’ sub-.500 record over the past two years, will not help on that front. A number of teams are likely interested in Vrabel as a head coach option, and Bill Belichick‘s exit would put the Patriots — who have viewed Vrabel as a potential “home run” hire — atop that list. The Commanders, Chargers and Raiders could also have interest, Russini and Rexrode add. It will be interesting to see if Vrabel seeks major personnel input with his next team.