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Vrabel out as Titans coach after six seasons

Mike Vrabel Tennessee Titans Mike Vrabel - The Canadian Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk wants a fresh approach to compete in the NFL, so she fired coach Mike Vrabel on Tuesday morning after six seasons and losing 18 of the past 24 games.

Strunk said in a statement it was a decision “as difficult as any I’ve made.”

But she said she believes teams best positioned to win must be aligned and collaborate across the board. The Titans started that shift a year ago, hiring Ran Carthon as the franchise's first Black general manager and expanding its analytics staff. More changes were needed to “fully achieve our vision."

Strunk said she assessed the team throughout the season in an interview released by the team. The Titans went 7-10 in 2022 and just finished a 6-11 season Sunday.

“I thought it was time to make that change,” Strunk said.

The announcement came a day after the Titans cleaned out their lockers with Vrabel not speaking to reporters. It was the first time in the franchise's 27 seasons in Tennessee the head coach did not talk to reporters since the team moved to the state from Texas.

Several Titans, from rookie quarterback Will Levis to two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, all said they wanted to keep Vrabel as their coach.

The Titans hired Carthon from San Francisco where he spent six seasons. The Niners have made the playoffs three straight seasons and four of five, including reaching Super Bowl 54, and currently are the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

Carthon said at a news conference Tuesday he has a couple of candidates already for his first head coaching search. The search process starts immediately.

“We have to get it right, and I'm confident that we will,” Carthon said.

Carthon dispelled speculation of friction between himself and Vrabel, saying the coach was part of every meeting on players. Carthon also said Vrabel never talked with him about wanting more control over personnel.

“We're not going to bring players in here that the coaches don't want to coach,” Carthon said.

The Titans now are the sixth NFL team at the moment looking for a new coach, joining Atlanta and Washington who fired coaches Monday. The Raiders, the Chargers and Panthers didn't wait for the season to end before firing coaches.

NFL teams can’t start in-person interviews until after the divisional round after owners voted in October to push those back a week to slow down the hiring process and try to increase diversity in hiring.

They also cannot interview head coaching candidates employed by other NFL teams until Tuesday or Wednesday for any coach whose team is done or team has a playoff bye. Teams can start virtual interviews.

Any internal candidates or someone not currently employed by the NFL can interview in person.

Strunk said the Titans thought of trying to trade Vrabel as a coach expected to be a top candidate. She noted a coach has to be willing to be traded, and trying to deal Vrabel might've delayed the Titans' search by three weeks.

“To get the right head coach, I was just not willing to go to the back of the line and take a chance of missing out on someone we really wanted,” Strunk said.

Hired in January 2018, Vrabel went 56-48 overall, including a 2-3 record in the playoffs that included reaching the AFC championship game in the 2019 season as part of three straight playoff berths.

The Titans contended for a playoff spot in the season finale of his first five seasons until they were eliminated from postseason contention for this season in December. Vrabel wound up coaching a team that used the most players in the NFL in each of the past three seasons because of injuries.

Carthon said nine starters missed the season finale and that figuring out how to stay healthier will be a part of the process as the Titans hire a new coach.

Vrabel signed a contract extension after a 2021 season where he won the AP NFL Coach of the Year award. He said last week that “of course he wants to be here” in 2024, but used an expletive to make clear that losing stinks.

Strunk fired general manager Jon Robinson on Dec. 6, 2022, in the midst of the team's seven-game slide to blow a third straight division title. She hired Carthon in January 2023, though he had few resources to fix the roster.

The Titans go into this offseason with the seventh overall draft pick, the second-most salary cap space in the NFL and believe they have their quarterback after Levis went 3-6 as a rookie. The 33rd pick overall out of Kentucky took over at the end of October after veteran Ryan Tannehill sprained his right ankle.

Strunk said she will never shy away from having “unapologetically high expectations” for the team her late father founded in 1960. She called this offseason as important as any in the franchise's history. This will be the third head coach Strunk has hired since taking over in March 2015.

“I’m prepared to make the hard decisions to hopefully get us there sooner,” Strunk said.

Tennessee breaks ground on a new enclosed stadium expected to cost $2.1 billion sometime this spring, which is set to open for the 2027 season. That only adds to the pressure of making the right decisions from top to bottom moving forward.