Titans coach Mike Vrabel discusses message to team after GM was fired

AP photo by Chris Szagola / Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel, shown during Sunday's road loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, spent his news conference Wednesday responding to questions about the firing of general manager Jon Robinson by team owner Amy Adams Strunk the day before.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans 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 of the franchise — and with the Titans (7-5) holding a big lead while chasing a third straight AFC South Division title.

Vrabel, who was hired as coach in January 2018, said Wednesday that Strunk informed him of the decision and he couldn't speak to either the timing or what prompted the move. The coach, whose contract was extended in February along with Robinson's, spoke for nearly 23 minutes while addressing the stunning move instead of Sunday's game with the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), a division opponent.

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 winning 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, who was with the Houston Oilers as they moved to Tennessee in the mid-1990s and became the Titans.

The Titans went 12-5 last season, winning the AFC's No. 1 seed for the first time since 2008, and now they're closing in on what would be the franchise's first run of three straight division titles since Strunk's late father, Bud Adams, founded the Oilers in 1960 in the AFL.

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

Robinson has had several high draft picks who are now considered busts, with the worst 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 Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, who cruised to improve to 11-1 and got another big game from former Titans receiver A.J. Brown. Tennessee traded Brown in April on the first night of the draft, and during his first season in Philadelphia, he has more catches, yards and touchdowns by himself than the Titans' top two receivers combined.

Vrabel said he appreciated how Robinson included the coach and his 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 about it via Twitter, quickly refreshing for more information. He said his wife is close with Robinson's wife but that Strunk made a decision all of the Titans 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."