Titans' Vrabel, players awkwardly address Robinson dismissal

Jon Robinson
Posted at 8:56 PM, Dec 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-07 21:56:43-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Mike Vrabel stood at the podium at Ascension St. Thomas Sports Park for nearly 20 minutes Wednesday answering questions about the dismissal of Jon Robinson.

It was a move he didn't make to fire the man that once was his boss. Nowhere to be found was the controlling owner, Amy Adams Strunk, who made the decision Tuesday to part ways with the general manager that rebuilt her franchise from the ashes when he was hired seven years ago.

"Change is never easy," Vrabel said after thanking Robinson for his service to the team and for giving him the opportunity to be a head coach five years ago. "But we all realize we have a job to do and that we are evaluated each and every day. What's important is that we respect and understand the decision and that we move forward aligned."

The desire to understand is why the largest media contingent of this regular season gathered around the small, outdoor media podium for Vrabel’s first comments since the move before cramming into the locker room to hear what the players had to say.

“I don’t want to see the guy that drafted me get fired, but it is what it is. We’ve got to respect that decision,” safety Kevin Byard said. “I want to win a championship my damn self, so if that’s how she feels, (that) the roster isn’t where it needs to be and she needs to move on, then I respect that.”

How Adams Strunk feels has been left up for us to interpret in the absence of any public comments. Her short statement provided along with Tuesday’s announcement cited only an ongoing evaluation of the roster and an aspiration for the team to accomplish more.

That’s all we know about why Robinson is out despite a 66-43 record as G.M. in six-plus seasons. So many other questions remain unanswered.

Why did Adams Strunk come to this conclusion after deeming the job Robinson had done good enough to give him a contract extension through 2027 last February? It’s hard to say other than it seems like Vrabel — despite his insistence Wednesday of saying, “it’s what was best for the football team” — was no fan of Robinson’s decision to trade A.J. Brown to the Eagles during last spring’s NFL Draft. The star receiver’s absence has been felt every game this season and was magnified when he torched the Titans Sunday to the tune of eight catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

That performance may also answer why the move was made now with five games left in the season. Adams Strunk certainly couldn’t have liked sitting in the owner’s box in Philadelphia and watching her team lose 35-10 to the Eagles with Brown going off while her quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times behind an offensive line that’s gone from one of the league’s best to one of the league’s worst in a couple short seasons.

Maybe the motivation to make the move now was to grab the attention of a team that’s lost back-to-back games, but still stands 7-5. Their magic number to clinch a third consecutive AFC South title stands at two going into this Sunday’s meeting with the Jaguars at noon at Nissan Stadium.

“I don’t know if there’s a message involved,” Tannehill said. “The guys in our locker room understand he pressure and are reminded daily of what is at stake and how this organization expects us to go out, play and win games.”

In the short term, there is no receiver that can be brought in to replace Brown or a way to overhaul the offensive line. Any tweaks to the roster will be a collaborative effort between Vrabel and vice president of Player Personnel Ryan Cowden. Vrabel says he has not been approached by Adams Strunk, or given thought to the idea, about having complete control of all personnel decisions in addition to his coaching duties in the future.

What the long-term power structure in the football offices and vision for the team will also remain unclear.

What is clear is that Adams Strunk is hitching her wagon to Vrabel, a three-time Super Bowl champion as a player with the Patriots and the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He now supplants Robinson at the top of the football operations totem pole, and holds as much power as anyone in the building other than Adams Strunk herself.

“This wasn’t a decision that included me,” Vrabel said. “This was a decision that was made, and I was informed of that decision. Jon and I have a great relationship. Spoke with him at length last night. Thanked him for the opportunity to coach this football team. Our personal feelings aren’t what’s important. What’s important is that we respect and understand the decision.”

Fully understanding the decision to part ways with one of the most successful GMs in the league may take more time than the Titans have. They need to get back on track and try to build momentum ahead of what they hope will be a playoff run that changes the narrative about this season.

Right now, the story of the year is the failures of Robinson and the roster he leaves behind that even the team’s owner doesn’t believe is good enough to win a Super Bowl. That was the harsh reality hovering around all those questions inside the locker room Wednesday afternoon, so you should forgive the players if they got sick of trying to answer them.

“I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t really want to keep talking about this J. Rob situation,” defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. “I’m focused on trying to help this team get a win this weekend.”

Don’t worry, big Jeff. A lot of big questions remain, and it’s not your job to answer them.

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