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Titans fire head coach Mike Vrabel after six seasons

In a surprise, the Tennessee Titans have fired head coach Mike Vrabel, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday.

Vrabel coached the Titans for the past six seasons, leading the Titans to a 54-45 record (.545 win percentage) and two playoff victories. The team later announced the news.

"Earlier today, I spoke with Mike Vrabel and told him about my decision to make a change at head coach," owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement on Tuesday. "As I told Coach Vrabel, this decision was as difficult as any I've made as Controlling Owner. I appreciate Mike's contributions to the Tennessee Titans both on and off the field. Anyone who has ever met him knows how passionate and genuine he is, and he's been a strong supporter of the Nashville community. We wish Mike, Jen, and the Vrabel family nothing but the best in the future."

The past two seasons likely sealed Vrabel's fate. After a 41-23 mark in his first four combined seasons, reaching the AFC Championship Game in the 2019 season, the Titans have missed the playoffs the past two seasons with records of 7-10 and 6-11.

The Titans also haven't won a postseason game since they advanced to the 2019 AFC title game when they ultimately lost to the Chiefs. Tennessee lost to the Ravens in the 2020 wild-card round and were beaten in the divisional round of the 2021 playoffs, being upset at home by the Cincinnati Bengals despite winning the AFC's top postseason seed.

Quarterback trouble sunk Vrabel's past two seasons. The Titans started the 2022 season with a 7-3 record but fell out of the playoff race after losing seven straight, seeing the Jaguars steal the AFC South crown as Ryan Tannehill was injured and the other Titans quarterbacks struggled.

Tannehill returned in 2023 but threw only two TD passes in his first six starts and was injured again. His replacement, rookie Will Levis, showed some flashes, including a four-TD debut in a win over the Falcons. However, he threw only four TDs passes in his next eight starts and the Titans went 3-6 with the rookie starting.

Talk of a potential exit began to surface toward the end of the 2023 regular season.

NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported ahead of Week 18 that a frustrated Vrabel would meet with Titans brass following the end of the season to discuss a potential path forward.

That path forward evidently does not include Vrabel returning for a seventh season.

"As the NFL continues to innovate and evolve, I believe the teams best positioned for sustained success will be those who empower an aligned and collaborative team across all football functions," Adams Struck said in a statement on Tuesday. "Last year, we began a shift in our approach to football leadership and made several changes to our personnel to advance that plan. As I continued to assess the state of our team, I arrived at the conclusion that the team would also benefit from the fresh approach and perspective of a new coaching staff.

"I believe the Tennessee Titans can and will be a premier National Football League franchise. It's what our fans deserve, and there will be hard decisions along the way. My decision today is not only a reflection of my disappointment in our past two seasons, but also my recognition that further changes are necessary to fully achieve our vision."

There were also rumblings of a disharmony between Vrabel and general manager Ran Carthon. Carthon, who succeeded Jon Robinson as Titans GM ahead of the 2023 campaign, denied those at the opening of his Tuesday news conference. 

"I know there's been a lot of speculation over the last two, three months or whatever it's been about the nature of Mike and I's relationship," he said. "I will say that Mike and I, we've never had any issue. Versus whether it's personal or professional. We worked well together and had a good relationship. We were in lockstep. So I want to finally come out and dispel that. I wish Vrabs nothing but the best, consider him a friend and I feel like we'll be that way moving forward."

Given Vrabel's successful track record during his six seasons, it was speculated that one resolution between the two parties could have involved trading the 2021 NFL Coach of the Year to a different team, which would have allowed Tennessee to recoup draft picks.

Adams Strunk said on Tuesday during an interview with the Titans' website that was something she considered.

"Yes, there was," Adams Strunk said. "But there's a bit of misconception about a coach's contract versus a player's contract. A coach's contract, you can't trade them unless they're a willing partner in that trade. So 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. Honestly, 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."

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