Why did the Titans fire Mike Vrabel? Back-to-back losing seasons leads to coaching change in Tennessee

In 2021, Mike Vrabel was named the Coach of the Year after helping the Titans to a fourth consecutive winning season and third playoff berth in a row.  Flash forward two years, and the Tennessee head coach has been fired after a 6-11 season. 

The Titans announced on Tuesday that the team is parting ways with Vrabel after six seasons with the organization. It comes just days after Tennessee finished last in a competitive but ultimately mediocre AFC South. 

During his time with the club, Vrabel helped turn the Titans into playoff contenders, but the team has been trending in the wrong direction for the last two, concluding the 2023 season with the third-worst record in the conference and tied for the sixth-worst record in the NFL.

Vrabel ends his career with the Titans with a 54-45 record, leading the team to an AFC Championship appearance in 2019 and three playoff berths. 

MORE: Tracking all the latest NFL coaching changes, firings in 2024 offseason

The Sporting News explains more on why the Titans fired Vrabel:

Why did the Titans fire Mike Vrabel?

The Vrabel era could not have started better in Tennessee. From 2011 to ’17, the Mike Munchak/Ken Whisenhunt/Mike Mularkey years in Tennessee resulted in one playoff appearance and one winning season. 

Vrabel took over in 2018 and helped transform the team. The Titans went 9-7 in his first year but missed the playoffs. However, that same record was enough for Tennessee to get into the postseason in ’19, as the Titans went on a run to the AFC Championship, falling to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. 

The Titans won the AFC South in 2020 and ’21, going 11-5 and 12-5, respectively, but bowed out in their playoff matchups each of those years. It didn’t get better in ’22 and ’23, as the Titans finished below .500 both seasons, resulting in playoff misses. 

Vrabel undoubtedly was a key cog in unlocking running back Derrick Henry’s potential, putting a run-heavy scheme in place for the offense in which the power back thrived. However, it was evident this year that Henry isn’t the dominant back he once was, and Vrabel was unable to adjust the offense — or fix the defense — to put things together in 2023. 

For Vrabel, if he wants a head coaching job for next season, there should be plenty of interest. While the past two years didn’t go his way, he showed he is most certainly cut out for a head coaching role in the NFL based on his early years in Tennessee. 

However, a new era is going to begin in Tennessee in 2024. Henry is a free agent this summer, and based on his postgame comments in Week 18, his time in Nashville is over. Meanwhile, Will Levis appears to be the QB of the future, and the firing of Vrabel allows management to bring in a new voice for the team. 

Who will replace Mike Vrabel in Tennessee?

There are not a ton of internal options that stand out on the Tennessee staff that could be considered for a promotion to head coach. Tim Kelly just wrapped up his second season with the Titans and first as the offensive coordinator. Shane Bowen has three years of experience as the defensive coordinator, but the defense’s performances under his watch haven’t exactly been impressive. 

The likely route for the Titans is to pluck one of the rising coordinators from another team. The Texans’ Bobby Slowick is considered to be one of the top future head coaches, helping transform Houston’s offense this year into a dynamic unit. No one knows that better than Tennessee, who lost twice to Houston in the regular season. 

The Lions’ Ben Johnson is also viewed similarly as Slowick — a young offensive coordinator who had success turning around a subpar offense in Detroit. 

If the team wants to go with a defensive approach, expect the Ravens’ Mike Macdonald to be considered. Other teams have already reached out to Baltimore to show interest in the defensive coordinator, who is at the helm of a stout Ravens defense that ranked first in points allowed per game. 

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