Organizing My Thoughts on Mike Vrabel, Ran Carthon, and the Titans

Amy Adams Strunks fired Mike Vrabel. Ran Carthon is running the show. Stoney Keeley doesn't know what to do with his hands.

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This shit’s complicated. I hate it. I’ve been kicking around a few ideas for a few different pieces this week, and every time I sit down to write it, it just feels so emotionally exhausting. There have been so many nuggets strewn about over the last few months at this point that it’s felt impossible to keep up with. Things ultimately came to a head on Tuesday when news broke that Mike Vrabel had been fired as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. He’s lost just enough in the last two seasons for it to be a justifiable move, but it feels like a bit of a soap opera, and that’s why I’m so unsettled about the process that got us here. Ran Carthon will be running the show now as Amy Adams Strunk wants a more analytically driven front office.

In theory, I agree with that. But, I wonder how Vrabel could’ve fit into that vision. I wonder whether or not the rumblings coming out of the building that Carthon is unprepared and not ready to be a GM in the NFL are true. But, most of all, I worry about the sobering reality that the Titans have an owner that didn’t make it a priority to communicate with the head coach that she was reportedly so incredibly high on. I’m not saying Vrabel communicated well. It sounds like communication is where this all got twisted around. But, Vrabel’s gone now. How he communicates moving forward has no impact on the franchise. The owner’s still here. The owner’s the one that Titans fans still have to deal with.

I have no idea what to do with my hands right now. Instead of trying to sew it all together neatly like a good writer would, I’m just throwing my feelings out here in a bullet list. You’ll find that this isn’t necessarily me trying to write a story. It’s more or less me trying to organize the thoughts that have been swimming around this week as my opinions bounce around in my skull like ping pong balls. The best way to address your feelings? Get ’em out on paper so you can see them, as tangible things, with your own two eyes. But first, if you’re behind on all the details, I’d recommend reading Joe Rexrode’s two pieces on the matter.

Critical reading:

There are all random thoughts that have popped into my head at some point this week, and nothing more:

  • This whole thing sucks, but to be clear, I’m bummed about the process that got us here, and I’m bummed about the mess that was made a year ago and left to fester. It sounds like communication was the key here – feelings were hurt and left to fester, and the relationship eventually deteriorated because of it. There might’ve been a moment earlier in the season when this could’ve been reconciled.
  • Strunk should’ve done the press conference. I get it – she doesn’t have to. She’s the owner of the team. She makes the rules. But, we can all agree on this one, right? She should’ve done the press conference.
  • For months now, we’ve heard it was Mike vs. Ran, but really it sure as hell sounds like it was Mike vs. Amy. There was an idea out there that Mike didn’t think Ran could do the job, and that sounds a little more concrete as I write this today thanks to Rexrode’s report.
  • I started reading the smoke signals months ago, and wondered whether or not Strunk was “built for this.” I tweeted that last week and some people grilled me for it. But, my concern was that she allowed this situation to happen and that it could potentially end with Vrabel and Carthon both being fired and us having to trust her to make sound football decisions moving forward. I am critical of the communication in this situation, but I do not feel like Strunk made a quick rash decision here. I’m not happy with how it’s all played out, but as things continue to come to light, I feel better about my initial concerns.
  • It’s fair to wonder if she is going to keep firing people if they don’t succeed, but I believe this is her wanting to modernize the franchise and moving on from the JRob/Vrabel was the plan for awhile. The phrase we’ve heard a couple of times this week was “run its course.” That window has closed, and now she wants to get with the times.
  • Vrabel is a good coach. He does not deserve full control over the roster. He’s a great game planner. He’s great at situational football. The players love him and want to play for him. He’s a leader of men. How many times has giving a coach full control over a franchise ended well? He won’t be unemployed for long, but I do wonder if the reports surfacing will damage his reputation at all and paint him as a guy who is difficult to work with. I’m not saying that’s the case. I’m just saying he doesn’t exactly look like an angel in all of this either.
  • So, it probably was a good decision to go ahead and move on from him. Strunk might have kept us from enduring Nashville’s version of Houston’s Bill O’Brien situation.
  • Ran deserves a shot at this. People with sources in the building claim he’s unprepared and nobody knows what he does all day, but shit, it sounds like he’s just been sitting there waiting.
  • Ultimately, this may not be a bad thing for the future of the organization, but as Zach pointed out on Football & Other F Words, eventually, AAS’s luck is going to run out. So, we better hope this was just the culmination of a process that has been going on for longer than we think. I’d rather be too early than too late – rip the bandaid off and start fresh with what you want (a “modern” NFL franchise) instead of sinking more draft capital and a wealth of cap space on a coach that would be a lame duck coach in 2024.
  • I didn’t think Ran’s presser was nearly as bad as everyone else. He sounded like a guy who was a little more natural in that spot than we’ve heard him before. People complained about him rambling, but bro, that’s a filibuster tactic to keep people from asking questions. Fill time by talking about how the ball bounces. Use as many words as possible to say nothing. That’s what I think anyway. I want to go back and listen to it and document examples of why I feel good about this and how it was way more telling than people are saying right now. Stay tuned for more on this.
  • Boy, I sure do feel stupid for brushing that Patriots Hall of Fame weekend under the rug like it was nothing.
  • What does it mean for Will Levis? I think it’s being overblown. This could mean the world to Levis if they get it right. I don’t like the lack of continuity, but do it now…commit to a guy and give him a few seasons to work together, and go for the Lombardi.
  • I think this paints the JRob firing in a different light. It sounds less like a decision based on results and more like a decision based on vision. I’m not saying the results were fine, but I believe that move may have been a little more calculated on Strunk’s part than initially believed. I also think Rexrode’s post from this morning paints the Vrabel firing in a little more calculated light as well. If that’s true, and there’s no way for me to know that, then I think Titans fans should ease their worries a bit about Strunk’s capability as owner.
  • Who replaces Vrabel? I don’t know. I was telling a friend that I haven’t watched enough film on NFL offenses around the league to have a concrete opinion on a lot of these guys. I like Bobby Slowik, but I’ve talked to a couple of people who have all hit me with a “yeah, but…” about him not quite being ready to be a head coach. I like what I’ve read about how players play for Ben Johnson and Brian Callahan combined with their teaching abilities. I’m intrigued by Frank Smith. But, I want an offensive guy that can bring the best out in Levis while he’s on a rookie deal.
  • Will there be holdover from the coaching staff? I don’t hate the idea of Tim Kelly, Charles London, or Chris Harris sticking around in some capacity, but it’s hard to imagine a world in which that happens. It’s just not how things go in the NFL. A new head coach is going to want his guys in key positions, so that likely closes the door on Kelly and London if it’s an offensive guy, and Harris if it’s a defensive guy.
  • This is a new window opening, period. We’ll eventually remember this Vrabel-Tannehill-Henry run fondly. For now, it may feel like the sky is falling. But, the reality is that like life itself, you just have to move on sometimes. It’s time for us, as fans, to look to the future.
  • One last note – ffs communicate with the people you work with and the people you love. Communicate!

Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley.

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