What is Titans GM Jon Robinson looking for in Matt LaFleur's replacement?
LaFleur, the former Titans offensive coordinator, was formerly introduced Wednesday as the Green Bay Packers' new head coach. His stay in Nashville lasted just one season, the risk of bringing in a young, offensive-minded coach who, by the way, also interviewed for the Titans head coaching position a year ago before Mike Vrabel won the role.
“Knowing his lineage and kind of the coaching tree that he came from, kind of knew that he was going to be (a) candidate (for head coaching positions),” Robinson, the Titans general manager, said on Wednesday. “Thought we would have him for another year or two, but I’d say I wasn’t surprised."
In the wake of LaFleur's departure, the Titans are left to grapple with their unfortunate reality: a search for a new offensive coordinator means quarterback Marcus Mariota will have a fourth OC (and fifth play-caller) in five seasons.
As coaching vacancies across the league continue to be filled, Robinson said his team wouldn’t prioritize speediness over finding the right fit.
“There’s been several meetings throughout the course of the last two days, three days here with Vrabel and I about the direction that we’re going to go with the football team,” Robinson said. "We’re probably going to be a little bit more deliberate in our approach here, not rush into anything, take a lot of things into consideration as we make a decision for what’s best for our team.”
And what is best for the Titans now that the continuity that would have come from heading into Year 2 with the same offensive coordinator and the same offensive system is off the table? Well, continuity.
Among the potential candidates who could offer that trait are Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O'Hara and Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, who coached under LaFleur in Los Angeles in 2017.
Robinson compared learning a new offensive play-caller to learning a foreign language. For Mariota and the Titans, the less foreign, the better.
“Absolutely,” Robinson said. “I think if that can happen so that there is some carry-over, some familiarity there, so that not just Marcus but all of our players on offense, whether it’s line protections, whether it’s formations, the less that we have to put on their plate to learn the different terminology, the different concepts, if there’s carry-over, then I think they can build upon what they’ve kind of gone through the last year. So we’ll do our best to try to keep as much continuity as possible carrying over into the offseason and certainly into next season."
Sizing up Marcus Mariota's 2018
Mariota threw for only 2,528 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season, though his 68.9 completion percentage set a franchise single-season record. But he suffered three nerve-related injuries over the course of 2018, which meant time away from the field (he failed to start on three occasions), which made things harder on his GM.
"It definitely makes my job tough to really evaluate any of our players when they’re not 100 percent healthy, whether it’s Marcus or any other position group," Robinson said. "But I know that he is a tough football player. He cares about this team. He cares about his teammates. And he’s made some good plays for us. He’s helped us win a lot of football games in my time here.
"I’m glad he’s here and look forward to him taking some down time, getting healthy and getting back to work whenever that day rolls around in April."
As for the decision to not play Mariota in the final game of the season, a winner-take-all scenario against the Colts on Dec. 30 at Nissan Stadium, Robinson reiterated points that both Vrabel and Mariota mentioned in the aftermath.
"Knowing how much his teammates and this team and winning means to him," Robinson said, "yet trying to weigh in the health concerns from the opinions that we had gotten and kind of having a collaborative conversation about all that, at the end of the day, the player’s safety, regardless of who the player is, that’s of paramount important to us. So yeah, it was a tough decision for us. It was a tough decision for him. But it’s one that we thought was best for everyone moving forward."
Titans hire new strength and conditioning coach
The Titans on Wednesday announced the hiring of Frank Piraino as their new strength and conditioning coach. Piraino replaces Tom Kanavy, who held the role for one season.
Piraino joins the Titans after spending the past six years as the head strength and conditioning coach for football at Boston College, where Vrabel's son, Tyler, is a freshman offensive lineman. Piraino also spent time as the head strength and conditioning coach at Temple (2011-12) and Marshall (2010).
Reach Erik Bacharach at email@example.com and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.