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VOL. 43 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 6, 2019

Robinson: 'We want to build our own legacy' in Nashville

By Terry McCormick

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During his four seasons as general manager of the Tennessee Titans, Jon Robinson has been at the forefront of significant changes and upgrades regarding Nashville’s NFL club.

The job is not finished yet as Robinson continues to work along with Coach Mike Vrabel, owner Amy Adams Strunk and others in the organization to build a championship caliber team.

Robinson spoke to The Ledger’s Terry McCormick about where the Titans have been in his tenure and where he hopes to take them.

McCormick: At your introductory press conference four years ago, you spoke of wanting fans to be patient and give it time to get the franchise back on its feet. A lot of good things have been done on the field and off to put the organization in positon to better compete. Where do you feel like you are now in this process?

Robinson: “I think the goal every year is to win as many games as possible, to win the division and get in the playoffs and make a run, with the ultimate goal to win the Super Bowl. Thirty-two teams have that goal every single year. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of effort from a lot of different people on a lot of different levels to get the roster and the buy-in and the types of guys (we want).

“I’m really proud of our football team. I’m proud of the guys that are on this team and the coaching staff. I think we play winning football. We’ve had three winning seasons in a row … that’s well documented, and we’ve had one of the top home winning percentages, which is a testament to our fans, and we’ve been great in the community. I’m really proud of the people and these players as people, just as much as I am their efforts on the field.’’

McCormick: As you look back on the first four years of the process, lots of changes have been made. The facilities have been upgraded. The on-field product has been upgraded and there have been changes to the stadium itself and personnel turnover. As you look back on it, has the process been about what you expected it would be from when you took over? Or was it more difficult or less difficult for that matter?

Robinson: “There are certainly no manuals for this position. It’s not sitting on your desk when you walk into the office. But it’s about getting to know people. It starts with Amy and Kenneth (Adams) and getting to know the family at the top, what they wanted their football team to look like, what they wanted their stadium to look like and what they wanted the fan experience to be like. The importance of Nashville and an extremely expanding city that we live in. You deal with it each day.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, left, and general manager Jon Robinson stand on the field before a practice in Nissan Stadium during training camp in Nashville.

-- Ap Photo By Mark Humphrey

“There’s something different every single day, and we certainly planned. I had a 16-month plan, I had a two-year plan, and it’s not going to go exactly how you have it planned out. There’s things that you need to be cognizant of and aware of, specifically with the on-the-field, the players, that started with free agency, then the draft and OTAs, the preseason scouting, which we’re wrapping up now, and the roster management. You’re constantly trying to manage it and turn the roster over at certain positions to try and improve it.

“I think Amy has done an outstanding job with her vision and the stadium experience for our fans, and the on-field product, and the players and staff have done a good job of buying into what she wanted this franchise to look like.’’

McCormick: In terms of that, one of the things you’ve talked about is winning back the fan base and trying to recreate the buzz that was here for the first 8 to 10 years at the stadium. To me, that’s a much more difficult task now, and not just on the field, because you have things like HD television, people don’t want to fight traffic or stand in concession lines. Other than just winning games, how do you get that buzz and feel of the early years back in the fan experience?

Robinson: “My role and responsibility is certainly getting the on-the-field ready with players and coaches who can win games. Our home win percentage is sixth in the league (over the past three years). We’d obviously like to be first, but sixth is better than 32nd.

“But you’re right, it can be difficult because of all of the modern elements that are available to today’s fans, whether it is watching it on your phone, fantasy football has changed the scope of things, and certainly the HDTVs and the man caves have changed the scope of things and all of those things. All that impacts the turnout for games.

“I think what we try to control from the football side is the product on the field, and we’re trying to work to create an experience organizationally that you can’t get at home. I think that’s the one thing that we’ve gotten better at, and we’re continuing to try to make strides to create an experience that you can’t get sitting at the local bar, watching it on your phone or sitting at home. It’s an experience that when you walk into Nissan Stadium that everybody wants to be a part of.’’

Marcus Mariota is helped off the field during the first half of a game against Indianapolis in 2018. He missed two games that season due to injuries.

-- Photo By Jeff Roberson/Ap Photo

McCormick: Last year, you decided to make a coaching change, going with Mike Vrabel to replace Mike Mularkey, who had won a road playoff game. What was it about Vrabel that made him the right guy to lead this organization as the head coach?

Robinson: “As far as Vrabel, he showed in his interview and what he does on a daily basis, his command when he stands in front of the room to deliver a message to the team and the keys to victory that he tries to emphasize to our players on a weekly basis, I think are spot on.

“I think that he has played at a high level in this league, and he has coached in this league at a high level, being a coordinator before becoming a head coach, he resonates with the all the coaches because he’s sat in their seats. His message resonates with the players because he’s sat in their seats. So they’re hearing the information, the game plan, the vision, the philosophy from our football team that he and I came up with from a guy who has lived the NFL life for a long time.

“I think that he’s extremely intelligent from an X’s and O’s standpoint. He understands personnel. He and I have great discussions. He’s very communicative with everybody in the organization, and he’s very hands on with the players, which you see in practice. I kind of knew that, just watching him as a player. I suspected that was the type of coach and leader that he was going to be. He was a great leader as a player when I was a scout. And I think all of those same characteristics and attributes have shown through in his short time here with us.’’

McCormick: The New England Patriots are very deep in your background and very deep in Vrabel’s background as well. People say that the Titans and other teams try to emulate the Patriots model of success with Bill Belichick and the Patriots tree. Do you feel like that thought is oversimplified?

Robinson: That’s a historic franchise, and I’ve got a ton of respect for them, as does Mike – for Mr. (Robert) Kraft, Coach (Bill) Belichick, Nick Cesario, but I’m not them, and neither is Vrabel. What we’re trying to do is build our own brand.

“Certainly we are trying to take some of the philosophical thoughts and maybe expound on them – things we learned in our time there, and expound on them and make them our own. That’s my philosophy on it. Certainly, that’s where my roots are in that organizational philosophy, but also trying to take what I learned there and put my own spin on it with Mike. We want to build our own legacy here in Nashville.’’

McCormick: The Titans seem to be in an open window of opportunity to win now with stability at a lot of positions. But at quarterback, you have both Marcus Mariota, who is in his fifth season and whose contract is set to expire, along with Ryan Tannehill, who is also a free agent after 2019. How important is it that the quarterback situation solidify itself over the course of the season so that you have someone to lead this franchise while the bulk of the roster is in its prime?

Robinson: “I think when you talk about offensive football, it’s really no different than the defensive side. You’re looking for team offense. Certainly that takes some individual play at some positions, but it takes the five guys up front blocking for the quarterback. It takes the tight end and the back if they’re involved in protection. It takes the receivers getting open and it takes being able to run the football and being able to set up play-action and being able to set up yourself in manageable situations offensively, and it’s about the quarterback being able to read the coverage and find the guy that’s open. If it looks like this play is not going to work, then get out of that play and get into a play that can move the offense.

“Certainly, the quarterback play is extremely important, but it takes 10 other guys to do their job as well in order for that guy to be successful.’’

McCormick: The best case scenario for Mariota would be for him to stay healthy, be productive and blossom into a quarterback who can guide this team for years to come. If that happens, I assume his future here and the contract situation would take care of itself.

Robinson: “I’ve said it before and I’m not going to pound it publicly about the contract, but Marcus has done a great job this off-season. I want nothing more than for him to lead this football team to winning a lot of games this year, and to your point, hopefully to play in January and February, and the rest takes care of itself. The guys who are going into the last year of their contracts, that’s part of my charge to try and manage that and put the team in as strategic a position as possible, certainly for this year, but for years to come.’’

McCormick: Can you talk about the draft process with Jeffery Simmons, who certainly has the potential to be a top talent, but might not be able to contribute much this year coming off a knee injury?

Robinson: “Those are long discussions that I we talk about in draft with our scouts, with Ryan Cowden, our personnel director, and with Jon Salge, our college director. Certainly Coach Vrabel and with Dean (Pees, defensive coordinator) and with Amy and the return that we’re going to get from him as a player on the field versus where we had to take him. He’s been great. We’ll see how it goes.

“I’m certainly no doctor. The closest doctor I’m probably to is Dr. Seuss. He’s been great in the rehab process. He’s been involved in the meetings and whenever they tell us he can go, whether it’s this year or next year, I think a player like him was a pretty easy guy to evaluate watching the tape. Had he not had the injury, I don’t have a crystal ball, but he would not have been available where we took him.’’

McCormick: Can you talk about the difficulty of going through and making roster cuts as you get ready for the season opener in Cleveland?

Robinson: “I tell every single guy we meet with that it’s the hardest part of the job to tell somebody that you’ve worked with the last three, four or five months, some that were on last year’s team, whenever you tell a player he didn’t make the cut, it’s hard, because they’ve put a lot of time and effort into trying to help the team and trying to make themselves a better football player.

“We tell them at the beginning of training camp and we remind them in the last week that there’s roster spots available and we’ve got a tough job.’’

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