Rarely will you find a sports franchise where the front office executive is the most popular person, but that is exactly the case when it comes to Tennessee Titans’ general manager Jon Robinson.
In two short years Robinson went from unknown commodity to rock star of the organization, even surpassing quarterback Marcus Mariota (who has his detractors) in popularity.
The popularity is well deserved, however, as he seems to have the Midas touch.
Swapping fourth round picks with Philadelphia last spring to acquire running back DeMarco Murray, who had a Pro Bowl season as the AFC’s leading rusher last season.
Drafting two players in 2016 that have become First Team All Pros (Jack Conklin – 2016, Kevin Byard – 2017).
Revamping one of the league’s worst secondary units in 2015 into a strength of the team in 2017.
Rolling the dice with a second round pick in 2016 for Derrick Henry, who played a major role in the team’s first playoff win in 14 years when Murray was unable to play due to injury.
With that said, we must now throw out everything we thought we knew about Robinson.
When controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk hired Robinson in January 2016, the interim tag had already been removed from coach Mike Mularkey. And while taking the job with a coach in place is not ideal for any new general manager, Robinson accepted the challenge of making it work.
The two went on a media blitz shortly after his hiring to introduce the exotic smash mouth era in Tennessee. A physical run-first style of offense designed to wear teams down over four quarters.
The joint effort worked in 2016, and the Titans barely missed out on a division title and playoff berth as a result.
But in the spring of 2017 Robinson’s draft proved to be a cryptic message to Mularkey that he wanted the offense to evolve when he selected three receiving threats (Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith) with his first four picks.
None of those players were developed or utilized in 2017 to warrant such lofty selections, and if it raked the nerves of the fans then I’m sure it irritated Robinson to some degree as well.
Robinson was eerily quiet throughout the season when the smash mouth approach became predictable and ineffective, leaving pundits to wonder if silence equaled approval.
But after a defiant Mularkey stood at his post season presser with a litany of excuses as to why the offense stalled, while telling the world that no changes would be made to his staff, Robinson had no choice but to let him go.
Which brings us back to our original question….who is Jon Robinson?
In his press conference following Mularkey’s firing, Robinson never threw smash mouth football under the bus, he only indicated that he and the new coach must share the same vision.
One can only assume that vision is not three yards and a cloud of dust.
With a new hand-picked head coach in Mike Vrabel, we will now get a glimpse of who Robinson really is…and what his vision for the Titans was when he took the job.
The days, weeks, and months ahead will give us the puzzle pieces to that answer as he and Vrabel assemble the rest of the coaching staff ahead of this year’s draft.
What will be the team’s philosophy on offense? Will the Titans switch back to a 4-3 defense now that Dick LeBeau is gone? Will Davis, Taylor, and Smith have expanded roles in 2018? And who will join them on the roster?
The answers to those questions will give us a look into the mindset of a young, ambitious, and aggressive general manager that now has full control of the show.
It takes a lot of confidence to fire a head coach that advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, but then again, it took a lot of self-confidence to pull off the moves that he did to help turn a beleaguered franchise into winners in relatively short order.
If Robinson can do the same with the coaching staff, then the Titans’ playoff runs are just beginning.