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Titans fire special teams coordinator after punter's season-ending injury

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel has fired special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman after the Titans had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdow n followed by the punter suffering a season-ending injury on his next punt attempt.

Vrabel announced the rare in-season coaching change Monday with Tom Quinn taking over for the rest of this season.

The move comes after the Titans (4-8) lost second-year punter Ryan Stonehouse to an injured left leg. Vrabel said Stonehouse will need season-ending surgery, costing the Titans a punter who as a rookie set an NFL single-season record for gross yards per punt that had stood since 1940.

“I felt like the timing was what it needed to be,” Vrabel said of his decision on firing Aukerman, who was promoted to special teams coach when Vrabel was hired as head coach in 2018.

Stonehouse was hurt when Tony Brown timed the snap and ran from the outside and knocked the ball out of the punter's hands, then crashed into the punter's left leg. Stonehouse was helped to the sideline, then carted to the locker room.

The undrafted punter from Colorado State left on crutches with his leg in a brace. Stonehouse currently is leading the NFL in gross punt average at 53.1 yards per punt, and he is tied for the league lead in placing 28 punts inside an opponent's 20.

The Titans gave up a field goal after the Colts recovered Stonehouse's punt, costing Tennessee 10 points in the 31-28 overtime loss to Indianapolis.

With kicker Nick Folk punting twice for the first time in the 39-year-old veteran's NFL career, he missed an extra point that would have put the Titans up 26-25 late in regulation working with Ryan Tannehill, the backup quarterback and holder filling in for Stonehouse.

Vrabel did not fire offensive coordinator Todd Downing last November when Downing was arrested after Tennessee's most recent road win, a Thursday night victory in Green Bay. He fired Downing after the season ended.

“There's no real precedent to anything,” Vrabel said of his decision. “You try to get a feel for what's best and what's needed whether we've done something in the past. ... Those decisions are about timing and feel. That's the decision that was made.”

Vrabel also took the blame when punt returner Kyle Philips fumbled a punt with seconds left until halftime in a 24-16 loss to Baltimore in London. The Ravens recovered for a last-second field goal.

Quinn joined the Titans this offseason after working last year at Army. He worked for the New York Giants between 2006 and 2021 as both special teams assistant and coordinator under four different head coaches.

___

AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL



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