The Tennessee Titans announced Saturday night that they’ve hired Mike Vrabel, most recently the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, as their new head coach.
It seems that there’s been talk of the 42-year old Vrabel becoming a head coach someday, somewhere, since before he even retired from the NFL.
That day has arrived.
Vrabel was one of three men interviewed for the job, and his relationship with Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson – Robinson was in the New England Patriots’ personnel department from 2002-2013, and Vrabel’s career with the team fell into that window – appears to have played a role in the decision to make him head coach.
In a story announcing the hiring on the team’s website, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk said, ““I am excited to have Mike Vrabel joining our organization as our new head coach. In the interaction between Mike and Jon (Robinson) during the interview, you could see their connection right away from the history they have with one another – seeing the game in a similar way and talking the same language.
“Mike has a commanding presence and a deep knowledge for how he will attack this head coaching opportunity. Throughout his football career, he has played for, been mentored by and coached with successful teams and organizations. He knows what it takes to reach that level of sustained success – he has seen it first-hand. We have a chance to build on the solid foundation that we established over the past couple of years and I believe Mike is the right person to continue that progress.”
Robinson said he’s always had a great deal of respect for Vrabel as a player and coach.
“I saw him up close as a player for the Patriots and saw how he prepared himself to be successful on a daily basis. He was the ultimate team-first player and he embodies that same mindset as a coach,” Robinson said. “He is intelligent, energetic, detailed and a leader whose deep passion for this game will resonate with our players. As a coach, I have seen him develop talent at both the college and NFL level, and put players in position for them to be successful. I am excited to get him in front of our team and watch us grow together as a team.”
The Titans fired Mike Mularkey on Monday, despite Mularkey bringing the team to the playoffs this season, their first appearance since 2008, and despite reports that Mularkey would be getting a contract extension. Tennessee was 2-7 under Mularkey in 2015, after the firing of Ken Whisenhunt; it was 9-7 with him as head coach each of the last two years.
Vrabel has been coaching for just seven years, starting in 2011 at his alma mater, Ohio State. He was with the Buckeyes for three years, in charge of the linebackers and then the defensive line; he joined the Texans in 2014 as linebackers coach, but after the 2016 season when he received a lot of interest from other teams, the Texans asked longtime defensive coach Romeo Crennel to take a step back to make Vrabel coordinator.
“This is an incredible opportunity and one I have been preparing for my entire football life,” said Vrabel. “I want to thank Amy, Jon and the entire Titans organization for putting their faith in me. I am excited to get to work and that work starts now. We want to build a culture around winning, competitiveness and toughness. Everything we do is going to be geared towards winning and being physical. We want to prepare our players so they know what to do, which will allow them to play fast and aggressive.”
There’s no question that Vrabel has an appealing, commanding personality – he’s one of the few players during Bill Belichick’s run with the Patriots who could make fun of Belichick to his face and get away with it – but at least one league source wondered if he’s ready for this move, noting that the Houston defense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2016, but in 2017, under Vrabel, was 29th. There were key injuries that likely played a role in that, but it was a stark decline.
A third-round pick out of Ohio State in 1997, Vrabel was drafted by the Steelers and played there for four years. He went to the Patriots in 2001, and became a key part of the defense for the next eight years, winning three Super Bowl rings.
He was traded to Kansas City in 2009, where he spent two seasons before retiring.