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So, who is Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel?

The first time head coach has his team 2-1 heading into their Week 4 matchup with the Eagles.

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Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Eagles will face the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in Week 4, which means the annual re-living of Philadelphia fans losing their collective minds when Chip Kelly didn’t make a move to grab QB Marcus Mariota in 2015. (No judgement here, I was among this group of people who make terrible decisions.)

Hindsight is 20/20 and if the team took Mariota, the odds that they take Carson Wentz the next year are extremely slim — they wouldn’t have had any draft picks to wheel and deal, and wouldn’t need that kind of young depth — but at the time, it was a hotly debated topic.

Instead of selling the farm for the quarterback, the team went with USC wideout Nelson Agholor in the first round of the 2015 draft, a move made even more contentious by Agholor’s fairly abysmal rookie season, but a decision he has since proved to be worth.

The Eagles look a lot different than they did in 2015 — new head coach, new quarterback, and a big new shiny Super Bowl ring. But, the Titans look a lot different too. This is not the same team led by Ken Whisenhunt, and later Mike Mularkey, even if the offense is still in the hands of QB Marcus Mariota.

It hasn’t been an overnight success, but the Titans new coaching staff — led by first time head coach Mike Vrabel — has all the pieces they need to utilize the talent already on the roster, while also looking elsewhere to build a new vision for the team.

So, who is Mike Vrabel?

The transition from player to coach was quick for the former linebacker out of Ohio State. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997, where he played the first four years of career, followed by eight seasons with the Patriots — where he won 3 Super Bowls, including the 2004 game against the Eagles — and then finished his NFL career with two years in Kansas City.

Vrabel played for an incredibly impressive 14 seasons before abruptly retiring to join the coaching staff at Ohio State during the transition year between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes were ensconced in Tattoo Gate and Vrabel jumped in to help as the team’s linebacker coach, Luke Fickell, assumed head coaching duties.

Vrabel then stayed on with the Buckeyes from 2011 to 2013 as the linebacker and then defensive line coach — having to re-interview for a job under Urban Meyer, and absolutely bombing it — and in 2012, was named Big Ten Recruiter of the Year by ESPN.

After finding quick success at the college ranks, Vrabel made the move to the NFL as the linebackers coach with the Houston Texans in 2014. He held that position through 2016, before being promoted to Defensive Coordinator for the team in 2017. He played a critical role in the defense being so dominant for the Texans those years, and was critical to the development of players like Jadaveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney.

What is his coaching style like?

Vrabel has a defensive mind, and brings a lot of grit to the head coaching position. He’s very much a player’s coach, and is great at finding the best ways to develop talent on a individual basis. He’s also a guy who isn’t afraid to admit he doesn’t know everything, and rely on his assistants to help him have a better overall view of the team.

“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.”
Mike Vrabel

He was mic’d up during the Titans second game of the season, and first win as a head coach, and you can see him pacing up and down the sideline talking to players at all positions.

Vrabel tells linebacker Jayon Brown player, “Play smart, instinctive, and reckless. It’s a good combination.” He also makes sure to tell other players he trusts them and encourages the group to push through late in the game when the Texans took the lead in the fourth quarter.

He and his coaching style remind me of Doug Pederson a little. The ultimate players coach, but also a guy who has earned the respect of his team. It’s a collaborative effort, but he has enough clout that people listen when he speaks.

“Vrabel has talked about a team’s culture being measured by how they respond to adversity and after two weeks it’s clear that the culture surrounding this team is in a good spot. If you listen to quotes from his players it’s pretty clear that this team loves playing for this guy and it is showing on the field.”
Mike B. Herndon, Music City Miracles

Vrabel has already done more with his injured roster than recent Tennessee coaches before him, and looks to be building the foundation for a successful career with the Titans.

What other Assistants did he bring in?

Once Vrabel was hired on, the team had to fill the rest of their coaching staff. Matt LaFleur was named offensive coordinator and Dean Pees the defensive coordinator, as well as bringing on seven new assistant coaches.

Two names had previously held spots on Mularkey’s staff, Craig Aukerman (special teams coach) and Arthur Smith (tight ends coach), and well as five new faces. Vrabel’s new staff includes Pat O’Hara (QB coach), Rob Moore (WR coach), Kerry Coombs (secondary coach), Shane Bowen (OLB coach), and Tyrone McKenzie (ILB coach).

Familiarity with his assistants is one of the common threads to the guys he put in charge. Both Pat O’Hara and Shane Bowen worked with Vrabel in Houston — Bowen also served as a graduate assistant at Ohio State — and Kerry Coombs was a six-year coach with the Buckeyes, and developed four first-round draft picks in that time.

The first-time head coach also has a penchant for former players stepping into the coaching ranks, with former Patriots linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, and former Raiders receiver Rob Moore on staff. Between their time as players and coaches, these seven assistants have nearly 120 years of combined football experience.

And, if one of those assistants don’t have the answer or advise he’s looking for, Vrabel’s list of coaching contacts from throughout his career is quite long (and impressive): Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, Romeo Crennel, Urban Meyer, Bill O’Brien and Todd Haley.

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