Since the regular season ended, Mike Vrabel was linked to the head coaching openings in Detroit and Indianapolis. It seems like both of these cities will pick up New England coordinators to lead their teams instead of going with the former Patriots player in Vrabel.
With the Lions and Colts making non-Vrabel hires, it looked like the Texans’ defensive coordinator was going to stay in Houston. Then the Titans broke down the door. They fired Mike Mularkey after a 35-14 Divisional Round loss to the Patriots and have opted to bring Vrabel and all that leadership to Nashville. Meanwhile, here at the ranch, Romeo Crennel will return to the defensive coordinator position he so ably filled from 2014-2016.
Here are the masthead’s thoughts on the loss of Vrabel and how it affects the franchise moving forward.
Last year, we mostly promoted Vrabel in order to keep him, giving Romeo A. Crennel a reduced role on the defensive strategy side of the ball. We hoped that Crennel, a fantastic DC, would be able to nurse Vrabel through the latter’s rookie year.
What we saw in 2017 was not an effective defense, and injuries weren’t entirely to blame as the squad started the season off poorly.
Personally, I’m excited to have RAC back calling plays. He’s still a great defensive mind even in these modern times, and he’s sure to improve the unit single-handedly.
As for Vrabel? This offseason, there seems to be one primary requirement for being an NFL head coach these days: have either been a Patriots coach or played for the Patriots. Success is not one of those requirements.
Vrabel? Great player, good position coach, incomplete as a coordinator, and now a rookie head coach. I like his style, but his ascension seems a bit premature.
Is Mike Vrabel a great leader? I think so, at least as far as position coaches go.
Does he coach the hell out of linebackers? Definitely
Can he put together a competent game plan that can both be flexible and inventive? Honestly...I have no idea.
This is the first time in a long time - at least that I can remember - where a coordinator was hired to a head coaching position without his former team even knowing if he’s a good coordinator yet. Sure, you could say that injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus “skewed” the results, and that losing A.J. Bouye in free agency ruined the secondary...but isn’t it the job of the defensive coordinator to compensate for those losses with good game plans that can still produce? Vrabel failed to handle that responsibility, so why should he be rewarded with a promotion to a head coaching position? This just doesn’t make any sense to me.
The Titans fired Mike Mularkey because Marcus Mariota had a down season and the offense regressed. The dip was because their red zone offense tumbled, they failed to develop an actual passing game with correct spacing that wasn’t all just isolation routes, and they failed to game plan for their opponent. The Titans just got the defensive version of Mularkey in Mike Vrabel.
Vrabel was a terrible defensive coordinator who just called a defense because it’s what he wanted. He failed to game plan for his opponent, doing things like run Cover 4 even though his defensive backs didn’t know how to pass off receivers well. He played man coverage with slow corners against the Jaguars’ crossing route offense. Would Vrabel have gotten better? I don’t know. Maybe. But this past season, he was awful at his job.
So the Titans found, as Luke put it, Their Leader of Men and Owner of It, when really what they did was hire a defensive head coach who doesn’t know how to coach an entire defense.
The Texans will be better with Romeo Crennel as the defensive coordinator. Hopefully Brian Gaine can improve the secondary in an offseason, and J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Jadeveon Clowney can stay healthy. If they do, Houston should easily go back to having a top ten defense again. From the Texans’ perspective, this couldn’t have worked out any better.
Vrabel is a likable coach. He has fire, intensity, Super Bowl rings, and the ability to motivate his players to get after it on the field. All those things make him a great linebacker and great position coach.
Does he have the ability to draw up winning game plans, inventive schemes, and make halftime adjustments that put his players in the best position to win? No one knows the answer to that.
As for the Titans’ head coaching position, they certainly don’t have a track record of turning heralded position coaches into Hall of Fame head coaches. But they do like to hire guys named Mike. Maybe I should apply after Vrabel leaves...
Right now, it seems like the Texans came out ahead on this one.
I wouldn’t want to be betting on the “leader of men” tag, but I’ll say this: I think Vrabel’s surrounding staff are going to be more important than him as far as how good this hire is. And I do like the idea of yanking a former Chip Kelly guy as an offensive coordinator for Mariota, as has been rumored recently.
For the Texans, I think Vrabel’s departure is a lateral move at worst. At best, RAC is a better game planner and doesn’t do quite as much cute [kitten] as Vrabel.
I don’t understand the Titans’ line of thinking here, but it gives us RAC back calling plays, so I’m fine with it. I don’t see what makes anyone think Vrabel has shown enough to be a head coach in the NFL, but I’ve been saying for a while that he didn’t have enough experience to be a DC either.
Vrabel struggled in his only season as DC. I guess Tennessee’s thoughts are that he’ll handle the D and have someone oversee the O? He’s not an offensive mastermind, so I can’t envision him guiding Mariota to anything other than mediocrity, but whatever...good luck to him.
Nobody has a clue what Mike Vrabel will be as a head coach. Here are his recent, tangible coaching accomplishments:
1. He was unquestionably a good position coach.
2. He was not good as defensive coordinator, but you can’t write the book on him based on one season.
Vrabel seems well-liked by players, talks tough, and has an entertaining personality. In other words, he’s Bill O’Brien. The Titans were smart to move on from Mike Mularkey even after a huge road playoff upset of the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, but this move is a bit baffling. It seems the one thing Vrabel may take from O’Brien that is most valuable is that Vrabel is looking to hire a Chip Kelly disciple to run the offense. Presumably, that was quite a lesson learned in the wake of how O’Brien tailored his offense around Deshaun Watson’s “system strengths”.
I wasn’t hot to jettison Vrabel after one season, but Romeo Crennel is better and I’m not at all bothered to lose Vrabel, nor am I necessarily worried about what he might bring to Tennessee.
Say what you will about his performance in 2017, but Mike Vrabel did a phenomenal job coaching the Texans’ linebackers. He turned Whitney Mercilus from a cautionary tale into a legitimate force. Given his pedigree, Jadeveon Clowney may well have become a destroyer of worlds under most coaches, but Vrabel played a large role in Clowney’s development. Other linebackers, from Benardrick McKinney to Dylan Cole, have also flourished with Vrabel in town.
The Texans’ defense last year, Vrabel’s first in charge of that unit, was a shell of what it was the past few seasons. I think it’s unfair to pin all of that on Vrabel; the team lost a ton to injuries and free agency. But it is fair to question what Vrabel showed in 2017 that would merit a head coaching gig in 2018.
It’s even more surprising to me that the Titans decided to tap Vrabel. I would have thought they’d have placed a premium on targeting an offensive mind who could give Marcus Mariota the best chance to flourish. Perhaps Vrabel sold them on a coaching staff or coordinator that could accomplish that task. As Rivers and many others have noted, the hires Vrabel makes for the first coaching staff he’s ever had to assemble—especially on the offensive side of the ball—are likely going to be the bellwether for Vrabel’s success in Nashville.
As I told a buddy shortly after the news broke, I believe Mike Vrabel can be a good head coach in the NFL. I just don’t think it’ll happen in Tennessee in 2018.