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Mike Vrabel: Leader Of Men, Owner Of ‘‘It’’

We examine why Mike Vrabel is a potential candidate for a variety of NFL head coaching vacancies.

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The ongoing cull of Black Monday in the NFL has brought about an endless rotating wheel of hirings and firings of head coaches and general managers. The candidacy of current Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel has emerged from this whirlwind. Vrabel just finished his first year as a defensive coordinator with the Texans during a season that was plagued by a variety of injuries to a whole host of key players.

Naturally, the defense struggled, with the Texans dropping from ninth in DVOA a year ago to 23rd in DVOA this year. The defense under Vrabel was worse across the board, going from first in yards per game allowed to thirteenth. This, along with the fact that the Texans conceded more points per game than any other team in 2017, doesn’t exactly give one much confidence in investing in Vrabel. Considering he’s also only a first-year coordinator, I don’t think teams should be so bullish on Vrabel as a potential head coach for their team.

The MMQB’s Peter King asked that very question in his column. Let’s take a look at what he thinks got those league executives hot and bothered about the prospect of Vrabel leading a roster. King noted and mentioned the Texans’ failings last season as well, so he turned to his endless Rolodex of NFL personnel to ask why Vrabel was such a hot commodity.

“Of all the guys in this pool, the one I’d say who has the chance to be the best head coach is Vrabel,” one current NFL head coach with no ties to Vrabel told me on Monday. “It’s his presence, and the people he’s been around and learned from.”


Naturally, learning from one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL is a plus. You probably learn so much that some of it has to translate to when you take over as a head coach, right?


Eric Mangini: 33-47

Romeo Crennel: 22-54

Josh McDaniels: 12-20

Bill O’Brien: 31-31

This list teaches us two things. First, you shouldn’t coach the Cleveland Browns if you want to maintain a positive W-L ratio, and second, Bill Belichick’s coaching genius cannot be absorbed through osmosis.

King, however, seems rather fixated on this point:

Overall, the enthusiasm about Vrabel stems from these facts: He played on winning teams and know what it takes to win; he carries a lot of Bill Belichick with him from eight years as a Patriot; he has a commanding presence in front of players; and he’s seen as a unifier who can help build a winner.

I see! Vrabel possess one of the core traits every great head coach must have. He is a leader of men. Wherever Vrabel roams, swathes of individuals follow. It’s not the fact that he is leading them in the right direction; it’s the fact he is able to lead them at all that’s so enticing to potential employers.

Those who know him, or have seen him coach, or have been teammates with him over his 14-year playing career say Vrabel has it.

Yes, dear reader. Mike Vrabel is in possession of it. While there are many who do not have it, Mike Vrabel stands head and shoulders above all others, secure in the knowledge that he has it. It is the magical ability to lead individuals through your sheer ability, to have them at your beck and call just because you have that presence. Mike Vrabel is the NFL version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

King also points out to all the naysayers who doubt this LEADER OF MEN that failing to act on Vrabel could sentence an owner or GM to failure:

For those who’d say it’s a year or two too early for Vrabel, I’d say this: Sean McVay got his job with the Rams at age 30 in 2017. Mike Tomlin got his job with the Steelers at 36 in 2007. The mantra around the league when those guys were hired was, basically, it’s too soon.

Unlike Vrabel, McVay and Tomlin were well established coordinators within the league at the time they got plucked out to be head coaches. McVay orchestrated the rise of Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense, which went from 28th in offensive DVOA when he began in 2014-15 to fifth in D.V.O.A in 2016-17. Tomlin, meanwhile spearheaded the secondary of many of Jon Gruden’s Tampa Bay teams before running the Vikings’ defensive unit in 2006, a squad that would give up less than 1,000 rushing yards against it over the entire season, a feat that hasn’t been repeated since.

The NFL is a nepotistic trashcan every team goes digging through every now and then in a attempt to find something that looks vaguely like that burrito that they accidentally threw out a few weeks ago. NFL teams don’t appear to be looking for proven or emerging talents who have produced impressive results. Rather, they seem to be looking for leaders of men who have spent an extended period of time around Bill Belichick.

King’s column inadvertently touches on the weird absurdity of the NFL’s value system. Teams would rather hire someone because they are quite likable and spent time around someone successful instead of embracing change. It’s why Jeff Fisher/Rex Ryan/John Fox could very well at some point in the future probably find employment as a head coach in the league again, and why for now, Mike Vrabel is being interviewed for head coaching positions despite not showing he’s ready to be a head coach.