Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Jan 2018

Tennessee Hires Mike Vrabel as Head Coach

After their on-again/off-again flirtation with bringing Mike Mularkey back for a fourth season, the Tennessee Titans have selected their next head coach: Mike Vrabel, defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.

This continues a meteoric rise for Vrabel, who was named Houston's defensive coordinator just last season, having served as their linebacker coach for the previous three years. Before that, he was a position coach at Ohio State for three seasons and, of course, a 14-year veteran and All-Pro at linebacker, mostly for the New England Patriots.

He was also interviewed by the Lions and Colts, so they'll be stuck looking at other options as the Titans won this particular competition.

Experience was clearly not something the Titans were overly concerned about in their coaching search. In addition to Vrabel, they had interviewed Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, each of whom also have only one year of experience as an NFL coordinator.

The Texans dropped from 9th to 23rd in DVOA in Vrabel's one year as a coordinator, though that can be attributed in large part to the massive number of injuries the Texans suffered on the defensive side of the ball.

Vrabel's first big challenge will be finding an offensive coordinator to get the most out of Marcus Mariota. Many observers had the Titans picking an offensive-minded coach like Wilks or New England's Josh McDaniels specifically to get more out of the offensive talent available than Mularkey ever did. Instead, that decision will be kicked down the road one slot.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles on 20 Jan 2018

20 comments, Last at 25 Jan 2018, 11:33am by Lebo


by PaddyPat :: Sat, 01/20/2018 - 10:57pm

As a NE fan, this is amusing, kind of exciting, etc. However, do we have any idea what to expect from him? It does seem very sudden.

by Shylo :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 12:38am

I'm more disappointed in the process than I am with the result, I figured there wouldn't be a hire for another week. That said, I liked Vrabel the least of the potential hires. I thought his resume was too light, and I'm not sure why he's being hired to be a head coach. I'm guessing Vrabel really hit a home run with the interview and impressed Jon Robinson.

He got to pick the coach, and he's a fresh face, so I'm pretty happy with that regard. Hopefully he puts a really good staff together. The hire may have been rushed for that reason.

by jackiel :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 5:29am

This is a hire that makes little sense unless Vrabel is able to hire a fantastic staff and plans to delegate. For example, when Tomlin was hired in Pittsburgh, he was able to get Arians and LeBeau to run the offense and defense, respectively.

I am getting a little annoyed with all of these NE-trained GMs hiring NE-trained coaches as if they all have some secret sauce that's portable. For some reason, the owners who approve these deals are ignoring 2 key facts. Belichick (40+ years of professional football experience and this generation's best football mind) and Brady (one of the best QBs of all time) aren't coming in with the new regime. So I don't know why someone should be killing themselves to hire these guys.

by Shylo :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 7:32am

Apparently the plan is for Vrabel to delegate. I'm intrigued to see who he brings in at OC, and the Titans still have Lebeau at DC, if he chooses to keep him (and Lebeau wants to stay).

Thankfully, the Titans don't need Brady to walk in the door. He's no Brady, but they've got this guy named Mariota. I think he'll do just fine.

by justanothersteve :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 1:09pm

I am getting a little annoyed with all of these NE-trained GMs hiring NE-trained coaches as if they all have some secret sauce that's portable.

This happens with most successful organizations. The Walsh 49'ers started a huge coaching tree (George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, and Dennis Green) that includes a large branch from the Holmgren Packers (Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid). Even that came from Don Coryell, who also led to Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner, and Mike Martz. Other coaching trees include Jimmy Johnson (Butch Davis, Dave Wannstadt), Mike Ditka (Buddy Ryan, Jeff Fisher, Jack Del Rio), and Paul Brown's who's who of coaches (Don Shula, Bud Grant, Weeb Ewbank, and Chuck Noll). Get over it. It's the price of being the most successful organization in football today.

by MC2 :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 5:33pm

I think you could make a case that Walsh should be considered part of Paul Brown's tree, since Walsh first developed the West Coast offense while working on Brown's staff in Cincinnati. In fact, as I understand it, the West Coast offense was just a more extreme version of the short passing game that Brown used with so much success in Cleveland, back in the old days with Otto Graham.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 7:52pm

It goes to show how collaborative coaching is. One guy is never enough, not even Belichick, who has McDaniels et al

by LionInAZ :: Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:05am

Collaborative, or incestuous?

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/22/2018 - 3:45pm

You are correct, sir. Paul Brown may be the most influential NFL coach of all time. Ten consecutive championship games (even if four were in the AAFC) is more than just having great players.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/24/2018 - 9:09am

Although it sure helps!

by MJK :: Mon, 01/22/2018 - 1:40am

Ummm... Vrabel isn’t a NE trained coach. He played LB in NE but never coached there. He coached at OhionSt and in Houston.

At best, you could say he’s once removed from Belichick... since he coached under O’Brien

by morganja :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 12:27pm

Wasn't Houston dead last in defensive DVOA?

This makes no sense to me. I understand injuries, but what has he shown yet?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 12:43pm

It wasn’t his fault, but still. It’s like saying the Mayor of Pompei is ready to be the Roman Emperor because the volcano wasn’t his fault.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:13pm

I'm sure it was the Titans that made an unpopular hiring a few years ago (possibly Mularkey) and essentially buried the news by announcing it on Conference Champs day.

by Shylo :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 5:31pm

It was Mularkey, and he was announced DURING A PLAYOFF GAME. Can't remember if it was divisional or championship games. Vrabel was announced on Saturday, when no games were going on.

by theslothook :: Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:51pm

McVay was pretty green as a hire and look how hes done, so who knows. He seems to be a Tomlin like hire. In fact, I didn't like the Tomlin hire at the time either but hes been pretty good(yes yes, I know the standard retorts - but hes been far more successful than I think most expected at the time).

by Lebo :: Mon, 01/22/2018 - 8:28am

When the Texans were on Hard Knocks (two years ago?), I thought Vrabel came across very well. He did not simply tell players what to do, but explained how and why players should be doing that. As obvious as it sounds to do the latter, plenty of coaches I've seen on Hard Knocks barely do the former.

At the time, I thought he would one day make a very good head coaching candidate. Just didn't think it'd be this soon.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Thu, 01/25/2018 - 9:43am

"He did not simply tell players what to do, but explained how and why players should be doing that"

This is what position coaches should be doing.

A head coach is big picture, organization, management of the coaching staff, etc. Being able to give good skills explanations/demonstrations/etc is a good thing - but there are a lot of ex head coaches whose major problem was that they could do the coordinator/position coach things well, but couldn't really step away and do the big picture stuff.

Being a coordinator first would have at least gives you some idea of whether or not he can step away from the nitty gritty and handle some bigger picture stuff. Linebackers coach to head coach is a huge jump though, and the skillsets needed are very different - so he's a huge question mark.

by Lebo :: Thu, 01/25/2018 - 11:33am

Yeah, I agree with pretty much everything you said (except, Vrabel has one year of DC experience in between Linebacker Coach and Head Coach).

I guess the point I was trying to make was that Vrabel is a good communicator and came across as someone who is intelligent and who understood the big picture (on defense, at least). Some position coaches are effective because they know good technique fort that position and then they yell at their players until they apply it. Vrabel seemed like a good position coach because he understood the whole defense and could effectively communicate to his linebackers their roles to play within that defense.

To me, that ability to communicate the whole scheme and the roles that players or units play within it is a skill transferable to headcoach.
But, of course, that isn't the only skill required.
And watching Hard Knocks hardly provides objective evidence.

by jtr :: Mon, 01/22/2018 - 3:57pm

Lebeau is reportedly on his way out, so Vrabel will be picking a new OC and DC. I would think that for a coach like him, with fairly limited experience as an X's-and-O's guy, these picks would be more important than they would be for a coach who had established himself more. He seems to generally be regarded as a good leader, which is the more important part of the job IMO.