Mike Vrabel, I Take It All Back

BY ADAM GREENE

All year long it felt like Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was a guy that was just accidentally getting the job done. That talent on the Titans roster was plugging the team along to a not-so spectacular finish, one that the team had experienced for the past four seasons.

They were barely going to be over .500 again just like they were in two seasons under Mike Mularkey, one of the worst head coaches in the history of the NFL. There’s no argument there. It’s just science.

But Tennessee had stockpiled so much talent that even a stooge like Mularkey, a man literally named after cow crap, could finish with a winning record in consecutive seasons and not only accidentally fall into a Wild Card game in 2017, but actually win it.

The Titans, rightly, still fired him after. It was the only smart move they seemingly made.

The guy that brought into replace him, Vrabel, didn’t seem to deserve the job. Vrabel had spent all of one season as a coordinator at the NFL level, running the Houston Texans’ defense in 2017. In 2016, the year before Vrabel was promoted to the job, the Texans had the No. 1 rated defensive unit in the NFL.

Under Vrabel the very next season, they were ranked No. 20. Now, I’m not mathematician, but by my calculations that’s 19 spots worse than the year before all because Vrabel was handed the keys.

Fun fact, the very next year with Romeo Crennel back running the Houston defense they finished ranked No. 12. Again, no math expert here, but that’s better than 20 and nobody can convince me otherwise.

The year that Crennel was elevating the Texans defense back to where it belongs, Vrabel was taking the team that Mularkey (again, scientifically bad) finished 9-7 with for two straight seasons and… checks notes… finished 9-7.

This year the Titans finally gave up on Marcus Mariota, had one of the best stretches in recent franchise history and… checks notes again… finished 9-7. You can see why I didn’t think much of the former defensive coordinator that failed up into his head coaching job just because, at some point, he played for Bill Belichick.

But if you squinted hard, you could maybe see something changing. The win over the Kansas City Chiefs a couple of months ago was monstrous. They nearly beat the Houston Texans in Week 15.

You had to play some pretend, though. Use your imagination. This was still a team on the edge. If the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t collapsed at quarterback in December (and not traded away Joshua Dobbs in the offseason), the Titans would not be in the playoffs.

If Andrew Luck hadn’t retired, Tennessee wouldn’t have even finished 9-7. They were lucky.

But here they are. And they have put forth two of the most impressive postseason performances in recent memory, knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (and maybe ending that dynasty) and stopping a perceived new dynasty in the Baltimore Ravens in its tracks.

And Mike Vrabel did it. It’s coaching. And you can see it.

If you couldn’t before in the regular season, you can now and it’s startling to witness.

I’ve only seen one coach in my lifetime “figure it out” on the fly and that was Ron Rivera back in 2013, the guy who the Carolina Panthers stupidly fired this season. He started out as a just a guy, a mediocre at best coach that would take the Panthers nowhere. In 2013, he flipped the switch, learned how to coach, discovered how to maximize the talent on his team and, most importantly, started to take chances. He bet on himself and his team and became “Riverboat Ron.”

Vrabel doesn’t have a nickname yet, but maybe he’ll earn one. I still don’t see a realistic way the Titans can beat the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, but maybe Vrabel can. He’s faced off against two of the league’s best and shut them down almost completely and he did it with his coaching, with game prep, with strategy and with in-game adjustments. The kind of stuff a great coach does.

I’ve badmouthed the Vrabel hire for the last two seasons for all the reasons I listed above, but no more. He’s shown something in these playoff games that, to this point, I certainly hadn’t seen.

But seeing is believing. Mike Vrabel, I take it all back.

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