Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has a lot of work to do before joining Bill Belichick among the greatest coaches in NFL history.
And, after the Titans’ recent COVID-19 debacle, some may even object to Vrabel being among the league’s top current head coaches. But even Vrabel’s biggest doubters can’t deny he’s whipped the Tennessee Titans into shape and turned them into a rising AFC powerhouse.
In the process, Vrabel — who played for Belichick in New England — may have cracked the code on how an ex-Belichick disciple can succeed as an NFL head coach.
Mike Vrabel is in his third season coaching the Titans
A veteran linebacker who earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2007, Mike Vrabel immediately went into coaching when his NFL career ended after the 2010 season.
After a couple of seasons at Ohio State, Vrabel joined former Patriots coach Bill O’Brien’s staff in Houston as the Texans’ linebackers coach. Vrabel spent a year as the Texans’ defensive coordinator in 2017.
Tennessee named Vrabel head coach in 2018, and the results were instantaneous. Vrabel won nine games that year and would have made the postseason if not for a Week 17 loss to the Colts.
Last year showed just what Vrabel and the Titans are building in Tennessee. Vrabel made the difficult decision to bench longtime starting quarterback Marcus Mariota in October 2019 and promoted Ryan Tannehill to the starting lineup.
All Tannehill did was revive an inconsistent offense and take Tennessee to the AFC championship game.
Vrabel is another Bill Belichick disciple-turned-head coach
Although Mike Vrabel never coached under Bill Belichick, he should still earn a spot on Bellichick’s coaching tree.
Through the 2020 season, ten of Belichick’s assistant coaches have become NFL head coaches. Four, including Texans interim head coach Romeo Crennel, had head coaching positions as of Oct. 16, 2020.
Crennel replaced Bill O’Brien, another Belichick disciple.
Vrabel and Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury both played for Belichick and later earned head coaching positions. Neither ever worked for Belichick, though.
Mike Vrabel may have just cracked a crucial code
For years, many have wondered why Bill Belichick’s star proteges never succeeded at the NFL level — or in some cases, even the college level.
Mike Vrabel appears to have cracked the code. Vrabel served as an assistant coach for several years before earning his first NFL head coaching opportunity.
None of those years were spent under Belichick. Vrabel honed his craft elsewhere and absorbed other team cultures instead of only relying on what he learned from Belichick.
Think about Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who worked for Belichick from 2004-17 before going to Detroit. By the time Patricia arrived in Detroit, he hadn’t worked anywhere but New England since 2003, his final year as an offensive graduate assistant at Syracuse.
Admittedly, the formula isn’t a perfect one. Dolphins head coach Brian Flores worked exclusively for Belichick from 2004-18, and he’s turning Miami around quicker than expected.
Still, Mike Vrabel’s success should be a lesson to Belichick’s current assistants and players. The more places they work and things they experience, the better chance they may have at succeeding as an NFL head coach.