NFL veteran Mike Vrabel, 42, will be taking his first head coach position with the Tennessee Titans. Though he has a long and storied history with the league, including a 14-year career as a linebacker with Pittsburgh, New England, and Kansas City, the new coach knows he’ll have some hurdles to overcome at the outset.
"There's going to be a lot of things that are going to come up for the first time ...," Vrabel told The Associated Press. "I'm going to make mistakes. I'm not going to make too many of them hopefully and not make the same mistake twice. And learn from the mistake and be able to ask for advice."
Vrabel, who retired in 2010, first served as a linebackers coach and then as defensive line coach at Ohio State. He then went on to work as a linebackers coach and the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.
In the NFL, experience doesn’t always equal success. Titans' head coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey, both seasoned trainers, were both fired—Whisenhunt in 2015 with a 3-20 record and Mularkey this year despite consecutive 9-7 seasons and the team's first playoff victory in 14 years. Vrabel was hired by owner Amy Adams Strunk and general manager Jon Robinson five days after Mularkey’s departure as the team's 19th head coach.
Vrabel assembled a diverse staff that boasts both experience as well as enthusiasm. According to TSN, Matt LaFleur will be his offensive coordinator and Dean Pees will be his defensive coordinator. Vrabel was coached by Pees in New England and seemed destined to head a team.
"The thing about Mike he's everything that you expect and want out of a player," Pees said. "He's tough, he's an overachiever, he's smart as heck. He's got an incredible work ethic, so when I'm watching him and watching his style of coaching I'm not surprised one bit at any of it, to be honest with you."
The new head coach has also instituted some changes to the organization, such as banning media from the locker room during the team's off-season program. Reporters will now have to interview players on the practice field. In addition, Vrabel will look to veteran coaches, such Bill Cowher and John Mitchell in Pittsburgh, Bill Belichick in New England, Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and Bill O'Brien in Houston, for tips.
"I think that my personality is probably different than Bill and Urban," Vrabel said. "Probably a little similar to Bill O'Brien. But it's still kind of just who I am and appreciate everything that I've learned from those coaches."
Given his age, Vrabel has the advantage of being a hands-on trainer. He has hopped on a blocking sled to show rookie linebacker, Rashaan Evans, a technique, and has called out different downs and distances to test players’ reactions.
"He's going to be taping ankles sooner or later," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "I mean he's going to be cooking lunch. This guy is all over the place, and we love it. It's high intensity, high motor, energetic. Sometimes you really can't tell if he's joking or not. But he's still a player's coach and we're thrilled that he's on board."
The Titans, who ended their off-season program last week, will be on break until July 22 when rookies, quarterbacks, and injured players return, followed by the rest of the team for training camp on July 25, 2018. Vrabel's first game will be on Aug. 9, 2018, when Tennessee opens the preseason in Green Bay. The Titans' season opener is on Sept. 9, 2018, in Miami.
Vrabel is confident that he’ll live up to expectations. "Everybody knows what the expectations are," he said. "It's to win."