Tennessee Titans HC Mike Vrabel to Focus on Players, Not Philosophy

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03: Assistant coach, Mike Vrabel of the Houston Texans during a preseason game on September 3, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03: Assistant coach, Mike Vrabel of the Houston Texans during a preseason game on September 3, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

New Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel had his introductory press conference Monday afternoon. Here are the most important snippets from the presser.

Mike Mularkey did a lot of good things during his two-year tenure as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. He established a winning culture, got the team back to the postseason, and gave fans something to be excited about.

As evidenced by his termination, however, his shortcomings outweighed many of his strengths. He had a “till death do us part” attitude toward his coaching staff and offensive philosophy, forced players to be so detailed that they couldn’t focus on playing loose, and never really convinced anyone that he was in tune with the modern NFL.

In his opening press conference on Monday, new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel showed that he will be very similar to Mularkey in certain areas. He wants to continue building a strong culture, run the football, and play with a team-first mentality.

In other areas, though, Vrabel’s opening statement was a refreshing change from the typically stale remarks from Mularkey. Fans who didn’t care for Mularkey because of his weaknesses will soon fall in love with Coach Vrabel.

The most important difference between Vrabel and Mularkey lies in Vrabel’s focus on players. At one point during his presser, Vrabel said: “aside from winning, the best part of this profession is being able to develop players and make them better.”

Though calling Vrabel a “players’ coach” would undermine his skills and knowledge of the game, he will be much closer to that label than Mularkey ever was. Here are three ways Vrabel plans to focus on the players.

1. Relatability

As much as players loved Mike Mularkey, you would think that his coaching mindset would have been much different than it actually was. But the coach that Titans players fell in love with from 2016-2017 often talked over their heads, at least when it came to addressing the media.

Countless times, Mularkey would shift blame away from him and his staff’s shortcomings to the players. He had a knack for finding random, tiny details to criticize players for.

Mike Vrabel, in contrast, made a point in his first media address to discuss how he will try his best to relate to players instead of carrying a mindset that they are simply vessels beneath the coaching staff.

“I’m going to have a great opportunity to share my story and what I’ve been through with each of those players. I’m not going to do anything special. I’m going to tell them who I am, ask where they are in their career…and we’re going to fix whatever it is that they don’t do well.”

That idea, of fixing what players don’t do well, leads into the second way Vrabel will bring more focus to the players.

2. Development

General manager Jon Robinson’s first draft class was superb. In addition to selecting two All-Pro players (Jack Conklin and Kevin Byard), he added a starting defensive lineman (Austin Johnson), a starting running back (Derrick Henry), and a quality depth piece at receiver (Tajaé Sharpe).

A couple of defensive players from his 2017 draft class, corner Adoree’ Jackson and linebacker Jayon Brown, had respectable rookie campaigns. But the big investment he made in the offense by selecting three players from that side of the ball on the first two days of the draft (WR Corey Davis, WR Taywan Taylor, TE Jonnu Smith) did not have much of a return last season.

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Mularkey’s biggest criticism during his time in Tennessee was his refusal to put players in positions to succeed; the “round peg in a square hole” problem. But, perhaps worse than that, he also didn’t seem to do much in the way of developing his talent, particularly at the skill positions.

Constantly, fans had to hear Mularkey criticize receivers for random aspects of their technique, such as route depth, spacing, and quality. It became so frequent that many began to wonder if the Titans offensive coaching staff, not the players, was actually at fault.

Fans of Davis, Taylor, and Smith who were disappointed with their rookie seasons, however, can now rejoice. Vrabel, in addition to saying that developing talent is one of the best parts of his job, stated that his primary goals will be to “teach the guys, develop them, and make them better.”

Vrabel also discussed his goals to continue the recently stunted development of quarterback Marcus Mariota. He said he plans to “put guys around him that are going to help him, get him to play with confidence, get him to play energetic, and bring the passion for football out.”

3. The only philosophy is winning.

Whereas Mularkey and his offensive coordinator, Terry Robiskie, were married to their ineffective “exotic smashmouth” philosophy to a fault, Coach Vrabel’s only philosophy will be winning.

“I believe that players are more important than plays, and it’s always going to be about that. It’s never going to be about the scheme. As I told Amy, my job is to make sure the players know what to do, and that they’re playing fast and aggressive.”

Translation: The Titans will not continue running an ineffective scheme if it is so bad that no fans show up to the games.

If his opening press conference is any indication, Mike Vrabel will be similar to Mike Mularkey in all the right ways, but also different in all the right ways.

Any fans who were previously skeptical of Vrabel because of his inexperience and limited resume can throw that skepticism out the window. He clearly has a vision that aligns with Jon Robinson’s goals, and Vrabel is very clearly the right man for this job.

Next: Dick LeBeau will not return as DC for Titans