1. Deshea Townsend, Bears DB coach
Townsend and Vrabel last worked together when they were players for the Pittsburgh Steelers for a three-year overlap ending in 2000. Fast forward a dozen years and both were in their home state coaching the positions that they had thrived in at the college and NFL level.
While Vrabel was with Ohio State, working with Urban Meyer, Townsend was with Mississippi State for three years developing defensive backs for an Urban Meyer protege in Dan Mullen.
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Then in 2016 and 2017, both were in the AFC South. Mike Vrabel was with the Houston Texans and Townsend was with the Tennessee Titans coaching their defensive backs.
To start Townsend’s two-year tenure, this is what the Titans starting defensive backs looked like: Jason McCourty, Perrish Cox, Brice McCain, Da’Norris Searcy, and Rashad Johnson.
Just one year later he helped lay the groundwork for what would be a great Titans defense (for a few years until Mike Vrabel failed as the shadow DC this season): Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims, Jonathan Cyprien, and Kevin Byard.
When Mike Vrabel was hired, he and Dean Pees decided to go with an entirely fresh staff on defense that included Kerry Coombs. That was the right decision for everyone involved and now Townsend is coaching the Chicago Bears DBs.
In his two years there as the DBs coach, the Bears defense has ranked 8th in DVOA in back to back seasons despite Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson being the only players to start in both of those seasons.
For me, what sets Townsend apart from the rest of the candidates is a little bit of a “destiny” vibe with how frequently these two crossed paths, but much more importantly, I think that Townsend has done a little bit of everything in his career.
He made the smooth transition from player to coach, he has coached older DB groups that were not exactly stacked with talent, he has helped get the most out of mid-round picks and UDFAs, he has developed superstars like Kevin Byard, and wherever he coaches it seems like the defense gets better.
After spending a decade with Dick LeBeau as a player and a coach, it is easy to see how he might have absorbed a lot of that knowledge and as a veteran position coach in the league, he has proven that he can adapt to new players and new schemes. I think he would check off some major boxes for the Titans like:
-Someone who can help develop Kristian Fulton
-Getting Kevin Byard back on track
-Understanding what Adoree Jackson does well
-Experience around great pass rush units
Is he the perfect candidate? No, that would be Wade Phillips.
But, considering that you have to deal with the limitation of only including people that Mike Vrabel could reminisce about old times with, this is the best group of options to choose from and there are some very strong candidates.