Mike Vrabel named 2021 Coach of the Year after historic season

Mike Vrabel Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Vrabel Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite being in a small market, it was impossible for the national media to ignore the job that Mike Vrabel did with the Tennessee Titans this year.

In a season where the Titans missed half of their roster and nearly all of their star power for a good chunk of the year, Mike Vrabel helped guide them to the 1-seed and earned PFWA’s Coach of the Year award along the way.

It was a long time coming and it certainly wasn’t the goal that the team set out for, but it is hard to think that this roster isn’t in good hands going forward.

Over the last few years, Mike Vrabel and GM Jon Robinson have turned the Tennessee Titans into a roster full of resilient players who rarely let circumstances distract them from their objective, and that was clear this season.

Injuries, public doubt, tough schedules, if you can name an obstacle then the odds are that you are going to find something that the Titans overcame this year.

Even though Robinson has done a great job bringing top-level talent into the organization, it is up to Mike Vrabel and his hand-picked coaching staff to develop those players. Oftentimes, guys have come into the organization with raw talent and have been honed into key players like Kristian Fulton, Nate Davis, Jonnu Smith, and Adoree Jackson.

Other times players have landed on the roster without a clear position or role and have developed beyond role players and into matchup problems for the opposing team. Names like Amani Hooker, David Long, Dane Cruikshank, and Elijah Molden all come to mind.

One thing Mike Vrabel could improve on

While Mike Vrabel has instilled toughness and resilience into a roster that didn’t have a lot of that for about a decade prior to 2016, the problem is that he is still doing a few things that will bother Titans fans.

Obviously, the biggest knock on him is that he can’t seem to get the guys motivated to take care of the bad teams. In 2021 alone the Titans lost to the 1-win Houston Texans, the New York Jets, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That can’t keep happening if Tennessee is going to have sustained success (even more than they already do), but what is going to really hurt this team is his overreliance on personal relationships.

Mike Vrabel assembled a staff of guys that he had either worked with, played for, or who had worked with the coordinators that he hired. After years of seeing his coaching staff get depleted by guys getting promotions, he is starting to run out of contacts in the NFL to lean on.

A great example of this is when he hired Jim Haslett out of retirement in 2020 to coach linebackers (which went poorly and he was recently fired). However, the most concerning hiring is elevating Todd Downing this season when the team needed a new OC to replace Arthur Smith.

It is hard to figure out who got lied to, but either Mike Vrabel was lied to when Downing said that he could run a similar offense to what Smith ran or fans were lied to when they were told that there would be any sort of continuity from 2020’s offense where they scored 30 points per game.

Either way, someone was lied to, and when it came time for there to be accountability…nothing. No one was fired on the offensive side of the ball despite a massive failure on that front.

Now there might be some hope for Downing, but it isn’t because of anything he can do himself. The perfect case study is Shane Bowen who had one of the worst seasons by a DC in franchise history in 2020.

For some reason, Mike Vrabel stuck to his guns and kept Bowen on the coaching staff. This forced, Jon Robinson to go out and rebuilt the defense by signing or drafting five different players who ended up becoming starters by the end of the season.

When the dust settled, the defense was the strongest part of the Titans by a wide margin and that looked impossible at the end of last season.

Anna Lewis made a great point that there was another move made by the front office and/or Mike Vrabel to help make Shane Bowen’s job easier. She pointed to the influence made by hiring Jim Schwartz to emphasize the great defensive line talent that the Titans have headlined by All-Pro Jeffery Simmons.

If the Titans take a similar approach this offseason and bring in someone to babysit Downing and teach him how to call plays like a good OC, then it would be a feather in the cap for Mike Vrabel who would have gone back to back years where he supported his friend but also admitted that there needs to be a change to something that was clearly broken.