NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans (11-5) thoroughly demolished the Miami Dolphins (8-8) at Nissan Stadium in their final home game of the regular season 34-3. Doing so clinched the AFC South for a second consecutive year.
For all the effort and adverse circumstances it took Tennessee to get here, no doubt remains that Mike Vrabel deserves NFL Coach of the Year.
The Titans under Vrabel have done nothing but flourish since his hire in 2018. Sunday’s victory clinched his third consecutive season with a postseason appearance. Beating Miami also allowed for the back-to-back division titles. The Houston Oilers / Tennessee Titans organization had not accomplished such feat since topping the AFL Eastern division in three straight seasons.
That took place in 1960-1962, the franchise’s first three years of existence.
Vrabel’s Titans have accomplished more with less
Week after week, Tennessee’s injury report has read more like a CVS receipt.
Getting right on their Week 14 bye helped the Titans players recoup, but the locker room has borderline served as a trauma unit. A record 89 players have donned a Tennessee uniform this season. Wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, left tackle Taylor Lewan and guard Rodger Saffold, linebackers Bud Dupree and David Long, MVP candidate Derrick Henry and stud corner Kristian Fulton are among a few of the stars who have done injured reserve stints this season.
And yet, the Titans have just kept winning.
“Well, it’s always going to be special,” said Vrabel. “But I think that some of those guys that maybe a lot of people haven’t heard of, or maybe didn’t expect to help us out at points throughout the season, it is very rewarding to know that we’ve helped those guys be in a position to go out on the field and execute. And have given them the confidence and the trust to go out there and do their job.”
Vrabel’s formula works.
Tennessee’s current head coach has the second best win percentage, regular season and playoffs, (.619) of any in franchise history. He trails only Lou Rymkus (.625) who lasted two seasons with the Oilers at the beginning of the franchise’s history. The difference is that Vrabel’s maintained that second place position with 48 more games (68) coached that Rymkus had under his belt (20).
Titans players understand what a difference Vrabel makes
There are always emotions after goals are surpassed in a sport as difficult as the NFL.
For a few of the players that survived the lean years before Mike Mularkey and then Vrabel rattled off six consecutive winning seasons, back-to-back division titles feels like rarified air. Only Lewan and punter Brett Kern remain from previous Titans coaching regimes as two foundational pieces that the franchise has been able to build around.
For Lewan, who was drafted by Tennessee as a 2014 first-rounder, the emotions were impossible to hide.
“When we got off the field Titans Amie (Wells) interviewed me and I couldn’t stop crying because it is like being here through those times we just sucked, it was just awful,” Lewan said. “Come in and would have to have a silent cadence because the opposing fans would be in the building, and you couldn’t hear your own snap count on your own field. It just seemed like no one even cared about Titans football. I say that, I know there have been season ticket holders since the 90s and all that, I am not coming at them. It just wasn’t as big of a crowd as it is now. Like I have said so many times before, I am so proud to be a part of this team. Last year, sitting there at home with a torn ACL and watching the boys win the division – Will (Compton) FaceTimed me in the locker room and I just lost it, I was so proud of being a part of this team and I wish I could have helped more last year. Being on the field today and winning the way we did, I just broke down and started crying. It is just amazing to be a part of something for this long. It is amazing to help change the culture of a team. I am so proud of that.”
Vrabel will always credit the players for their execution in the games as the fundamental reason for Tennessee’s success, and he is correct in that assessment. There is no disputing, however, that Vrabel and his staff that he has built up by promoting from within have but this roster consistently in the best position to succeed. When last the Vegas odds for Coach of the Year were updated, Vrabel was fifth (+1200) behind Matt LaFleur, Frank Reich, Bill Belichick and Zac Taylor. All four of those men have solid cases for the award.
Belichick is the only coach listed that you would choose to guide your team over Vrabel.
The Titans gathered in the locker room Sunday night to hear their coach tell them just how big an accomplishment back-to-back AFC South titles was. Vrabel bellowed out his appreciation but one line struck particularly true.
“Believe in this family,” Vrabel reminded them. “Believe in it, men.”
The coach wrapped up his postgame speech and was immediately swarmed by his players in a celebratory mosh pit of sorts. Tennessee believes in Mike Vrabel.
It is far past time for the rest of the NFL to recognize the job that he’s done this year.
Featured image: USA TODAY Sports.