NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ By this point, pretty much everyone in the NFL world understands what head coach Mike Vrabel accomplished with the Tennessee Titans in 2021.
It’s been well-publicized that Vrabel, a betting favorite for NFL Coach of the Year, guided the Titans to a 12-5 regular-season record and the AFC’s No. 1 seed despite setting the NFL record for unique players used in a season and enduring a myriad of crushing injuries, most notably to RB Derrick Henry.
“We’ve talked about the record of having so many different guys play for our team and still be able to string together wins against playoff quality teams. I think that resume deserves huge consideration for Coach of the Year,” All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said.
But what a lot of people don’t seem to get about Vrabel is how he did it.
“IT’S THE SAME THING”
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) November 19, 2021
The answer? Simplicity.
In the age of offensive gurus, Next-Gen Stats and analytics, Vrabel chooses not to overcomplicate things.
The science behind his simplicity has never been clearer than when he was asked of his approach leading up to the Titans’ 20-17 Week 16 win over the 49ers, a game they were expected to lose because, you guessed it, multiple key players were unavailable.
“Try to make sure that everybody is prepared and ready to go when they come in at the beginning of the week,” Vrabel said.
“It’s the same thing. You come in and you show up Monday, especially a short week. You tell the guys who come into this meeting, ‘you better be prepared as you work your way through the next couple days to play in the game, because anything can happen.'”
Vrabel certainly has coaching points that he consistently emphasizes, and he has specific philosophies about how football should be played.
Fundamentally, though, his approach to coaching is as follows: give the players a plan at the start of the week, practice that plan throughout the week and execute that plan during the game.
That’s it. It’s that simple.
And, more often than not, it works.
Counting the playoffs, Tennessee is 43-26 under Vrabel. That includes, over four years, three playoff trips, two division titles, a No. 1 seed and a run to the AFC Championship.
“He paints a great picture for us of what it’s going to take to win games and then holds us to that standard,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said.
“That’s all you could ever ask for out of a head coach⏤tell me what you need from me to help this team win and then hold me accountable to doing it.”
“HE IS GENUINELY CARING”
Why do the #Titans always seem to play so well when they’re facing adversity like last night?
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 24, 2021
Vrabel supplements his simplicity with leadership, a key ingredient in making everything hold together for him.
But Vrabel doesn’t lead by standing in a chair and giving fiery speeches. He doesn’t stand at the podium making grandiose statements about how tough the Titans’ culture is. You won’t find him crying after a loss.
Rather, Vrabel leads through relationships.
“He truly is genuinely caring about each individual player on this team whatever their role might be, whatever situation they’re going through,” defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said. “I think when you care about guys, that’s when you start to earn their trust and their respect.”
Vrabel, understandably, doesn’t want to talk about the prospect of winning Coach of the Year.
“That may be interesting, but it is not important,” he said. “We have to focus on things that are important.”
The Titans do, indeed, need to focus on winning in the postseason. That’s what’s important for them.
Everyone else, though, can focus on the interesting. That’s something the Titans definitely are.
Without Vrabel and his keen ability to not overthink the makings of success in the NFL, they might not still be alive.
For that, he does indeed deserve Coach of the Year.
Cover image: Steve Roberts/USA Today