Mike Vrabel had a productive discussion with local media Thursday to wrap his first minicamp as Tennessee Titans coach.
It’s about perspective, and mine has changed some on Vrabel in his short tenure as the 42-year-old who went from linebackers coach to head coach of a playoff-winning team in a flash. I didn’t like Vrabel’s answers on how he’ll continue to limit access to his players, but I appreciate that he explained himself. The early offseason takes that Vrabel might be a raging ogre on a wrecking train when it comes to public matters have cooled.
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And it all ties together in some way. The most important factor for coaching success in the NFL is to have good players. After that it’s utilizing your talent — out-scheming the coaches on the other sideline and making winning in-game adjustments. After that it’s motivating and pushing your players. That’s no small thing or Vrabel wouldn’t have this job, but smart NFL coaches thrash fiery NFL coaches, and we won’t really get an inkling on Vrabel’s global coaching chops until the Sept. 9 opener at Miami.
Is Mike Vrabel another Bill Belichick?
Titans outside linebacker Kevin Dodd returned to the team for mandatory minicamp after skipping three weeks of voluntary practices.
Jason Wolf, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
After all that … way after … somewhere between wearing pants that fit and whistling succinctly is “dealing with the media.” I want it to be higher but let’s be real: Bill Belichick, Vrabel’s head coaching model, mumbles about nothing at his press conferences and restricts access and is the greatest ever. Vrabel could tell us everything with a smile on his face and give us access to the whole building at all times, and if he goes 4-12 in the next two seasons he’s back coaching linebackers somewhere in 2020.
The function of media is relaying information about these teams to the fans of these teams, and in some cases commenting on that information and holding sports figures accountable. And in media settings you can see how a coach deals with people. Early on in the offseason, I heard whispers of “Ken Whisenhunt” when Vrabel had odd reactions to a reporter taking a picture in his “sacred” locker room and to another asking him a question while standing to the side where Vrabel couldn’t see him while responding (full disclosure: I was on Nashville Predators assignment and missed both).
The line of thinking there is, if such trivial matters bother this guy, how is he going to handle big problems? But now, with minicamp over and training camp set to begin in late July, those moments look more like a rookie head coach — and an obviously intense person — adjusting to the reality of having to stand before us and talk all the time. That’s partially because of a string of run-of-the-mill media encounters since, and more because we’ve been able to watch Vrabel do some coaching on the field.
What Mike Vrabel is like
He’s demanding, profane, funny and extremely self-assured when dealing with players. It’s more of what you saw if you watched the HBO “Hard Knocks” season in 2015 with the Houston Texans, except now Vrabel has an entire team to rile up. They are responding so far, in shorts, with no losses absorbed.
“Unbelievable leader, best leader I’ve ever been around,” Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen said of Vrabel. “Demanding but at the same time can cut it up and have fun. I think players respect him, I think he’s a player’s coach, but at the same time he’s going to get the most out of everybody on this team, from players, to coaches to training staff, everyone else. People just respond to him.”
This is a 31-year-old talking about his boss, mind you. But also a guy who has worked for Urban Meyer and Bill O’Brien. By all appearances and accounts in the infant stages, Vrabel is doing what he was brought here to do.
I do hope he changes his mind and opens up the locker room during training camp, and I know some folks in the Titans building hope the same — though they won’t say it to him. An open locker room in camp has always been the Titans way and, though more NFL teams are going away from it, this NFL team is trying to rebuild its relationship with a fanbase that grew apathetic over time.
This team will not be covered as well or as thoroughly if reporters have to try to grab guys coming off the field. It’s that simple. I don’t want to bore you too much, but a reporter is lucky to get three rushed conversations on a given day in this format, vs. the opportunity for several good ones in a half hour of open locker room.
I did a project before last season polling the entire 90-man camp roster on concussions and CTE. The Titans hated the topic and the timing, right before the season, but they didn’t interfere. It took all of camp to gather. That project, or anything comprehensive like it, is pointless to even consider without locker room access.
“This is what I’m comfortable with, this is what I did as a player,” Vrabel said, and I hate the Belichickian decision, respect the non-Belichickian conversation about it and can’t wait to see if this guy is Belichickian where it counts.
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