The Tennessee Titans flew in the face of conventional wisdom when they fired head coach Mike Mularkey months ago.
The national media wondered aloud how a team that endured years of futility could fire the first coach to lead the franchise to back to back winning seasons since 2007-2008, and the first coach to lead the franchise to a playoff victory since 2003.
Hiring Mike Vrabel, a coach with no previous experience at the position, raised even more eyebrows nationally. But after four weeks the national media is finding out what those close to and around the franchise suspected all along…
Vrabel’s hire is already a success.
After each of Tennessee’s last three wins, Vrabel opened the post game press conference with praise and admiration for his players. But the fact of the matter is, the Titans are 3-1 because of Vrabel and his coaching staff…not in spite of it.
Something that could not be said with regularity under the previous regime.
No team has endured more adversity and injuries to key players over the first four weeks of the season than Tennessee, and no coach had his team more prepared to overcome adversity than Vrabel….evidenced by a trio of victories as the unquestioned underdog.
In fact, adversity is a word that the new coaching staff embraces, going on record as welcoming it during sessions with the media.
Vrabel has instilled a next man up mentality with his injury-ravaged team, and his players have responded.
Marcus Mariota goes down in week 1, no problem. Vrabel and his staff devised a plan to succeed with backup Blaine Gabbert to beat Houston in week 2.
Gabbert goes down early in week 3, no problem. Vrabel and his staff adjusted on the fly and devised a plan to win with an injured Mariota…who was the emergency backup qb.
Staring middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard goes down on the first defensive drive of the game today, no problem. Plug in second year reserve Jayon Brown…who responds with 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 qb hits, and a sack.
Down your Pro Bowl and All pro starting tackles? Run quick screens to Taywan Taylor and the wildcat with Derrick Henry.
Down your three-time Pro Bowler and reigning Pro Bowl MVP tight end? Spread the field with quick strikes to versatile running back Dion Lewis, and supplement Delanie Walker’s yardage with Mariota’s legs.
The next man up mentality can only be accomplished if the entire roster is coached up. The next man up knows his assignments and is able to play fast and confident. A credit to the entire coaching staff.
Last but certainly not least, Vrable’s naiveté has not only been a blessing in disguise, but it has also been the shot in the arm to a good team that’s looking to be elite.
Mularkey and his veteran staff were successful in Tennessee, but their experience made them stubborn, stiff, and stuck in their ways…often choosing not to lose instead of trying to win.
To say that Vrabel has no fear of failure doesn’t do him justice. He has a complete disregard of it, and it’s filtering down to his team.
The Titans have become riverboat gamblers under Vrabel, who has already gone for it on fourth down a ton this season by NFL standards…converting a large percentage.
Tennessee shocked Houston with a fake punt on fourth down of their opening drive and scored a critical touchdown in a close victory over the Texans. A victory in which the Titans were down to their backup qb, backup tight end, and fourth and fifth offensive tackles on the depth chart.
Today, the riverboat gambler continued to let it ride, forgoing two would-be game tying field goals in overtime…electing to go for it on fourth down both times. And both times the offense moved the chains.
The end result? A huge victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles that moved his team to the most surprising 3-1 start in the league given the circumstances and schedule.
Marcus Mariota, who threw the walk-off touchdown in overtime, praised his coach for his aggressiveness and belief in the team after the game. A sentiment I’m sure that is shared by the entire roster.
No, Lombardi trophies are not given to teams that start 3-1. And no, Tennessee’s hot start does not ensure a playoff berth.
But regardless of how this season ultimately turns out, what Vrabel and his staff has been able to accomplish so far with a depleted roster makes his hire a huge success.
And makes general manager Jon Robinson more of a rock star in Tennessee.