Titans the Dark-Horse of the AFC

The Titans have looked remarkably scrappy this season whether it was Ryan Tannehill, or Malik Willis starting at quarterback. Mike Vrabel has cultivated his own version of “The Patriot’s Way” in Tennessee that focuses on situational football, playing solid defense, and running the ball well. This creates an environment where quarterbacks don’t have to carry the team. This is and always has been a recipe for success even if you have an elite-level quarterback.

Mike Vrabel, One of the Best in the Game

Mike Vrabel began coaching in 2011 as the linebackers coach under Luke Fickell with Ohio State. After that season, Fickell stayed as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. Urban Meyer was hired as the head coach and Vrabel moved to defensive line coach. He spent two seasons under Meyer before leaping to the NFL.

Ironically, Mike Vrabel has never coached for the Patriots. One would think given his long career with the Patriots, and knowledge of the staff he would have gotten his start there. Instead, he followed his former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to Houston. Vrabel was hired as the linebackers coach in 2014.

After three seasons in the position, Romeo Crennel did something unprecedented for Vrabel. He stepped aside as a defensive coordinator. Focusing instead on his duties as an assistant head coach while Mike Vrabel took over as the defensive coordinator. It took just one season of Vrabel running a defense before he was offered a head coaching position. Perhaps if Crennel never steps aside, it takes much longer for Vrabel to get that chance.

Conspiracy Theories

Put on your tinfoil hat for me for a second. The Titans were coached from 2015-2017 by Mike Mularkey. Mularkey was hired as the head coach after he spent the end of the 2015 season as the interim head coach. He coached the Titans to a 2-7 record in 9 games yet was hired as the full-time head coach after that season. This was met with a lot of criticism from fans of the Titans at the time, they couldn’t understand why he was retained after such a bad season.

In 2016 Mularkey led the Titans to a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs. They finished second in the division, and ultimately looked like a solid team at times, but it was classic Mike Mularkey-led teams. Mularkey spent time in six different seasons as a head coach and never won more than 9 games in a season. This is where my conspiracy theory comes in.

After 25 games as the head coach, Mularkey had amassed an 11-14 record. Perhaps the Titans were interested in Vrabel as early as the 2016 off-season but weren’t quite ready to give him a chance given his experience. Then in 2017, Crennel knowing this stepped aside so his former player can serve as the coordinator and get the chance he deserved as a head coach with Tennessee after the 2017 season.

Vrabel-Most Successful Coach from Belichick Tree

Looking at all the different coaches that have come from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, the results haven’t been pretty. Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini, Joe Judge, Josh McDaniels, Al Groh, etc etc etc Of every coach that can consider their roots coming from Belichick, Vrabel is easily the most successful, despite never coaching in New England. So far during his career, he has never known a losing season as a head coach. He took over a 9-7 team and continued to progress that career up the ladder. Last season might have been the best job of his career. After losing his most dangerous offensive weapon, Derrick Henry, he still managed the best record of his career at 12-5.

Could the Titans End Up in the Super Bowl

As it stands, Vrabel has a 48-28 record in the regular season. In just his second season as a head coach, he was just 11 points from a Super Bowl appearance. He won the coach of the year award in 2021, and he continues to build the Titans into perennial contenders in the AFC. In 2022, he is already on his way to another career year as a coach. The Titans look as if they could be one of the more complete teams in the AFC playoff race. They also seem to be getting hot at the right time.

Looking at the remaining schedule for the Titans there is a realistic possibility for them to finish the season 12-5. They face the Jaguars twice, a very banged-up Chargers team, and a Texans team that may as well be considered an automatic win. With a loss against a potential Super Bowl contender in the Philadelphia Eagles, their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys pose the biggest challenge for the Titans in their remaining five games. The big question coming out of this loss is the health of Treylon Burks.

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