In promoting Shane Bowen to defensive coordinator, head coach Mike Vrabel looked Tennessee Titans fans in the eye and said: “last year was good enough.”
And, it’s hard to blame him right? Last year was a pretty good one for the Titans’ defense, after all.
Oh, wait. That’s right. Last year was an unmitigated disaster for the Titans’ defense. The unit was historically bad on third downs and mustered just 19 sacks.
But, according to Vrabel, that production made the man in charge of the operation, Bowen, worthy of a promotion.
AN EASY CHOICE
If they believe that, they’re wrong. Players didn’t make plays, certainly. But are we supposed to believe that players like Byard and Evans falling completely off of a cliff wasn’t the result of the scheme change? https://t.co/aHycQ1GB8M
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) January 29, 2021
The situation Vrabel faced entering this offseason in terms of the future of the defensive staff was easy.
Because Bowen, who called plays and ran meetings for the Titans’ defense in 2020, didn’t officially have the defensive coordinator title, Vrabel wouldn’t have to fire him to bring in a new play-caller.
Vrabel could have simply relegated Bowen to his duties as outside linebackers coach, his actual title, and brought in someone else to call the shots on game day. No one had to be canned. No hard feelings.
Instead, Vrabel stuck with Bowen as his guy.
Vrabel didn’t just retain Bowen, though. He promoted him. He gave him a better title. He rewarded him.
Why would Vrabel do that? We may never know the answer to that question, though plenty of good guesses have been offered by angry Titans fans on the internet.
Here’s what we do know, though: Bowen’s one season as the Titans’ defensive play-caller was an abject failure.
A handful of players, most notably safety Kevin Byard and linebacker Rashaan Evans, fell off a cliff in terms of their production and on-field abilities. Several players complained throughout the season about poor communication, tying that to the defense’s overall struggles.
What was Vrabel’s response to those problems? He basically said, “I want more of it.”
“Shane will move into the dedicated role of coordinator,” Vrabel said via a press release issued by the Titans.
“I am looking forward to him growing in that role. We are going to work hard to improve that side of the ball through better coaching, improving our system and our players. I like the group we have on the defensive staff and I am confident that we will improve.”
VRABEL’S BIG FLAW
Vrabel, whose response to essentially every single problem is his tired “gotta play better, gotta coach better” line, is totally off base, here.
There is no reason why anyone should expect vast improvement by the Titans’ defensive coaching staff over the offseason.
Those coaches had four months during the 2020 regular season to improve, but they never did.
The same problems that plagued the team in Week One plagued it in Week 17. There was never any improvement or any sign that improvement was coming. At no point did it seem like Bowen and company were close to getting the problems ironed out.
Why, then, would things suddenly change, now? Spoiler: they probably won’t.
But Vrabel has seemingly convinced himself that they will, and it’s not terribly surprising.
Frequently, Vrabel doesn’t see reality. Instead, he sees things as they could be in an ideal world. He’s an optimist to an unhealthy degree, and it’s his fundamental flaw as a head coach.
There’s certainly a chance that Bowen and Vrabel get things figured out and, with an influx of defensive talent, have a successful 2021 season on that side of the ball. That’s not the point here, though.
Promoting a coach who ran a unit that proved week in and week out to be a tire fire is an objectively bad decision regardless of what hindsight ultimately proves.
- Vrabel image: Andrew Nelles / USA Today
- Bowen image: George Walker IV / The Tennessean