The Tennessee Titans made an extremely bold move last winter by moving on from Mike Mularkey, who led the franchise to their first playoff appearance since the 2008 season.
Mularkey also led the Titans to their first playoff win since January, 2004.
The feeling was the Titans, who were the trendy pick to win the AFC South last season, underachieved under Mularkey. So they went out and hired former New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel to take over for Mularkey.
Vrabel came to Nashville with only four years of coaching experience in the NFL. Only one of those years was spent as a coordinator.
The popular NFL trend over the last few years has been to hire young coordinators instead of going through the recycled heap of former NFL head coaches.
But even by this new trend’s standard, Vrabel is still a relatively inexperienced coach.
Check out this list of recent head coaching hires in the NFL and how many years of NFL coaching experience each new coach possessed when hired (not counting time spent as assistant position coaches/quality control, etc).
- Steve Wilks — Arizona Cardinals — 12
- Dan Quinn — Atlanta Falcons — 10
- Sean McDermott — Buffalo Bills — 10
- Matt Nagy — Chicago Bears — 5
- Hue Jackson — Cleveland Browns — 15
- Vance Joseph — Denver Broncos — 10
- Matt Patricia — Detroit Lions — 12
- Frank Reich — Indianapolis Colts — 9
- Adam Gase — Miami Dolphins — 8
- Todd Bowles — New York Jets — 11
- Sean McVay — Los Angeles Rams — 6
- Anthony Lynn — Los Angeles Chargers — 16
- Doug Pederson — Philadelphia Eagles — 5
- Kyle Shanahan — San Francisco 49ers — 11
- Mike Vrabel — Tennessee Titans — 4
Vrabel is clearly the least experienced of the recent new head coaches in the NFL.
Perhaps the best comp for Vrabel is Doug Pederson, who played in the NFL and then began his coaching career in 2005 at the high school level. He made the jump to the NFL in 2009, becoming an offensive coordinator in 2011.
Pederson struggled a bit in his first year as the Eagles’ head coach while he was working his way through the nuances of leading a NFL franchise. Philadelphia won their first three games under Pederson (similar to Vrabel’s early three game winning streak), before eventually suffering through a five game losing streak. The Eagles finished 7-9 in Pederson’s first season.
Of course we all know what happened from there — Philly went on to win the Super Bowl last season. But I’m pretty sure no one saw that coming after their losing 2016 effort.
New head coaches, especially those with very little experience, are forced to learn on the job. Vrabel’s first season in Nashville is going to have a lot of growing pains as he figures out who he is as a head coach.
While the Titans have looked absolutely terrible the last two games, it’s important to remember that Tennessee is still 3-3 through the first six games of the Vrabel era.
That puts him right where a lot of first time head coaches have been (or currently are). Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is off to a 2-3 start in Detroit, while Matt Nagy has the Chicago Bears at 3-2.
Both of those coaches are in their first years leading a NFL team.
The Titans are hoping that by taking a small step back in 2018, essentially a transition year, they’ll be taking a huge step forward in 2019.
It’s easy to want to judge Vrabel on what’s happened during these first five games of the season, but I think we need to hold off until we see how his team performs over a full 16 game slate.
Then, and only then, we’ll we have a good idea of what to expect in 2019 and beyond.
Featured image via USA Today