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ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit: Mike Vrabel “could be huge” for Titans

Posted Jan 21, 2018

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit first met Mike Vrabel in the early 1990s while on campus at Ohio State University. More than 25 years later, the Titans have hired Vrabel as the team’s new head coach, and Herbstreit, a Nashvillian, believes it could turn into a “grand slam” for the team.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Kirk Herbstreit first met Mike Vrabel in the early-1990s, as a college senior on the campus of Ohio State University.

Herbstreit was a team captain back then, and Vrabel was a star high school recruit visiting campus.

“And from the very first time you meet him,” Herbstreit said, “he has one of those personalities where he feels different.”

Fast-forward to now. On Saturday, the Titans hired Vrabel as the team’s new head coach. Herbstreit, a popular college football analyst for ESPN who lives in Nashville, immediately texted Vrabel when he heard the news.

Herbstreit thinks the hiring has big potential.

“Of all the guys I have been around, even before Mike was in coaching, I used to always tell him: You are destined to be a head coach,” Herbstreit said of Vrabel. “He has that certain intangible personality, and leadership qualities. He is one of those guys that is just a head coach. It’s perfect for him. I think this was a great hire by the Titans, and in time people will see that. He is a pretty special person and that allows him to be a great leader. And I think players will want to play for him.”

Herbstreit, who moved to Nashville seven years ago from Columbus, also thinks the city will be a perfect fit for the 42-year-old Vrabel, a country music fan who will be introduced at a press conference on Monday at Saint Thomas Sports Park.

Vrabel was one of three candidates to interview for the job after the team parted ways with Mike Mularkey on Monday. The Titans interviewed Vrabel on Thursday, and by Saturday the two sides were already working on a contract.

“Once people get a chance to meet him and watch how he carries himself, and how he talks, I think people will really fall in love with that side of him,” Herbstreit said. “But at the end of the day you have to win games, that’s what people really love.

“But if he wins games to go along with what he’ll bring to the table as far as his personality, it is a grand slam. I mean, it could be huge.”

Vrabel, who served as defensive coordinator with the Houston Texans last season after spending three seasons as linebackers coach, has a great reputation in football because of his leadership qualities.

From his playing days in college at Ohio State to his days in the NFL with the Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs, those around him have raved about his presence. When he became an assistant coach in college and later in the NFL, he began developing his leadership skills in a different capacity.

Herbstreit believes Vrabel will quickly earn the respect of the Titans. He’ll arrive with some moxie, with a proven track record as an assistant coach and three Super Bowl rings from his days as a jack-of-all-trades player with the Patriots.

“The thing you’ll be able to recognize right away will be the personality of the team,” Herbstreit said. “Now the Titans have done great things, and they’ve made great strides. But the consistency of the mental and physical toughness, you’ll be able to tell the way he demands things. He’ll be a player’s coach, and players will want to play for him by the way he challenges them.

“And the way he relates to them. He has three Super Bowl rings, and it wasn’t like it was back in the 70s. This guy just played. Players will respect him, and once they see he gets their world he won’t have a problem getting them to respect him.”

Vrabel played 14 NFL seasons in all, with the Steelers (1997-2000), Patriots (2001-2008) and Chiefs (2009-2010).

From 2014-16, the Texans defense ranked third in the NFL in net yards allowed per game (319.9) while Vrabel served as linebackers coach. DE/LBs Jadeveon Clowney earned Pro Bowl honors under Vrabel’s tutelage, and linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Brian Cushing were productive playmakers. In 2015, Texans linebackers combined for 22.5 of the team’s franchise-record 45 sacks.

In 2012, Vrabel coached four Ohio State defensive linemen who were either drafted into the NFL or signed free agent contracts. That year, Vrabel was also named ESPN.com Big Ten Recruiter of the Year.

Vrabel has played under coaches like Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Bill Cowher (Steelers), and coached alongside coaches like Romeo Crennel, Urban Meyer and Bill O’Brien.

One of the biggest things on Vrabel’s his list now is putting together a coaching staff.

Then will come the coaching.

“And Mike is not just a meathead defensive guy who is going to hire and offensive guy and say, “OK, you guys figure out all of that stuff, I am just over with the defense.’ He is not that kind of head coach,” Herbstreit said.

“Mike is the kind of guy who will run sprints after practice. He’ll get down in probably a 3-point stance and show a guy physically what he is talking about. He’ll look him right in the eye, and like communicate it in a way where it’s like: “Do I have to do this for you?” He’s that kind of guy. And he will coach the way he played, and it’s very, very passionate. He won’t be afraid to let you know he is not happy.

“And if you are a pretender, or you are not into toughness, you will get exposed with him. Those are his foundational principles.”