NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson got his NFL start as a scout with the New England Patriots, the same team his new head coach Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowl rings as a linebacker.
Yes, it seems like the Titans are trying to implement the Patriot Way in Music City.
Vrabel said that’s what it looks like — until the Titans win big themselves.
“You have to be able to win championships before people start giving you ways to do things,” Vrabel said Monday. “So that’ll be our ultimate goal…. Until we can win a championship doing that, there’s not going to be this Titan Way. It will be talked about in the building. But people from outside the building, they won’t believe in us, they won’t have faith in us until you win.”
The Titans introduced Vrabel as their new coach Monday. They agreed to terms with Vrabel on Saturday, just five days after firing Mike Mularkey coming off the franchise’s first playoff win in 14 years.
This is the first head coaching job for Vrabel, 42.
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk noted Robinson and Vrabel have known each other for years. She also likes Vrabel’s experience and vision for building on back-to-back 9-7 seasons.
“I believe he will do everything he can to bring this town a championship,” Strunk said.
Vrabel is coming off his first season as defensive coordinator for the Texans. Vrabel started his NFL career in Pittsburgh under coach Bill Cowher before signing with New England under coach Bill Belichick, and he finished in Kansas City. In 2011, he joined the staff at his alma mater, Ohio State, coaching linebackers and then defensive linemen.
He said nobody’s ever really ready to be a head coach for the first time in the NFL, though Vrabel feels as ready as he can be thanks to his doctorate degree in coaching he picked up working with some of the best in the game.
“There will be things that I take from New England, from Pittsburgh, from Ohio State, from Houston,” Vrabel said. “I mean there will be things that I take from everywhere. You draw on these experiences just like everybody else would in life… The nice thing is now there’s things that I didn’t like that Billy did, I get to change them. So there’s things I like that he did, I get to use them.”
Vrabel went to Houston in 2014 and coached linebackers with the Texans for three seasons before becoming coordinator. The Texans won the AFC South in 2015 and 2016 thanks in part to strong defenses. The unit slipped this season amid injuries to players including J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Building on the Titans’ playoff win in Kansas City means putting Marcus Mariota in position to blossom. Whoever Vrabel hires as his offensive coordinator will be Mariota’s third going into his fourth NFL season, and Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day reportedly is the early favorite for the job in Tennessee.
“I think Amy’s going to trust me to hire the right guy for Marcus,” Vrabel said. “Jon’s going to trust me to hire the right guy for Marcus or I wouldn’t have been hired.”
And Vrabel made it very clear he knows the potential for Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 pick overall in 2015. He recalled Mariota pulling a hamstring Oct. 1 against the Texans.
“A special talent, a special kid, and I can’t wait to work with him and help him through taking that next step in his career,” Vrabel said.
This was Robinson’s first head coaching search since being hired in January 2016, two days before the Titans took the interim tag off Mularkey. The Titans went 21-22 with Mularkey taking a team that had the NFL’s worst record at 5-27 combined over 2014 and 2015 to a team that lost in the AFC divisional round to New England.
Mularkey was fired less than 48 hours after that loss. The Titans interviewed only three people with Vrabel first to meet with them Thursday. The Titans also interviewed Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.