LB Mike Vrabel was a nobody before he joined the New England Patriots. He was a tweener that didn’t fit on the edge in the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and wasn’t able to play stand-up linebacker. Head coach Bill Belichick saw potential in Vrabel and slotted him as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense.
Vrabel was a key player on three Super Bowl champion squads, was First Team All Pro in 2007, and earned a spot on the Patriots 50th Anniversary team.
Belichick traded Vrabel to the Chiefs, alongside QB Matt Cassel, where the linebacker toiled for two years. Upon retiring from football, he took a coaching job with Ohio State, leading the linebackers in 2011 and the defensive line from 2012-13. When former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was named head coach of the Houston Texans, O’Brien asked Vrabel to serve as his linebacker coach.
And now Vrabel is receiving consideration for head coaching jobs.
“I think that people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities and the type of guy that he is,” O’Brien said on Tuesday. “He’s a guy that really cares about people. He cares about football. He’s a great dad, great husband. He’s got all the qualities to be a future head coach.”
Vrabel was considered for the role of Chip Kelly’s defensive coordinator in San Francisco, but wisely turned down the opportunity to remain with the Texans organization. Now, Vrabel will be interviewing for the Rams head coaching job after this weekend’s game against the Patriots. Belichick isn’t surprised about Vrabel’s opportunities.
“We talked about [coaching] several times during his career,” Belichick said on a Tuesday conference call. “Mike does a tremendous job. As a player he was very astute. Not only had a great understanding of his position and techniques and knowledge on how to play his spot and the corresponding positions, but also from an overall standpoint he had a very good grasp of the overall defensive concepts and offensive concepts and how they would attack us in different fronts or different pre-snap looks and so forth.
“But more importantly than that, there are a lot of players that understand the game well and have good awareness and understanding of how the game is being played and Mike has great leadership,” Belichick added. “He’s a good communicator. He’s direct. He gets along with everybody. He has a good way of working with people and he’s got good leadership skills. I think those things are very important when you talk about the question you just asked. I think that’s probably more relevant than the X’s and O’s, although I don’t want to understate that either.”
Vrabel has the disposition of a future head coach, along with the on-field success that can demand the best of all his potential players. Texans DT Vince Wilfork played alongside Vrabel from 2004-08 and now plays under Vrabel’s leadership in Houston.
“Playing with Mike, you could tell he always had that niche in the way of a player’s coach,” Wilfork said on Tuesday. “On the field playing the game, he knew the game so well. One of the things is he’s very smart and he understands the game from all aspects, not just defensively. I think one day he will be and it probably will be soon when he will be a head coach. I think he deserves it and I think he’s ready to be it.
“So, whoever will give him a shot, give him a chance, I think they will be happy with what they have. Just being around him as a player and now being around him as a coach, he has everything it takes to be a head coach at this level. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his post-career in football and now into coaching to see how he’s going to handle everything. I think he’s going to handle it well.”
If Vrabel doesn’t get the Rams job, there will be more opportunities down the road (but don’t hold your breath for the Patriots to extend him an offer). Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will turn 70 before 2017 and is the second-oldest coordinator in football, trailing only 79-year-old Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau; if Vrabel is able to wait another couple years, he will likely ascend to the Texans defensive coordinator role.