For anybody who thinks Titans coach Mike Vrabel should be in trouble

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Stop it with any talk of Mike Vrabel being on the hot seat.

He’s a great coach having a bad season, and that’s not close to enough of a reason for Amy Adams Strunk even to consider for a second moving on from the best coach the franchise has had during its Tennessee tenure.

Mike Vrabel

Photo: Angie Flatt

The roster’s an issue, and the GM who pieced it together has been gone for three weeks now. You’re upset by this nosedive and I get it. But circle that frustration back to where it belongs first and foremost, to the roster.

Vrabel is a year removed from being coach of the year. His team has lost five straight and may very well end up 7-10.

The fact is, it’s not that good of a team and if you looked at it reasonably when they were 7-3 it was easy to foresee losses to the Bengals, the Eagles, the Chargers and the Cowboys, who visit Nashville Thursday night.

In getting to seven wins the Titans had avoided the thing where they drop a game to a bad team – a bit of a tradition. They got back to that on Christmas Eve with a loss to Houston, which moves to 2-12-1. And the Jaguars, who are finally on the rise with the best quarterback in the division, were overdue to win one in Music City, something they had not done since 2013.

We’ve covered over and over the foolishness of a franchise that was practically barren at wide receiver for its time in Nashville finally finding aMike Vrabel and Geoff Swaim gem in A.J. Brown, folding when negotiations got difficult and trading him after just three seasons.

Vrabel has made mistakes for sure.

He failed to get to the bottom of the injuries that forced him to use a record 91 players last season, and they are at 82 with two games left this season. Some of it’s bad fortune. Some of it is bringing in injury-prone guys (Farley tops the list, but Kristian Fulton, Elijah Molden and David Long qualify as well) and guys recovering from big ones (like Dupree and Robert Woods).

But Vrabel has failed to show significant concern with the problem to this point.

His dedication to Todd Downing is questionable and his most detailed answer about the play-calling suggested his biggest concern is clear communication of the call, not the call itself. Downing is uninventive and predictable and while the personnel limits him, he can do more than he has.

Dennis Daley has been horrible as the left tackle in place of Taylor Lewan since Lewan suffered another season-ending knee injury Week 2. But when they finally gave Dillon Radunz a chance to play there some in Week 15, he did better. Why did it take that long to try an alternative?

Still, Daley and Radunz (before he tore his ACL) were Vrabel’s options at left tackle because of moves Jon Robinson made.

Bud Dupree’s on the injury report with a pec problem now after a hip held him back after his ACL recovery season last year. Did Robinson’s department do well on injury projections with him? Caleb Farley having another disc problem was predictable based on his previous back issues and he was a complete zero as a first-round pick before that, creating strain on the cornerback position.

Robinson did a lot of good things, but Amy Adams Strunk bailed on him before he finished year one of a five-year deal because he busted on too many important draft picks and free-agent signings.

All teams get hurt.

But did you see how, against the Titans, the Chargers got plays from the people replacing stars Derwin James, Rashawn Slater and Joey Bosa while Tennessee, minus Treylon Burks, Fulton and Molden, fielded players like Chris Conley, John Reid and Greg Mabin.

The Titans lack the frontline power from middling first-round choices who didn’t warrant second contracts as well as the depth that comes from drafting well later on. The suffering connected to major misses like Isaiah Wilson, Darryton Evans and Dez Fitzpatrick isn’t close to over.

Vrabel has worked magic in 2021 and the first half of this season piecing together fill-ins on defense and finding production with waiver claims, practice squad call-ups and street free agents.

But it can’t happen in perpetuity. His success has created unrealistic expectations.

Vrabel is the lone success story from the 2018 class of coaching hires.

  • Steve Wilks is resurgent as the interim in Carolina, but he lasted a whole year in Arizona.
  • Pat Shurmer won nine games in two years with the Giants.
  • In Detroit Matt Patricia was another dead branch of the Bill Belichick tree, winning 13 games in three years.
  • Matt Nagy lasted four seasons in Chicago.
  • Jon Gruden was 22-31 before embarrassing emails from his past surfaced and led to a resignation in Las Vegas.
  • Frank Reich didn’t win a division in four years leading the Colts and got fired in November.

Look around the NFL and who are the coaches who are clearly better?

Andy Reid certainly. Kyle Shanahan is a wonderworker, dealing with injuries and maximizing quarterbacks. Sean McVay is having a terrible year but you’ll take it as a trade-off for the Super Bowl win a year ago and the offensive innovation. Sean Payton is out there in waiting. Pete Carroll made the right call on Russell Wilson. Bill Belichick’s arrow is pointing way down since the Tom Brady divorce. Sean McDermott and Zac Taylor are doing quite well.

At worst, I’d put Vrabel ninth, and I think that’s a little low.

There is no way Strunk could find a coach better than ninth or would want to while paying out four years of Vrabel, or at least a portion.

He’d get an open job immediately, and there could be a team or two that doesn’t feel terrible about its situation and would fire a coach who was otherwise safe to get him.

The Colts liked him a great deal in 2018 when they went with Josh McDaniels instead -- offense over defense.

McDaniels backed out and they wound up with Reich. Think Jim Irsay would jump at a chance to replace apple icon 144x144 precomposedinterim Jeff Saturday with a coach who’s 6-3 against Indianapolis including five wins in a row and who's won the last two AFC South titles and still has an outside shot at a third in a row in a down year? Yes, Irsay absolutely would.

And Vrabel would kick the Titans’ ass twice a year in short order, flipping the dynamic between the two teams.

Be very, very careful what you wish for.

Wish for him to deal with Downing, figure out injuries and not go wild with power in a dynamic with a new GM.

Don’t wish for him to go away.

Remember the last coach Strunk loved.

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