COACHING CHANGE

Fred Faour: Vrabel getting Titans job is a win-win For Texans

Fred Faour: Vrabel getting Titans job is a win-win For Texans
Mike Vrabel will be the new Titans head coach. Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans have a new head coach, hiring former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. 

Vrabel has rocketed through the coaching ranks based on his reputation for being "fiery" and "aggressive." He was promoted to defensive coordinator by the Texans last season as other teams -- most notably San Francisco -- came calling to try to steal him. 

The Titans essentially made this hire on reputation alone. Vrabel's one year on the DC job was an abject disaster, as his defense ranked last in the NFL. There were key injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, but Watt essentially missed the prior season and the Texans still had a playoff caliber defense. In truth, they regressed significantly under Vrabel. The traditional path to a head coaching job is position coach, success as a coordinator, then head coach. Vrabel skipped that middle step. 

The pro-Vrabel camp will point to the injuries, and suggest that maybe he will be better as a head coach. That's a big maybe. He is well-respected by the players and other coaches. He is smart, personable and has the pedigree of a former player. 

But can he coach? His one year calling the shots says no. His defenses blew assignments, gave up big plays on a consistent basis and never showed any improvement, with no major adjustments made. They gave up the most points in the league (436), were 27th in turnovers and opponents had a 61.1 percent red zone percentage. 

A similar start next season would probably get him fired. The Titans did the Texans a favor, because Houston was able to reinstate Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator, instantly upgrading the position. And now a division rival -- one that won a playoff game this year -- has an unproven coach. 

That is not to say it won't work for Tennessee. If Vrabel is smart, he will hire coordinators with head coaching experience, guys he can lean on. A John Fox or Jack Del Rio on the defensive side. A Jim Caldwell type on the offensive side. These are coaches that had success as coordinators, which is why they got head coaching jobs in the first place. All also had some good moments as head coaches. 

Vrabel and Titans GM Jon Robinson -- who has done an excellent job -- worked together in New England and will be on the same page. A quality OC who can develop Marcus Mariota will be paramount. If Vrabel hires well, it should mitigate his inexperience while he learns on the job. 

His former boss, Bill O'Brien, thinks Vrabel will be a success.

“When you are around guys like Mike you know that it is inevitable that he is going to be a head coach,” O’Brien said in an interview Saturday night with Titans Online. “He is a great leader, and he did an excellent job for us developing players, coaching the defense. He is a very, very hard worker, and he has a really good presence about him. He cares about people, and he has a great family.

“Mike has a lot going for him. The Titans got a great coach.”

That remains to be seen. The AFC South is no longer a joke. The Jags are not going anywhere. The Texans should be back in the mix next year. If Andrew Luck can return to form -- a huge if at this stage -- the Colts could be good again as well.

As for the Texans, getting Crennel back as DC is an boon. While Vrabel might go on to be a good head coach, he was not just an average DC; he was bad. Crennel is one of the best in the business and represents a significant upgrade. The Texans got measurably better on defense this weekend. It is a win-win for the Texans; a division rival gets an unproven commodity, while the Texans get one of the best in the business running their defense again.

The Titans are taking a high-risk gamble after winning a playoff game. Vrabel's predecessor, Mike Mularkey, was not a great coach, and still had success. The bar has now been set, however, at winning at least one playoff game. If the gamble pays off and Vrabel's reputation translates into wins, the Titans will be happy. 

The Texans already are. They get to eliminate a mistake without admitting it. Call it a win.

Big day for Cougars

In case you missed it, the Houston Cougars had a big win on Saturday. UH is relevant at basketball again, and hopefully it will translate into bigger crowds. This team is fun to watch and worth your time.

Rockets get a big one, too

The Rockets knocked off Golden State for the second time this year, impressing Kevin Durant in the process. Obviously, nothing matters until the playoffs, but when healthy, the Rockets might be the one true threat to knock off the Warriors. Chris Paul has been everything they had hoped, and Paul and James Harden have meshed quickly. The postseason will be interesting to say the least.

Calling it quits

Former University of Houston head coach Tony Levine is stepping away from coaching. He had been working as an assistant at Purdue. Levine was not well regarded after his tenure at UH, but his teams played hard, the losses were always close and he amassed the talent that Tom Herman went 13-1 with. Levine's only real mistakes were not committing to quarterback Greg Ward Jr. sooner and struggling to get the right offensive assistants. Levine was a solid coach and hopefully he will find success in whatever he does next.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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