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