Detroit Lions head coaching candidates: Mike Vrabel

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03: Assistant coach, Mike Vrabel of the Houston Texans during a preseason game on September 3, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03: Assistant coach, Mike Vrabel of the Houston Texans during a preseason game on September 3, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Mike Vrabel is most famous for his legendary NFL playing career. Much of that career occurred in New England while Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn was learning the ropes of the personnel game in the same building.

Mike Vrabel won super bowls with the New England Patriots in 2002, 2004, and 2005, Vrabel was a position diverse linebacker, one of the rarest commodities. He was able to rush the passer or drop in coverage from the outside. He was also able to stuff the run and make defensive adjustments from the inside linebacker position.

Vrabel was also able to contribute as a tight end on the goal line. His 11 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles, and 57 sacks are solid career totals given his varied roles. It was his 10 receiving touchdowns that are the most interesting statistic recorded during Vrabel’s playing career. That positional diversity speaks to a keen mind that understands concepts on both sides of the ball. Not bad for a Pittsburgh Steelers third-round draft bust.

His coaching career began at his alma mater Ohio State. He was initially the linebacker coach and was retained by new head coach Urban Meyer as the defensive line coach in 2012. Two years later he joined the Houston Texans as the linebacker coach. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel had been the Patriots defensive coordinator during each of Vrabel’s super bowl runs.

It speaks well of Vrabel that a coach he played under was willing to bring him into the league. What also speaks well of Vrabel is that within two years Crennel handed over the playcalling duties and defensive coordinator position, to focus on his duties as the Texans assistant head coach.

But there are some downsides to this potential Lions head coach. He is extremely inexperienced in coaching. He has been around football his entire life but only been in coaching for six seasons. To put that in perspective, Sean McVay was 30-years old when he was hired as the Rams head coach in 2016, but he had eight years of coaching experience at the time. Vrabel’s playing experience does clearly offset this shortcoming, particularly with his varied duties, but the mindset of a coach and player are very different. Vrabel has a lot of experience listening to instructions, not as much giving them.

The second flaw in Vrabel’s resume is that the Texans defense severely regressed in 2017 from the level it was at in 2016. The team’s record also plummeted. They finished as the league’s 24th defense in overall yardage allowed, 24th in passing yards allowed and 13th against the run. The Texans allowed more points than any other team in the NFL. Vrabel found his front seven decimated by injuries, with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and Brian Cushing all missing significant time. Being number 32 in any statistic, however, is difficult to ignore no matter the reasonable explanation.

By all accounts, Vrabel has taken to the role of a coach extremely well though. There is a reason that Bob Quinn is overlooking Vrabel’s shortcomings. I believe that reason is as a favor to a person with whom he has a prior relationship. I think that Mike Vrabel is a long shot to get the Lions head coaching job, due to his inexperience.

Next: Bob Quinn discusses firing of Jim Caldwell

With that said, by interviewing Vrabel Quinn helps to prepare the coach for future interviews. Quinn also gets an outside look at how his players and coaches are viewed around the league from someone he likely knows and respects. Every once in a while, one of these under-experienced and unexpected coaches walks into the room and steals a job. Mike Tomlin only had one year of experience as a coordinator when the Pittsburgh Steelers hired him. That seems to have worked out very well.