When the Los Angeles Rams added Mike Vrabel to their list of head coaching prospects, eyebrows rose. A linebackers coach who’s never been a coordinator, never mind a head coach, in line to run a franchise?
It is unusual. But not because Vrabel’s ill-equipped to do so. He just was in a different stream than most coaches who saw their playing days end in their early 20s and -- loving football -- got into teaching it.
Vrabel apprenticed differently. He rolled up 34 sacks in his final three college seasons at Ohio State and was a two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big 10. He was a third-round pick by the Steelers, and played alongside and behind some of the best linebackers of the 90s in a zone-blitzing defense. He signed with the Patriots in 2001 and was the equivalent of an on-field defensive coordinator in an amorphous defense that was ruthless, intricate and designed with logic in mind. Dealt to Kansas City in 2009, Vrabel was the Chiefs old head until retiring after two seasons and heading back to Ohio State to coach linebackers and the defensive line in consecutive years.
If the knowledge Vrabel gathered in 14 seasons as an NFL player, a very active NFLPA rep and a truly brilliant guy who gets the business of the NFL as well as the Xs and Os isn’t suited to coach because he wasn’t a quality control guy for two seasons 12 years ago, I mean…
As Belichick said in a statement in 2011 when Vrabel went to the Buckeyes, "During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over.
"Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached. He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners."
This year, Vrabel’s Houston linebackers have arguably been the strongest part of the Texans outstanding defense with Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, John Simon and rising star Benardrick McKinney in particular having solid seasons.
Asked on a conference call why Vrabel would be a good candidate in Los Angeles, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said, “I think people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities nd the type of guy that he is. He’s a guy that really cares about people, he really cares about football. Great dad, great husband. He’s got all the capabilities to be a future head coach.”
Vrabel is on the road less traveled because he had the ability as a player to take it.