When Gary Tanguay and his "Tanguay Takes America" team set off for Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII last winter, they made sure to stop in Tennessee to meet up with old buddy Mike Vrabel. Did he ever make their trip worthwhile.
The Titans head coach will be the center of attention at different points this week as he and his team host the Patriots for joint practices. Vrabel is fresh off his first season as the man in charge, achieving a winning record (9-7) that included a resounding victory over the Patriots in Nashville.
Vrabel and Belichick will be running the show this week leading up to their preseason game Saturday. But had it not been for Belichick — and a thaw in the relationship between Belichick and Vrabel about two years after Belichick traded Vrabel from New England to Kansas City — Vrabel might not have been in this position.
When Vrabel decided to get into coaching, first as an assistant at Ohio State and then with the Texans, he said Belichick was a "great asset."
"Bill was obviously a big influence on my playing career just to help me improve," Vrabel told Tanguay. "I remember the [trade] call like it was yesterday. It was toward the end of February, [Belichick] called and said, 'Hey, traded you to Scott [Pioli] in Kansas City.'
"I said, 'It sounds like I should probably call Scott.' I hung up the phone and we didn't talk for probably two years. Retired. Called him and talked about coaching. The relationship kind of picked back up from then, and he's been a great asset to me, my family, and just to help me work through situations. Talk ball. Work through things being a head coach."
Vrabel and Belichick are vastly different personalities. Vrabel probably isn't going to be accused, as other members of the Belichick coaching tree have been, of trying to be like his old head coach any time soon.
But Vrabel has picked up on one aspect of Belichick's coaching style that he believes is vital.
"I think he's really intelligent," Vrabel said. "I think he cares. I think he has a good way of relating to guys. I think he coaches guys differently based on their personality, which is critical. I remember one time, I think Pepper Johnson and I were arguing about something and I went over and sat on the offensive side of the bench while they were out on the field.
"Bill had coached Pepper and he'd been with me for about six years. He's like, 'You're sitting down here like a wide receiver pouting. Get over there and lets get going.' I kind of chuckled like, 'Yeah, that's probably a pretty good analogy.'"
Belichick and Vrabel have coached against each other before during joint training camp sessions. Two summers ago, at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, Vrabel was the defensive coordinator of the Texans going against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. Those were physical practices, but the Vrabel-led defense didn't quite get under Brady's skin the way Vrabel apparently did during his playing career.
Those talented units of the early 2000s featured not only edge defenders like Vrabel and Willie McGinest. But Ty Law was out there. Rodney Harrison was out there. Tedy Bruschi. Richard Seymour. They were loaded, and they gave Brady fits to the point that his tantrums would require some equipment maintenance between plays.
Vrabel probably wouldn't mind if he could somehow elicit a similar reaction from the Patriots quarterback this week.
"[There was] a good equipment manager that they had when Tom would slam his helmet and the wires and stuff would fall out of it and spray across the field," Vrabel told Tanguay. "They were quickly able to fix the coach-to-quarterback apparatus."
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