Titan security Kenny Vaccaro listened as coach Mike Vrabel praised his performance in Tennessee’s wildcard win with a smile.
“I know what Vrabel is like,” said Vaccaro. “He’s tough. He wants you to be physical, gritty and grumpy, and he only likes guys who’ll hit. I hit people like I always hit people. I appreciate the compliment because he’s not really distributed too many. “
No, the second-year head coach doesn’t waste much time praising.
That’s not why the titans fired Mike Mularkey two years ago after losing in the playoff division round. They preferred to hire a coach who could get them to fight championships. They chose Vrabel for the first time as head coach, and the former 14-year-old linebacker with three Super Bowl rings gave the Titans a win from the franchise provider’s second Super Bowl berth and the first since the 1999 season.
Vrabel’s message since mid-April has urged the Titans to find a way to go from good to great after three consecutive 9-7 seasons. Tennessee took another 7-7 lead in the regular season, but Vrabel isn’t ready to rate his team yet, not before Sunday’s Kansas City AFC championship game (13-4). It is the first time since the 2002 season that Titans are playing for the conference title.
“Well, I think we definitely improved,” said Vrabel. “I think we have made progress. Something we focused on some time ago is trying to keep improving every week. I don’t know how close we are. I know we will what we have been doing for a long time and we know that we need to prepare to play and act confidently. “
This focus on improvement has made him popular with the titans. He has a practical approach, whether he’s playing soccer Derrick Henry wears during a running back drill or using a blocking pad to work with linebackers and defenders on the technique. Four-time Pro Bowl defender Jurrell Casey loves how much Vrabel and all of his coaches are involved in training and are detail-oriented.
But it is Vrabel’s mentality that Casey values most.
“He doesn’t care about victories, he doesn’t care about everything that happened,” said Casey. “He’s excited for this moment. But he’s on the next one. His mindset is always on the next one.” We can admire the moments a little, but let’s get back. “I don’t care about the excuses you have. You’re sore, whatever. They’re going back to this building and going back.
Vrabel suffered numerous injuries in his first season, including quarterback Marcus Mariota missing the regular-time final that the Titans had lost with a place in the playoffs.
His biggest challenge was in mid-October this season. The Titans had only touched down in a 10-quarter game that was covered by a 4-0 loss to Denver 4-2 against Tennessee. At that point, Vrabel Mariota was replacing veteran Ryan Tannehill, who was acquired through a Miami trade, to improve the backup position.
The Titans (11-7) have been 9-3 since then, including winning their last three on the road. They took AFC # 6 in the regular season finale against AFC South champion Houston, defeating defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in New England, and then defeating the best-manned Ravens in Baltimore. Vrabel is the first Titan coach to win his first two postseason games since Jeff Fisher after the 1999 season.
“You’re playing really good football right now,” said Kansas City coach Andy Reid. “They are strong. They are well trained. Mike does a good job with them.”
Vrabel, who greets every player outside the locker room door after the game, says he has clarified that everyone should be held accountable. This also includes working as a trainer to improve.
His approach has helped build a locker room where teammates blame each other for their preparation and play.
“I’m not going to say the guy is perfect, but he understands football almost better than anyone else in this building, outside of this building,” said Casey. “The guy, he’s an intelligent guy. It’s not really too much that you can question this man.”
Security Kevin Byard attributes a cultural change to Vrabel, which he calls “simply incredible”.
“Not only have we opened up communication with the players, we actually come onto the field,” said Byard. “Not necessarily to practice with them, but actually to get into the exercises. I think he really did something special to the players because he can really trust him and trust him to try to get us to do it week after week. “
With the Titans’ victory over the franchise’s second Super Bowl slot, Vrabel continues to do better than last week.
“That will be the message,” said Vrabel.