Mike Vrabel already has distinguished himself among Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers head coaches.
After just three seasons on the job, he is one of six with at least 30 combined victories in the regular season and playoffs, and he is one of three since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have gotten the franchise to an AFC Championship game.
Not too bad considering that 18 men had the job before he did.
When it comes to current NFL head coaches, though, Vrabel still has some work to do in order to stand out from the pack.
At least that is the assessment of SI.com/MMQB reporter Conor Orr, who released his NFL Head Coach Power Rankings on Friday. Orr divided the coaches into separate lists of veterans and those who are new to their positions and ranked them based – in part – on the strength of their staffs and the direction in which their teams are headed.
Vrabel is 13th among the among the 25 veteran head coaches. Among those ranked ahead of him is his one-time assistant Matt LaFleur, who checked in at No. 10.
Vrabel has consistently gotten the most out of a roster that, while talented, certainly has its limits. The Titans routinely outperform their Pythagorean win-loss expectations and have caught the league on its heels with their downhill running game and complementary suite of bootleg passing plays. Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown are legitimate, top-of-the-class offensive stars and their offensive line is consistently one of the strongest in the NFL. Where Vrabel shines is in the locker room. It’s clear that, as a recently retired former player, he can acclimate better than coaches who haven’t spent enough time on the other side of the fence. For now, his window of relevance has shown that good coaching can transform a dated operation quickly. In order to climb further up the list, Vrabel’s defense, which has floundered of late, needs to recover.
What Orr did not like so much about Vrabel and the Titans is the staff, which includes two new coordinators, Todd Downing (offense) and Shane Bowen (defense), and one former NFL head coach, Jim Haslett (linebackers). That group earned a “6” on a scale of 10, according to Orr, tied with Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota staff for the lowest among the top 15.
Also, after winning the AFC South for the first time since 2008 but losing in the opening round of the playoffs and then enduring an offseason salary cap purge, Orr sees Tennessee as “neutral,” which means not ascending but not descending either. Seven of the coaches ranked ahead of Vrabel have teams trending “upward” while three, like the Titans, are “neutral” with the other two, New England and Seattle, on a “downward” slide.
Former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith was third among the first-year head coaches, and his staff also was rated a “6.”