Titans' Choice in 2018 Coaching Carousel Has Worked Out Better Than Most

David Boclair

Mike Vrabel and Frank Reich went toe-to-toe as head coaches for the fourth time Sunday.

Barring some unforeseen circumstances, it won’t be the last. However, it already looks as if they could be among the last ones standing among NFL coaches hired in 2018.

The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts were two of the seven teams that changed coaches prior to last season. Twenty-eight games later, their respective decisions arguably were the best although neither move was obvious. The Titans fired Mike Mularkey in the wake of a playoff appearance (and one postseason victory) in order to hire Vrabel. Reich was the Colts’ second choice after New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels accepted the job but backed out a short time later.

Both have winning – and identical – overall records and, with four weeks remaining in the current campaign, have the chance to finish better than .500 in each of their first two seasons. Reich guided Indianapolis to the playoffs last season. Vrabel had Tennessee in the playoff hunt all the way until the final game of 2018 and now has his team surging toward a possible postseason berth this year.

Neither had experience as a head coach but they have looked prepared for challenges and myriad responsibilities that come with it. For example, each has kept his team competitive in the face of unexpected quarterback changes this season and has shown a willingness to and confidence to make difficult in-game decisions, even if they don’t always work out.

“Everybody’s just trying to improve,” Vrabel said. “My goal is to try to make sure that we improve as the season goes along. In my history in this league, those are the teams that end up being in the good spot at the end of year, is that you try to improve. Hopefully we’ve been able to do that, and we can continue to do that.”

Relative to others who got their jobs at about the same time, theirs have been smooth rides. The Arizona Cardinals fired Steve Wilks after he guided that team to a 3-13 record in his one and only season. Three others have found themselves on the hot seat this season.

Matt Nagy led Chicago to the playoffs a year ago and has the best record of any of the seven coaches hired in 2018, but the Bears (6-6) have fallen well short of preseason expectations and their quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, has struggled to the point that a growing chorus has been raised that questions whether Nagy is right for the job. Most expect the New York Giants to fire Pat Shurmur, who has lost three times as many games as he has won, at the end of the year. The ice under Detroit’s Matt Patricia is almost as thin.

Vrabel is the only one whose team has a winning record this season.

A look at the records in their current positions of the seven NFL head coaches hired in 2018:

Team
Coach
Overall Record
2019 Record

Chicago

Matt Nagy

18-10

6-6

Tennessee

Mike Vrabel

16-12

7-5

Indianapolis

Frank Reich

16-12

6-6

Oakland

Jon Gruden

10-18

6-6

Detroit

Matt Patricia

9-18-1

3-8-1

N.Y. Giants

Pat Shurmur

7-21

2-10

Arizona

Steve Wilks

3-13

NA

 The last member of that group, Oakland’s Jon Gruden, has job security based on the unprecedented contract (10 years, $100 million) he signed when he decided to return to the sideline for the first time in more than a decade. Gruden faced criticism early over some of his personnel decisions and just four wins in 2018. A promising start to this season, which had the Raiders in position to compete for a division title, has been undermined by consecutive defeats in which they have been outscored a combined 74-12.

Thus far, Vrabel only has gone head-to-head with Reich and Shurmur. He is 1-3 against Reich’s Colts following Sunday’s 31-17 victory at Indianapolis and notched a 17-0 victory over Shurmur and the Giants last season.

He will match up against Gruden on Sunday when the Titans play at Oakland.

The way things are going, he might not have many more opportunities to face others from the 2018 class of new coaches. Other than Reich, that is.

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