In the NFL league year 2021, many coaches have made a push for Coach of the Year, but none have more than Mike Vrabel.
There have been injuries across the board to key players; the Seattle Seahawks lost QB Russell Wilson to a finger injury, the Carolina Panthers had to sideline Christian McCaffrey (again) due to an ankle injury, and the New Orleans Saints have cycled through four quarterbacks this season after losing starter, Jameis Winston. One of the most notable injuries this season came out of Tennessee. The Titans learned that Derrick Henry had suffered an injury known as the Jones fracture, potentially ending his season. Heading into Week 17, the Tennessee Titans have a total of 88 active players played so far in the season. Coach of the Year should be given to Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans.
Coach Vrabel was hired in 2018 to replace Mike Mularkey as the Tennessee Titans head coach. Since then, he has implemented a “good to great” mentality. Taking the team from a 9-7 record his first two years, he secured 11-5 and a divisional title in his third season. So far this season, he is 10-5 with two games remaining in the regular season. In 2021, his Coach of the Year bid should have gained a lot of traction throughout the league.
Injury Upon Injury
League record for active players in a season was previously 84 players. So far this season, the Titans have played a total of 88 active players and counting. 2021 has seen a record-high of injuries across the league, more coming out of Tennessee than any other team. The Titans have lost players on both sides of the ball, from Kristian Fulton to Julio Jones to any number of their kickers.
In addition to injuries, the Reserve/Covid-19 list has been rising at an exponentially high rate this season.
Let’s Go Streaking
Starting the season at 2-2, the Titans were underdogs against many opponents. Taking statement losses to the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets, and equalizing wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, this team could not be figured out. Their loss to NYJ was a turning point in their season. Their next six games all included wins, five of them played against last season’s playoff teams (two of which came after losing star running back, Derrick Henry). Coach Vrabel took a very physical approach in all of these wins, with his defense as the shining light in most games.
Against the Buffalo Bills, the Titans’ defense won the game on a goal-line stand in the final minute of the game. They stopped Josh Allen on all four downs from getting his final touchdown and ultimately taking an L. The following week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Titans’ defense kept Patrick Mahomes from completing even one touchdown. When it comes to the Colts, the Titans have struggled in the past. This year however they swept their biggest divisional rival.
After another crucial win against the Colts, however, news broke that Derrick Henry was added to the Titans’ Injured Reserve.
“Their season, as far as I’m concerned, is finished.” -Stephen A. Smith
After playing the entire game against the Colts in Week 8, Derrick Henry found that his sore foot was more serious than he thought. The next morning revealed that he had a Jones fracture and would require potentially season-ending surgery. Recovery time for a Jones fracture is anywhere from six to eight weeks. While most of the NFL counted the Titans out and it’s plain to see why. Being one of only eight players in history to rush for 2000 yards in a single season, Henry is a key player to their offense, and losing him was ruinous to the Titans’ strategy. Despite this, Vrabel has managed to fight for four victories in the time that Henry has been recovering.
The loss of Henry held more of an impact than simply losing a player. Opposing defenses no longer knew how to game plan against the Titans’ offense. Stacking the box to stop the run was no longer a focal point. The way Henry protects the ball probably would have made the difference in some of the close losses the Titans suffered since losing him.
Even after losing Henry, Coach Vrabel did not let the team believe their season was over. Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman became the first RB duo for the Titans to rush for over 100-yards each in one game since 2008 when Chris Johnson and LenDale White did it.
Coach Vrabel is not afraid to get down a dirty with his players. He is a more “hands-on” coach when it comes to training camp and practice. He regularly participates in drills and physically bangs bodies with his players. Vrabel said himself, “That’s part of being a coach is just going out there and maybe instructing.” He does not tolerate when players play dirty or hurt the team as a whole.
Coach Vrabel has the same expectations for everyone on his staff. From coaches to players. Period. He has always had a “do your job” mentality.
Not an easy feat in the NFL, but under Coach Vrabel, the Titans shut out the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14.
Overall, with the amount of adversity the Titans have faced in the 2021 season, Coach Vrabel’s record to this point (10-5) should guarantee him a nod at Coach of the Year. Other teams and other coaches have had to deal with Covid-19 and injuries, as well, but none have overcome their obstacles quite the same as Coach Vrabel has. With one more win in his remaining two weeks, Vrabel would secure a second straight AFC South Divisional title and a spot in the playoffs. Derrick Henry is set to return in Week 18…