By: Will Burchfield
Lions fans might not be all that familiar with Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel who will interview with the team on Wednesday for its head coaching vacancy.
Allow Texans beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle to introduce him.
“I’m in my 39th year of covering the NFL, and Mike, as an assistant coach, has got head coach written all over him more than anyone I’ve ever covered,” McClain told 97.1 The Ticket.
“Not only did he have great credentials as an outside linebacker with the Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs, but everybody he played for, including Bill Belichick, knew that he wanted to be a coach. He didn’t make any bones about it.
“He has talked to Belichick a lot about coaching, why he did things organizationally, as well as the team on the field and off the field,” said McClain.
Vrabel, a one-time All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl champ, enjoyed a 14-year career before getting into coaching. He joined his alma mater, Ohio State, in 2011 as a linebackers/defensive line coach and made the jump to the NFL in 2014 as the Texans linebackers coach.
Houston promoted him to defensive coordinator this season, in large part because other NFL teams were trying to poach him. The Texans defense was ravaged by injuries and allowed the most points in the league, but that did nothing to change McClain’s conviction about Vrabel’s potential as a head coach.
He has that uncanny knack for getting the most out of his players.
“Mike is a very forceful person,” McClain said. “He’s a great interview, he exudes confidence. The players who played under him at linebacker swore by him. Every coach, including (Texans head coach) Bill O’Brien, will tell you: At some point, whether it’s with the Lions or another team, Mike Vrabel’s going to be a head coach.”
If Detroit is Vrabel’s next stop, the Lions will get a gruff, spirited, defensive-minded head coach — a stark departure from Jim Caldwell, who the team fired on Monday.
“He is tough on the players, very demanding. But he’s also very fair. He doesn’t wear his Super Bowl rings, but the players know — not from him but from the media — how successful he was, what a leader he was and how he’s always wanted to be a coach,” McClain said.
He added, “Mike was always a very commanding presence. I know he would get respect from his players.”
That’s not to say Caldwell lacked respect in the Lions’ locker room. Far from it. But his ability to motivate his players seemed to wane as his tenure wore on. The Lions came out flat in far too many games this season, and it cost them down the stretch.
By all accounts, Vrabel has no trouble inspiring his troops. Players respond to his strong personality and on-field success.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn is familiar with Vrabel as the two spent eight years together in the Patriots organization. Such a connection could give Vrabel an edge in the interview process.
McClain said it’s only a matter of time before Vrabel lands a head coaching gig. In many ways, it’s always been his calling. He joined the Texans’ staff in 2014 because he wanted to study under Romeo Crennel, his defensive coordinator for four seasons with the Patriots.
Crennel, at the time, was the Texans defensive coordinator.
“He wanted to learn more from Romeo. Not just about playing and coaching as he did with the Patriots, but about coaching a defense, about doing everything it takes to run a successful defense,” McClain said. “Crennel swears by him, too.
“I don’t know anybody who’s worked with Vrabel who doesn’t really respect Mike and believe he’s headed for great things in the NFL.”
The Lions interviewed two in-house head coaching candidates on Tuesday in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. They’re expected to sit down with Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Packers linebacker coach Winston Moss on Thursday and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia over the weekend.