Vrabel's ascension to potential head coach unusual, but not undeserved

Vrabel's ascension to potential head coach unusual, but not undeserved

When the Los Angeles Rams added Mike Vrabel to their list of head coaching prospects, eyebrows rose. A linebackers coach who’s never been a coordinator, never mind a head coach, in line to run a franchise?

It is unusual. But not because Vrabel’s ill-equipped to do so. He just was in a different stream than most coaches who saw their playing days end in their early 20s and -- loving football -- got into teaching it.

Vrabel apprenticed differently. He rolled up 34 sacks in his final three college seasons at Ohio State and was a two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big 10. He was a third-round pick by the Steelers, and played alongside and behind some of the best linebackers of the 90s in a zone-blitzing defense. He signed with the Patriots in 2001 and was the equivalent of an on-field defensive coordinator in an amorphous defense that was ruthless, intricate and designed with logic in mind. Dealt to Kansas City in 2009, Vrabel was the Chiefs old head until retiring after two seasons and heading back to Ohio State to coach linebackers and the defensive line in consecutive years.

If the knowledge Vrabel gathered in 14 seasons as an NFL player, a very active NFLPA rep and a truly brilliant guy who gets the business of the NFL as well as the Xs and Os isn’t suited to coach because he wasn’t a quality control guy for two seasons 12 years ago, I mean…

As Belichick said in a statement in 2011 when Vrabel went to the Buckeyes, "During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over.

"Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached. He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners."

This year, Vrabel’s Houston linebackers have arguably been the strongest part of the Texans outstanding defense with Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, John Simon and rising star Benardrick McKinney in particular having solid seasons.

Asked on a conference call why Vrabel would be a good candidate in Los Angeles, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said, “I think people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities nd the type of guy that he is. He’s a guy that really cares about people, he really cares about football. Great dad, great husband. He’s got all the capabilities to be a future head coach.”

Vrabel is on the road less traveled because he had the ability as a player to take it.

Curran: Patriots are likely to finish unbeaten this season

Curran: Patriots are likely to finish unbeaten this season

FOXBORO -- Resistance is futile. 

You see this team out there scampering around from drill to drill on a cloudy, late-July day, not a lollygagger to be seen, everything moving with military precision, and you know what it looks like? 

It looks like 80-something players and a coaching staff starting NFL training camp. 

What is it really? It's the first day of work for the NFL's greatest dynasty as it embarks on what will likely be a historic campaign. 

Never mind "may." Never mind "has a chance." It is LIKELY the Patriots will be the first team to ever win 19 games in a single NFL season. 

They don't want to hear that and are already dousing the thought of perfection by labeling it stupid, ridiculous, or disrespectful.

Between now and the start of the season, a parade of indignant former players, coaches and executives will snort and chortle at how absurd the conversation is. 

Frankly, they don't know what the hell they're talking about. 

That won't stop all of them from scoffing at the prospect of 19-0 the same way Curtis Strange scoffed at Tiger Woods back in 1996 when Woods said coming in "second sucks and third is worse." You'll learn, Strange said. 

Strange learned. Everybody learned. Maybe the experts should have seen it coming with Tiger. Maybe not. 

But with the 2017 Patriots, a failing to see what's likely to happen means willfully ignoring facts to do it. The Patriots went 17-2 last year. They lost to Buffalo because their third-string quarterback's thumb was dangling. They lost to Seattle on a night they handed the ball to the Seahawks repeatedly and still were at the Seattle 1-yard line with 30 seconds left with a chance to send the game to overtime but came away with nothing. 
 
They played poorly in the AFC Divisional Playoff against Houston and won by 18. They played "meh" against the Steelers in the AFC Championship and led 33-9 after three quarters. (Don't "But Le'Veon Bell" me. Would Le'Veon Bell have been covering Chris Hogan? No? Okay. Pay attention). 

In the Super Bowl, they spotted Atlanta -- a team being favorably compared to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams -- 25 points, and they wiped out that 25-point deficit in 23 minutes of play. 

Since they walked off the field in Houston, they added a Pro Bowl corner named Stephon Gilmore to play opposite their other Pro Bowl corner, Malcolm Butler. They added a wide receiver named Brandin Cooks, who caught 162 passes the past two seasons for 2,311 yards and 17 touchdowns. And they will also unveil once again the best tight end of his generation, Rob Gronkowski. 

They have a head coach who is definitely the best of the free agency era, probably the best of the Super Bowl era and arguably the best of all time. Their quarterback has even fewer qualifiers around his greatness and legacy. 

The crème de la crème of the rest of the league is sludge. Smug Aaron Rodgers is tethered to the moon-faced buffoon in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy, a head coach who could overcomplicate ordering coffee. In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is fat and fresh off an offseason spent contemplating retirement and Ring Dings. The Cowboys' maturity issues start with their 70-something owner and cascade right down to their enabled superstars Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant. Denver? Trevor Simien. Atlanta? Their motto this year is "Embrace the Suck." What does that even mean? That they enjoyed the Red Wedding that was the second half of the Super Bowl so much, they just want to roll around in humiliation for another year? Dear God. 

My point with all that is that there is no Peyton Manning out there to be the Frazier to Brady's Ali. And while there may be a coach out there with gray matter who could battle Belichick, that coach hasn't spent 18 seasons collecting assistants and coordinators and creating a program where they can tell a player to shit in the corner and the player asks, "What color?"

Don't fight it. Don't scoff at it. Don't be like those people who, in 2001 and 2002 were still saying Tom Brady was a product of the system and that the Patriots would rue the day they traded Drew Bledsoe within the division. Open your eyes. Think critically. What do you see.