John Tomase

Why hiring Mike Vrabel would be a mistake for Robert Kraft, Patriots

It's time for a new era in New England.

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Mike Vrabel was one of the all-time great Patriots. He set the edge. He caught touchdowns. He busted Bill Belichick's balls. He was everything you could want in a leader.

He'll be a great coach again somewhere after getting fired by the Titans. Here's hoping it's not New England.

Vrabel isn't what the Patriots need in the wake of Belichick's ouster. He's a defensive-minded coach who won with a power running game and middling veteran quarterback in Tennessee. The Patriots are about to draft a potential franchise QB third overall and need a major organizational course correction.

Even more than the presumed favorite, Jerod Mayo, Vrabel represents stylistic continuity in a time that demands change. He's 10 years older than Mayo and thus 10 years closer to a brand of football that's falling out of vogue in today's pass-happy NFL.

Both players spent eight years in New England, but Vrabel arrived at the start of the dynasty, whereas Mayo debuted during the Matt Cassel-led 2008 season before sneaking in a Super Bowl, working in TV, and then coaching alongside Belichick while it all fell apart. He has seen the downsides to the Belichick approach in ways that Vrabel hasn't.

If the question is which coach would better resemble Belichick in style and demeanor, it's Vrabel, a sardonic hardass who famously performed Hoodie impressions at practice, but also possesses more of his DNA than the Patriots need as they transition to life after Bill.

Ideally, they'd entrust the development of Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels to a bright young offensive mind, maybe someone from the Shanahan coaching tree, which has produced Rams head coach Sean McVay, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, and Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, among many others. Personally, I'd hand that guy the keys, but he can still be hired as Mayo's offensive coordinator if the Krafts plan to stay loyal to their anointed successor.

Hiring Vrabel would be doing Mayo dirty, and it wouldn't even necessarily be an upgrade amidst a rebuild.

Vrabel is coming off a 6-11 season that saw the Titans turn to rookie quarterback Will Levis, whom they traded up in the second round to acquire. After a stellar four-touchdown debut vs. the Falcons, Levis threw just four touchdowns and four interceptions the rest of the way.

Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk made it clear she views Levis as building block who needed a different voice. She'll likely hire a young gun at head coach, someone like Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson or Dolphins OC Frank Smith. If the Titans didn't trust Vrabel to develop the young QB, then perhaps the Patriots shouldn't, either.

Vrabel hardly feels like the right choice from the standpoint of modernizing the organization, as well. He reportedly bristled at Tennessee's reliance on analytics in player evaluation, though he did use them to make in-game decisions. He also clashed with new GM Ran Carthon, a red flag when you're about to overhaul your own front office and want the coach and GM on the same page.

Offensively, Vrabel built his attack around Derrick Henry, a singular force at running back, but the approach faltered over the last two seasons in particular, with the Titans ranking 28th and then 27th in scoring, and losing 18 of their final 24 games.

The offensive struggles may partly owe to Vrabel taking a page out of Belichick's "I can win with any quarterback" book by compiling 23 victories between 2020 and 2021 with Dolphins castoff Ryan Tannehill, who parlayed that success into a $118 million extension, but went just 9-11 over the last two seasons before being benched. Any coach who might advocate for bypassing a QB atop the draft in favor of a veteran free agent is not one I'm interested in hiring.

That said, I understand the allure of continuity and familiarity if you're the Krafts, especially after Vrabel made sure to tell the world how special Foxboro is during his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame this fall. But a four-win season does not call for more of the same. It's time to start over in the front office, on the field, at quarterback, and most especially at head coach.

If the Pats want to make a clean transition, they'll give the job to Mayo, as promised. If they want to make a clean break, they'll go outside the organization entirely, although that feels unlikely.

Vrabel would be a half-measure, an attempt to grasp at the magic of the past when all that matters is solving the mystery of the future.

Albert Breer shares why he thinks Jerod Mayo is a 'special coaching prospect' and has the potential to reach the current generation of players in a way coaches who didn't play in the NFL may have at this point.
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