Tennessee Titans' Mike Vrabel isn't explaining Shane Bowen's promotion to you | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

In his first media Zoom call since promoting assistant coaches into each of his coordinator roles, coach Mike Vrabel painstakingly extolled the virtues of Shane Bowen and Todd Downing as the correct choices for the Tennessee Titans.

Nah.

Just kidding.

Quite the opposite, actually. Vrabel didn’t want to talk about the coordinator hires at all. He bristled at multiple questions. He refused to explain why he made either decision, even though he was asked directly about his confidence in Bowen.

He shrugged it off like a father bothered by his child.

Why? Because I said so. That’s why.

“I make decisions that I think are going to help the football team,” Vrabel said Monday, “and that’s where we’re at with the entire staff.”

Vrabel’s mind-your-own-business defensiveness took the kind of tone that’ll create more questions while answering none. Not that Vrabel cares, really. We saw this act last season, too, when the Titans’ defense stunk after he didn’t name anyone to replace Dean Pees. De facto duties might have fallen to Bowen. But last season’s failures were on Vrabel because he’d opted to make himself the defensive coordinator.

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Now that Bowen has the title, what will change in his duties? Vrabel twice was asked that Monday.

“I’m not sure what we’re looking for,” he replied, “but Shane is the defensive coordinator.”

Tennessee Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen works with outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) during practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020  Nashville, Tenn.

Anything new on Bowen’s plate? “Hopefully, helping us win more football games.”

Vrabel wasn’t asked about Downing’s promotion to replace Arthur Smith (since the offense was terrific last season), but that move was questionable, too. Downing was a coordinator previously for the Raiders. He did it for only one season, since it didn’t go well and Jack Del Rio’s coaching staff was fired.

So did Vrabel consider coordinator candidates from outside the Titans’ organization?

Yes, Vrabel replied that he “did interview quite a few people.” But in answering my question, Vrabel first asked me about the NFL’s rules in hiring. In other words, he let it be known that he was required to talk to other candidates, thus implying his intentions without actually saying it.

After three seasons with Vrabel, his reluctance in bringing outsiders into key roles on his staff has become clear. Doing so would allow a fresh set of eyes to help improve the approach and schemes. Vrabel doesn’t appear to believe that’s needed or worthwhile. He likes things the way they are.

If Bowen and Downing prove successful in these roles in 2021, I’ll be the first to praise Vrabel for his foresight – as was the case with Smith's promotion. But I don’t think it’s a reach to say these coordinator hires were both gambles and the two biggest questions facing the Titans this upcoming season.

Titans tight end Delanie Walker (82) pulls in a catch over tight ends coach Todd Downing during practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.

It also has become clear that Vrabel's stubborn streak doesn’t allow him to easily deal with — or own up to — failures. 

To his credit, that so far hasn't come up much. Vrabel has proven to be a good NFL head coach. He is 29-19. He has reached the playoffs twice (and sniffed them in his first season) while also leading the Titans to the AFC title game.

Can’t argue with the results — as head coach.

As defensive coordinator for the Titans, though, Vrabel wasn’t very good. You can argue with those results, and they look even more concerning after former Titans player Wesley Woodyard recently described Vrabel in an interview with 104.5-FM as a coach known to widely swing his authority in the building.

“Mike is gonna have to sit back, let his coaches coach and let that defense build (on) their own,” Woodyard told 104.5-FM.

Is Vrabel willing to do that? In promoting assistant coaches who already know how he wants to operate into these coordinator spots, rather than hiring from outside, it seems more like Vrabel is keeping his finger on a lot of buttons.

Such a setup hasn’t been a bad thing for, let’s say, the New England Patriots. It might not be a bad thing for the Titans, either. Vrabel deserves some leeway given his overall success in his tenure.

Whether that train keeps rolling in 2021 or not, it’ll end up going back to one man, and it's not Derrick Henry.

In Vrabel, the Titans have to trust.

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.