Vrabel Comes Home

By Ramzy Nasrallah on July 10, 2011 at 7:05a
Mike Vrabel is officially a Buckeye againWelcome home, Mike.

Following weeks of speculation, it's finally official (H/T: @ntderosu). After 14 years earning an NFL paycheck, Ohio State's greatest pass rusher is coming back to Columbus.

A press conference will be held tomorrow to make the announcement that former Buckeye defensive end and NFL All Pro linebacker Mike Vrabel has agreed to join Luke Fickell's coaching staff. 

For three seasons beginning in 1994, Fickell and Vrabel lined up next to each other for 38 consecutive games, culminating with the 1996 Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship team whose defense only allowed 11 points per game.

Vrabel ended his Ohio State playing career with an astonishing 66 tackles for a loss and 36 sacks despite playing on teams loaded with NFL talent. 

He also set the school record for most sacks in a single season with 13, a mark that stood for 12 years until Vernon Gholston recorded 14.5. Editor's note: Gholston recorded 7.5 of those sacks in two games against a significantly weaker schedule than the one Vrabel's Buckeyes faced in 1995.

Despite taking the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards in both 1995 and 1996, Vrabel wasn't drafted until the 91st pick in the 1997 draft.  He leaves the league within weeks of Orlando pace, the draft's top overall pick, fellow teammate and fellow selection to the NFL's all decade team (2000-2009).

Vrabel's NFL career was anything but forgettable: He played in four Super Bowls, sat across from Jim Rome without beating the smug out of him, delivered a David Letterman Top Ten list and is the only player in NFL history to catch two TD passes and record a sack in a single game.

Vrabel picks off Boston College in the 1995 opener

In all, Vrabel finishes his NFL career with 57 sacks, 11 interceptions and 10 receptions as an eligible receiver, all of which resulted in touchdowns.  Cris Carter has nothing on him.

While Vrabel's Buckeye days were spent on the edge of the defensive line, he found his NFL success not only as a linebacker but as a result of his flexibility at the position.  Vrabel played in both three and four-backer sets in every single spot, inside and outside.

If a teammate was injured (Junior Seau) sucked (Monty Beisel) or was too old to still be playing (Chad Brown) Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had no problem seamlessly sliding Vrabel into that man's position.  A pre-med guy at Ohio State almost exactly two years younger than his new boss, Vrabel has the cerebral superiority to match his physical prowess.

The elephant in the room regarding Vrabel's hiring to coach linebackers is...can he coach linebackers?

The concerns are two-fold; one being his long-rumored off-the-field demeanor, which has been purported to range from jockular machismo to unhinged douchebaggery and the other being his qualifications to coach Ohio State's linebackers.

The Tressel era saw numerous crony hirings, ranging from great (Mark Dantonio) to exhausting (Jim Bollman) to highly questionable (Nick Siciliano) to outright nepotism (Dick Tressel). 

Fickell and Vrabel are best friends.  They were in each other's weddings.  Vrabel was at Fickell's sweaty introductory press conference.  The crony element here is inescapable: No other retiring NFL linebacker could walk out of a lockout situation into the WHAC as Vrabel is doing now.

However, Vrabel's NFL cache and - we'll call it this, going forward - dynamic personality should be a hit with recruits.  In addition, his job responsibilities will not include architecting the Silver Bullet schemes, constructing game plans or diagnosing offenses. 

He's coaching linebackers under Jim Heacock's tutelage.  He's shouting, motivating, encouraging, instructing.  He's transferring tactics, knowledge, ideas and energy to players trying to learn what he just spent 14 years being paid to do. 

Vrabel is exponentially more qualified to coach linebackers than Siciliano is to coach quarterbacks, and he'll have his best friend - an excellent defensive coordinator himself - and a Broyles winner in Heacock to guide him. 

The cultures at Ohio State in 1996 and 2002 were very similar; the defense led the way.  Players would rather get caught screwing up or slacking off by a coach than by someone like Vrabel, or Matt Wilhelm, because getting nailed by the latter would be worse.  Now Vrabel will be in a true authority position, but the mentality should not change.

Vrabel will be a welcome addition to the Ohio State staff and he and Fickell together should have a positive impact on the culture of the team.  The real wild card will be how Vrabel personally adjusts to life without crushing dudes: This August will be the first time since 1988 that he won't be wearing a helmet and pads.


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Scott K's picture

Let me be the first to welcome you back Mike!

"There's a fine line between stupid, and....clever.  David St. Hubbins/Nigel Tufnel

bucknut82's picture

I like this move. Bringing the die hard buckeye back to Ohio State to reiterate to these players what it means to be a buckeye. Imagine the recruiting tool that this many can bring to Ohio State with those 3 SB rings and a strong Ohio State career.  


Hoody Wayes's picture

Chortling and toasting your wit:

"The concerns are two-fold; one being his long-rumored off-the-field demeanor, which has been purported to range from jockular machismo to unhinged douchebaggery and the other being his qualifications to coach Ohio State's linebackers."

buckfan77's picture

I love the move. They may be best friends, but Coach Fickell has accurately diagnosed what what OSU needs to start moving forward, a big splash hire that no one in the AD's office could question. Great job and GO BUCKS!

Atl-Buck's picture

Being a Buckeye AND a Steelers fan, I was ecstatic when he was drafted by Pittsburgh. However, my elation turned sour 4 years later when he was not re-signed and off he went to play for Bill Belicheats Patriots. Now I am once again as happy as a lark that he is back where he belongs. Go get 'em coach Vrabel!

RB's picture

Awesome hire.  He will bring passion, extreme football IQ, a fresh outlook on game planning, and an edgy attitude to the team.  I see him lighting a fire under the entire D, especially linebackers.  I like the "dynamic" personality apsect, he's not here to be a nice guy.   He's here to ensure OSU LB's scare the hell out of every QB/RB/WR they face.  I think he will do just that. 

Doug T's picture

Machismo, as an attitude is welcomed. The beginning of the new "golden era" of buckeye football.

Denny's picture

I bet he also wears Affliction shirts :(


SouthBayBuckeye's picture

I see him as more or a tapout guy myself.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

Matt's picture

Fickell is 37 years old and has a one season try out for the one head coaching job he has desired his entire life.  I like the Vrabel hire because I think it is aggressive and I think it is risky, and Fickell needs to be aggressive to keep his job.  If Vrabel doesn't pan out as a coach and recruiter, and he can't land some recruits in between now and the close of the season, Urban Meyer or another known commodity will come in to take over the program.  Every assistant (with the exception of perhaps Drayton) will be handed their pink slips.  

Given the transitory nature of this season, I doubt OSU was willing to supply high-end assistant coach salaries that would be required to land a big fish coach.  Fickell wisely traded in on his personal relationship with Vrabel to get a big name NFL player who, as an assistant on the recruiting trail, can flash his super bowl rings and drop NFL names in 17 year old kids' living rooms.  I don't care so much about the lack of coaching experience; anyone who is not a coordinator or higher doesn't have a huge impact on the actual game play.  Instead, I'm interested to see if the hire pays recruiting dividends.

yrro's picture

I would say that any head coach who comes in and completely cleans house on the defensive side is smoking crack.

biggy84's picture

Love the hire! Glad to see a Buckeye come home!

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

OT but soccer refs are worse than Hightower ever dreams of

AngelHeartsBuckeyes's picture

Welcome home Mike! 

And as a Bills fan, lets just say I am glad to finally be rooting for you not to just have a good game, but to actually win!

Buckeye born and bred. Buckeye til I'm dead.

Maestro's picture

Pure awesome. 

vacuuming sucks

iball's picture

Mike Vrabel didn't find greatness, greatness found Mike Vrabel. 66 tfl and 36 sacks? Being able to beat the snot out of people and knowing it doesn't' make you a douche bag.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Bucksfan's picture

I'm going to go grab my Hootie CD, party like it's 1995.

NC_Buckeye's picture

I think Vrabel is a great hire and one I've been hoping for since Fickell became HC. The fact that we're starting to lose major recruits to Grady makes me more emphatic about bringing people on board who understand the rivalry. If Grady is going to start the whole negative recruiting thing then we need coaches who will view this as a war with scUM and will bring that intensity into recruit's living rooms.

I think our QB coach and OC are major problems and I've been wracking my brain trying to think of any past players with offensive coaching credentials. I've heard LeCharles Bentley's name thrown around here a few times. Also Joe Germaine has become a fairly successful high school HC in Arizona. Someone with Big Ten credentials that I think we could lure away from Kansas is Chuck Long. (He probably wouldn't mind sticking it to the guy who replaced him at San Diego State.)

Anyone have any ideas for people that could fill in the holes in offensive coaching?

Bucks's picture

Well, for me on Offense/QBs there is only one name that I absolutely want & that is Walt Harris. At this point, there isn't a chance. Neither Bollman or Siciliano are getting canned, and regardless of the interim tag being "removed," Fickell can't get rid of them. Timing would be perfect b/c Walt just left Cal U due to them deciding they wanted to take a round robin/consensus approach to play calling on offense, something Walt wouldn't do.

I know some people would point to his not-so-stellar head coaching record, but not a single person can refute his ability with QB's or going after it on Offense. Wish there was a chance, but there just isn't, something contrary to what I was told previously.

So for now, it is what it is on O.

Maestro's picture

I understand that the promotion of Fickell created a void on the defensive side of the staff, but is he going to be calling the plays????  I don't see that happening.  I am willing to see what happens with the addition of Drayton, but in a comparison to Hazell I think that is another loss for the offense. 

So basically the offense lost it's 2 play callers.  Let's be honest Hazell was the bug in JT's ear for the past couple of seasons, not Bollman.

I think the offense is really going to stuggle this season to find an identity.  I think it could be Fickell's undoing, but hopefully those that have the long term future in mind with see that Bollman isn't the answer..........or maybe he shocks the world and the offense is solid.

vacuuming sucks

Bucks's picture

I absolutely agree with you on one major point: We'll put to rest once and for all the offensive woes. Fickell has made it clear already that he is going to be more D oriented. I'm going to read everything thus far as more free reign for Bollman.

JT & his micro management/overriding of the offense isn't a secret. Just don't know how comprehensive it really was. Hazell did contribute for sure. I think both camps are right. Early on for both Troy & Terrelle, it was Mommy May I in regards to anything. As time passed, those reigns loosened a bit. We'll find out pretty quick who was holding the O back.

My belief is Bollman had more responsibility then most believe. His markings have been everywhere over all this time, in a bad light. Years of substandard offense? Hazell gets more recognition/involvement & overall it improves. Years of fairly mediocre to poor line play? Bollman is relieved of the interior line coaching duties and only works with the tackles (which overall, the line was better this year given all the circumstances).



buckeyedude's picture

I mostly agree NC Buck, but too much intensity in a kid's living room can come across as desperate, and we don't need that. There is a reason laid back Tressel was so successful recruiting, and it usually was because Tressel would ask questions about "how are you're parents doing?" and so forth.  ;) RichRod, on the other hand, was desperate to get players like Pryor as an example, and I think the kids can sense that, and it scares them off. I think Fickell and the other coaches would be smart to use at least some of the methods that Tressel used. Just my opinion.



German Buckeye's picture

Why not hire Chris Speilman?  Heck, lets bring on Eddie George while we are at it.  Alumni coaching staff for all! 

tampa buckeye's picture

I was thinking the same damn thing before I read your post.  While we are at it Cris Carter.  We could lock up any recruit in the nation with 3 future HOF guys on the staff.