Becoming an NFL head coach is typically a job that requires many years of experience coaching at lower levels or as an NFL assistant coach.
Former Ohio State defensive lineman and assistant coach Mike Vrabel, however, is the head coach of the Tennessee Titans just seven years after his career as an NFL player came to an end.
"He has elevated faster than any coach I can ever remember in this profession," said longtime Ohio State assistant coach and current director of football relations Tim Hinton while introducing Vrabel at the Ohio State Coaches Clinic on Friday.
Vrabel, who played 14 seasons in the NFL, won three Super Bowls in the process and is now an NFL head coach at just 42 years old, said many people have told him that he is lucky to have had all of those opportunities. But while Vrabel doesn’t dispute that fact, he also believes he has done his part to create his luck – and that others who want to have similar success as a player, coach or in anything they do can the same – by working hard every day along the way.
"The harder you work, the luckier you get," Vrabel said. "I’m trying to do the best job in the job I have."
In his presentation to the coaches in attendance on Friday, Vrabel said he rarely talks to his players about what he did in his own playing career. Despite all the success he has already had in his career as a player and a coach both at Ohio State and in the NFL, Vrabel says he focuses on what he can do going forward rather than what he has already done.
"I just don’t take things for granted," Vrabel said after his presentation. "Every day you got to prove your value to the team, make sure that you’re prepared and just don’t take things for granted."
Coaching by this mantra, Mike Vrabel says he rarely talks to his players about what he did in his own NFL career. pic.twitter.com/lAhkpTugyd
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) April 13, 2018
That said, Vrabel is grateful for the coaches he has had the opportunity to learn from along the way, including John Cooper in his playing career at Ohio State and Bill Cowher, Bill Belichick and Bill O’Brien in the NFL, but also from Urban Meyer, who he worked for during his final two seasons as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes.
As he has previously, Vrabel recalled the story of his first interview with Meyer, which he described as "brutal" and "awful," during his speech on Friday. But Vrabel remains grateful to Meyer to this day that Meyer gave him a second chance to prove himself.
"I called him before every interview I’ve ever gone into. I said, 'No interview will ever be worse than that one,' and I realized that you better be prepared and you better not take things for granted," Vrabel said. "So I appreciate that, and that’s one of the reasons that’s helped me get to where I am today."
Looking back on his time working with Meyer, he says the biggest thing he learned is that the key to success as a coach is being able to teach players and finding creative ways to do so.
"It’s critical to teach the player," Vrabel said of what he learned from Meyer. "I think that everybody learns differently, and it’s our job as a coach to be able to find ways to teach them, and be creative in how we’re developing players."
Mike Vrabel says coaches should find creative ways to connect football to other things players are interested in (he used Fortnite as an example) to engage them. If your answer is thats the way Ive always done it, thats probably the wrong answer.
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) April 13, 2018
As a first-time head coach, though, Vrabel said he isn’t trying to simply be like Meyer, Belichick or any of the other coaches he learned from, but take what he has learned from those coaches and coach his own way. And he encouraged the coaches in attendance on Friday – mostly high school coaches from Ohio and surrounding states – to do the same.
"You can’t just be somebody else," Vrabel said. "Make it your own style, believe in what you believe in and stick to it, and I guarantee you guys will have a lot of success."
In a nearly 40-minute presentation in which he described his coaching philosophies and some of the things that helped him get to where he is today, Vrabel also gave his take on culture, explaining why “culture is what your team looks like at its worst,” which you can see in the video below.
Among many other topics discussed and philosophies shared, Vrabel talked about how it is crucial for football players at all levels to have “grit,” using sandpaper as an analogy for how players – especially in the NFL – must always maintain that grit to avoid being replaced by better, cheaper players.
Vrabel was the final featured speaker of this year’s Ohio State Coaches Clinic, where Meyer, Boston College coach Steve Addazio, legendary Ohio State left tackle Orlando Pace and Ohio State assistant coaches Greg Schiano, Alex Grinch, Greg Studrawa and Zach Smith also spoke on Friday. Ohio State assistant coaches Ryan Day and Larry Johnson, Mount Union coach Vince Kehres and Findlay coach Rob Keys were among those who spoke on the opening night of the clinic on Thursday.