Following the relatively surprising news that inside linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie would be leaving the coaching staff earlier today, ESPN Titans reporter Turron Davenport dropped an interesting nugget about the team’s search — or potential lack thereof — for a defensive coordinator.
The general feeling within the Titans facility is that Mike Vrabel isn't likely to name a DC. Expect Coach Vrabel to have a larger role with the defense. https://t.co/spEHFvXElp— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) January 30, 2020
If you’re keeping score at home, we now have two potential rumors regarding potential defensive coordinators: current outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen and... nobody. The Titans haven’t been credibly linked to any outside candidates since Dean Pees announced his retirement nine days ago. That doesn’t mean they aren’t talking to other coaches, but if they are, it’s not getting out to the media (not necessarily a surprise given the organization’s tight lipped tendencies).
Choosing to go without a defensive coordinator would be an interesting choice, but not necessarily unprecedented. The Patriots went without a defensive coordinator last season and produced great success on that side of the ball. Obviously, Vrabel isn’t Bill Belichick, but the general arrangement can be successful. It should be noted that Belichick didn’t call plays for the Pats defense in 2019 either. His son, Steve Belichick, coached the defensive backs and called the defense on gamedays.
There is some precedence for defensive playcalling head coaches as well. Mike Zimmer and Sean McDermott have both had some success calling plays for their defenses while serving as the head coaches for the Vikings and Bills in recent years.
Vrabel’s situation is a little different though. McDermott had 8 years of defensive coordinating experience before getting a head job and Zimmer had 14 at the NFL level plus another 11 in college before heading to Minnesota. Vrabel has just one year as a defensive playcaller under his belt and that season didn’t go to great for the Houston defense. Now, there are absolutely reasons for the Texans struggles that year beyond “Vrabel is a bad defensive playcaller”, but it’s certainly not a situation where the head coach has a ton of experience doing this at a high level.
Then again, neither does Shane Bowen.
However, in-game playcalling is only one aspect of a defensive coordinator’s job. The work that DCs put in during the offseason designing and installing the defensive system, as well as the week to week gameplanning, are just as important — maybe even more important — aspects of the position.
Personally, I’d prefer something similar to the Patriots model with Vrabel taking on the brunt of the defensive design, install, and gameplanning before passing off the actual playcalling to Bowen or another trusted assistant. Vrabel would certainly still have input on playcalling (as I’m sure he did when Pees was calling the shots too), but having a designated playcaller could better free him up to handle some of the other in-game responsibilities of a head coach.
Ultimately, Vrabel has earned some benefit of the doubt with his work in the last two years so I’m going approach whatever this staff looks like with an open mind, but if I’m being honest, this probably wouldn’t be my first choice.