Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel fired special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman on Monday. After years of fielding middling to below average special teams units, the final straw arrived when the Indianapolis Colts blocked back-to-back punts in Sunday’s defeat. Elite punter Ryan Stonehouse suffered a gruesome season-ending injury on the second punt. Aukerman’s failure to protect Stonehouse’s health likely contributed to his firing as much as schematic ineptness did.
#Titans HC Mike Vrabel makes changes on his coaching staff at special teams.— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 5, 2023
“I want to thank Craig (Aukerman) for what he has done for us. … Felt like this was the best thing for the team and for the players moving forward.”
ICYMI https://t.co/G640Sv8C2U pic.twitter.com/reuzFO7naD
Vrabel promoted assistant special teams coach Tom Quinn in Aukerman’s place. Quinn is a 32-year coaching veteran that will retain the title on an interim basis. Quinn previously spent 16 seasons (2006-21) with the New York Giants, holding the title of special teams coordinator from 2007 to 2017. Somewhat peculiarly, he was demoted to assistant special teams coach in 2018, and remained with the team in that role until 2021.
Quinn possesses a capable resume. He’ll likely receive an opportunity to earn the gig on a full-time basis. We’ve identified three potential alternative candidates in case Vrabel decides to appoint a new special teams coordinator next season.
LARRY IZZO, SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Did you know that retired NFL linebacker (and special teams ace) Larry Izzo is now the special teams coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks? Izzo played for the New England Patriots from 2001-08, winning three Super Bowls in the process. Both Izzo and Vrabel spent their entire Patriots careers alongside one another, enjoying a historic amount of success.
Once he got into coaching, Izzo eventually joined the Houston Texans as their special teams coordinator for two seasons (2016-17). Vrabel was already on the Texans staff once Izzo arrived, first as linebackers coach in 2016, and as the defensive coordinator in 2017. Izzo’s contract status with the Seahawks is unclear, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Vrabel seeks permission to interview Izzo in the offseason.
BOB LIGASHESKY, SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR, SYRACUSE
Prior to Izzo’s appointment in Houston, the Texans’ special teams coordinator was Bob Ligashesky. Ligashesky began coaching in 1985, and spent two years (2014-15) on the Texans staff alongside Vrabel, arriving in Houston one year (2013) before Vrabel did. That’s not the only connection between Ligashesky and Vrabel, however.
Ligashesky was the tight ends coach and special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000. That was Vrabel’s final season with the Steelers before he joined the Patriots. Ligashesky hasn’t worked in the NFL since departing the Texans in 2015, but has since worked at Illinois, Bowling Green, and Syracuse, the latter of which still employs him as their special teams coordinator.
DOUG COLMAN, ASSISTANT SPECIAL TEAMS, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Doug Colman served as the Texans’ assistant special teams coach the entire time Vrabel was in Houston (2014-17). Colman, like Vrabel, played linebacker in the league. Colman lasted six seasons (1996-2001) before getting into coaching. He actually played for the Titans in 1999, helping the team advance to Super Bowl XXXIV!
Colman played for the Cleveland Browns in 2000, sharing a division (AFC Central) with Vrabel, who was with the Steelers. Vrabel and Colman knew each other before working together for four seasons in Houston. Colman currently serves as the assistant special teams coach for the Browns, who the Titans played earlier this season.