MIAMI – When the Titans made a coaching change after the 2017 season, the move was made to take the franchise to another level.
Two seasons later, things appear to be on track.
The Titans made it to the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 17 seasons in 2019, finishing one win short of playing in Super Bowl LIV here later this week.
In the process, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel became the first Titans head coach to win his first two postseason games since Jeff Fisher in 1999. At the Super Bowl this week, he's been in the conversation for the NFL's coach of the year.
"Vrabel, he did as good a job of coaching as anybody in this league," said Jimmy Johnson, a two-time Super Bowl winning coach with the Cowboys who later coached with the Dolphins. "The decision he made at quarterback, putting (Ryan) Tannehill in, that's not easy to do as a head coach. But I watch (the Titans) play, and they don't make a lot of mistakes, they play great defense, they run the ball. It's old-school football. But they are a physical football team.
"I love the way Vrabel has coached. Obviously, he learned a lot from (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick. Already I would put him as one of the better coaches in our league."
Vrabel, who replaced Mike Mularkey, led the Titans to a 9-7 mark in his first season as head coach in 2018.
After starting 2-4 in 2019, the Titans finished the regular season by winning seven of their final 10 games to make the playoffs after another 9-7 finish. In the playoffs, the Titans knocked off the Patriots and Ravens before losing to the Chiefs in the AFC title game. The Chiefs will face the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
In a poll of experts on NFL.com that was posted on Wednesday, Vrabel finished third in the voting for coach of the year, behind Ravens coach John Harbaugh and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who like Johnson is an analyst for FOX, praised Vrabel here at the Super Bowl. He pointed to his past as a player with the Patriots, as well as his work as a defensive coordinator with the Texans before being hired in Tennessee.
"I am asked from time to time when these head coaching jobs come open, as to who I'd recommend (for head coaching jobs) and that year the only guy I was recommending was Mike Vrabel," Aikman said. "I never played with Mike, I was never on a team where he was on the staff, but I would watch him. We'd do Houston Texans games and I'd go over and watch him coach linebackers. I just loved his approach, I loved his intensity, I felt that he was smart, I thought he had the great pedigree having been raised essentially with the New England Patriots. His versatility as a player, he was very smart.
"So I knew he knew a lot about different facets of the game and I am proud of what he has done. I have been a big fan of his. I am not surprised by anything that's happened (with the Titans) and they'll be back. They were in the AFC Championship Game and they have a bullet going into next year. I like them."
Tennessee's turnaround in 2019 started with the team replaced starting quarterback Marcus Mariota with Tannehill.
The team responded well, and turned the season around.
Vrabel's currently in the process of searching for a new defensive coordinator to replace Dean Pees, who retired at season's end. But his track record in hiring assistants has been good. Last offseason, Vrabel promoted Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator after Matt LaFleur left to take the head coaching job with the Packers.
The Titans offense netted 5,805 yards in 2019, which ranked fourth in franchise history and amounted to the team's highest total since 1991 (5,987).
"I love Mike Vrabel's style," former NFL head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "It's what I have always believed in, the importance of the running game, it starts there. And defensively, as many great players as they have, what impressed me is they played great team defense. It's not a defensive that's dependent on one player making a play, or two players. It is a collective effort and he has that. And they show up every week. Even the game that they lost (at Kansas City), they we ready to play, they came out of the game ready to play, and that to me always separates coaches.
"I think Mike Vrabel is a really good coach. He's a good communicator, and his team is always very prepared. And what they did this year, I am sure they will build off it going into next season."