TITANS CONTROLLING OWNER AMY ADAMS STRUNK, GENERAL MANAGER JON ROBINSON AND HEAD COACH MIKE VRABEL PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT Monday, January 22, 2018**
CONTROLLING OWNER AMY ADAMS STRUNK
Hello everybody. Thank you all for being here today. We are excited to welcome Mike Vrabel, his wife Jen and their two sons Tyler and Carter to Saint Thomas Sports Park and to Nashville. Mike has come to us with the experience and vision we need to continue what he have started over the past two seasons. I am impressed with his goals, with his plans for his staff, and I believe he will do everything he can to bring this town a championship. We want nothing less for our fans. Jon (Robinson) and Mike have known one another for years, and I have asked Jon to introduce Mike to all of you today. Thank you again for being with us.
GENERAL MANAGER JON ROBINSON
Good afternoon. One week ago I stood here and spoke about moving forward, building on the foundation over the last two seasons. Today we take that next step. I've watched Mike Vrabel first-hand as a player. He's one of the toughest players, one of the smartest players on those New England teams. He was a demanding teammate. He was a selfless teammate and above all for him it was always about doing what is best for the team and winning. He quickly transitioned into the coaching ranks and rose through those ranks. Mike has a great presence, excellent leadership skills, excellent knowledge of the game and I am extremely proud to be partnered with him as we, everyone in this organization, works together as a team toward our ultimate goal of bringing a championship to this great city, this great state and our outstanding fanbase. Welcome to the Titan family, Jen (Vrabel), sons Tyler (Vrabel) and Carter (Vrabel), and the fifth head coach in Tennessee Titans history, Mike Vrabel.
HEAD COACH MIKE VRABEL
First, I would just like to thank Amy, Kenneth (Adams) and the rest of your family, Jon (Robinson), for the opportunity to sit in front of you last Thursday and share my vision with you guys about leading this team to the next level. I want to thank you. I want to thank Mr. (Robert) McNair and his wife Janice (McNair) and the Houston Texans for their support that they showed us and my family. They're great people, they're great owners, (I'm) lucky to have worked for them. After Amy (Adams Strunk) called me Saturday, I call Mr. McNair. He was proud of me and he was happy, and he said 'I'm going to root for you except for two times a year.' I told him I'd do the same thing. I'd like to thank Bill O'Brien for giving me the opportunity to come to the National Football League. I want to thank my wife Jen (Vrabel), my boys Tyler (Vrabel) and Carter (Vrabel). It's not easy supporting boys that love football and dads that coach and play football. They've been around the NFL locker room since they've been born. I'm not proud to say this, but I'm just going to tell you about my wife. She gave birth to Carter, I missed it, I was at practice, she was in Ohio. He came early, he flipped, they had to take her. I showed up four hours late because I was playing football and she was having a baby. I love her to death. She's been through a lot and she understands this league. She challenged me to get into the NFL after spending some time at Ohio State. I'd like to thank my parents. They raised an only child that had everything he wanted. My dad instilled toughness and teamwork and the value of teamwork and being self motivated, so I thank him. I think he's proud. With that, I'll take any questions. I'd love to talk about our team, talk about our vision, where we're going, and go from there.
(on what his vision for the team is)
Jon (Robinson) and I share a lot of alignment and loyalty in finding the right types of players. We talk about the right 53, not the best 53. So when you talk about a vision, we want a big, fast, strong, smart football team that's disciplined. When you talk about disciplined, not jumping off sides late in the game. When you're disciplined you're able to take advantage of other teams' mistakes. We won't make critical mistakes. We're going to do everything we can not to make critical mistakes. We're going to try and be as disciplined as a football team as we possibly can.
(on the importance of his relationship with general manager Jon Robinson)
When I sat down, the first question they asked me, I don't even remember what it was, but I know that I answered it that Jon (Robinson) and I's relationship is going to set the standard and the tone for the entire organization. That relationship will be built on, obviously, alignment and loyalty and trust and mutual respect. We're going to disagree on players, we're going to disagree on things, and at the end of the day somebody has to make a decision and move on. But I said that that will be the most critical relationship in the building. When we walk out of his office or we walk out of my office, we're going to walk down the hallway, people are going to look and they're going to notice what's going on with Mike and Jon. Are they together? We're going to lead my staff, his staff and the entire building with that in mind.
(on what his vision for quarterback Marcus Mariota is)
I was able to talk to Marcus (Mariota) last night. Again, trying to sit down for dinner last night with my family. Jen (Vrabel) drove over from Houston and Marcus called and returned my call. And I was like, 'Sorry guys, you're going to take another back seat to the quarterback, so I'm going to take this one.' The vision is that we're going to do things that are going to help him. We're going to get guys around him that are going to help him. We're going to get him to play with confidence, we're going to get him to play energetic and bring the passion of football out that he's so capable of showing. That's my idea for him. There's not going to be a greater relationship that I need to foster and develop than the one with our starting quarterback.**
(on if Marcus Mariota will meet with offensive coordinator candidates)
I've got a lot of respect for guys in this league, but we're not going to go down that path. That's not something we're going to do. That's not something that I believe in. (I) certainly would like to get their feedback and understanding. This is a trust process. There's coaches in this league and there's players. Amy (Adams Strunk) is going to trust me to hire the right guy for Marcus (Mariota), Jon (Robinson) is going to trust me to hire the right guy for Marcus or I wouldn't have been hired.
(on how he thinks the Titans have handled Marcus Mariota's skill set the past three years)
With all due respect, anything that happened in any games that they won or lost, we're moving forward. We're going forward. I know Mike Mularkey. Mike Mularkey was a tight end coach at Pittsburgh when I got drafted there. I've known Mike for a lot of years. A lot of great coaches, a lot of great players, but our focus is going to be moving forward.
(on his history with working with esteemed coaches)
I've been lucky, and I shared that in the interview process, whether it be by fate or luck or chance to be around some of the greatest coaches that have ever, that will have ever coached. Was able to be drafted by Pittsburgh and learn the toughness and what it meant, the importance of special teams, just that western Pennsylvania attitude from Bill Cowher. Taking a free-agent trip to New England changed my life. My free-agent bonus in New England was less than my rookie signing bonus. If that tells you anything, it wasn't very much. I learned so much from Bill (Belichick). But I'm not Bill (Belichick), and I'm not Bill Cowher. I got to coach under Urban Meyer and learn so much, the importance of teaching. We have a young league and we're going to have a young team, and to teach these guys the right way and develop them and making them better. I'm not Urban, but I'm going to take a lot from him. I've been able to be in Houston with Bill O'Brien, so I'm lucky to go through basically a doctorate degree of coaching with the people that I've been around.
(on how much say he will have on calling defensive plays)
All say, I'm the head coach. Yeah, I'm the head coach, I can call whatever play I want, right? That's the idea. We're going to have a coordinator, we're going to have and offensive coordinator, we're going to have a special team coordinator. If I say I want to block a punt, we're going to go block a punt. If I want to throw a shot, we're going to throw a shot. That's what goes with sitting in that seat, and you've got to answer to those questions. If you want to blitz and they score a touchdown, like we did in the Super Bowl and lost the game. We were in New England and we blitzed and they completed it and (we) lost the game. Somebody's got to stand up, it's what you do. Here's what you do, here's my job: is going to be to accept responsibility, give credit and be decisive. That's what I'm going to do, and that's what I told Amy (Adams Strunk) and Jon (Robinson) that that's what I'm going to do.
(on if he's ready for his first head-coaching experience)
Absolutely. And I don't think anybody's ever ready. I'm going to make mistakes, I'm not going to make too many of them and I'm not going to make the same mistake twice.
(on how far along he is with putting together his staff and what the timetable for it's completion is)
I don't want to put a timetable on it because I want the right guys. Jon (Robinson) and I are going through it, and there's a lot of guys out there that I want to coach and I want to have a part of the Titans moving forward. Nothing really to report on that end but that we're in the process of bringing the best guys in here. Just like we do with players, we're not going to rush into decisions. We're going to sleep on things. We're going to get the right guys in here for our team.
(on how much he studied Marcus Mariota before he accepted the job, and if he felt like he had to have a franchise quarterback before accepting the job)
No, because he may or may not play every single game. There's ways to win games in this league without a franchise quarterback. We've got one and we're going to develop him. So I don't think that that's a critical factor, I think what it is is that it has to be the right fit. You have to sit down with the owner. I told Amy (Adams Strunk) when I left that I wanted to give her a hug but I didn't think it was appropriate. She said, 'When you come back here, then you can give me a hug.' There was just a connection there. Then it's got to fit with the general manager. The town, the city, it's got to be right for your family. There's a lot of factors that go into taking a job.
(on thoughts on Marcus Mariota when he schemed against him as the Texans defensive coordinator)
We were scared to death. He pulled the ball on Jadeveon Clowney and ran 40 yards. Thank god he pulled his hamstring running 40 yards, that game wouldn't have been what it was that day in Houston. He's a special talent, he's a special kid, and I can't wait to work with him and help him through taking that next step in his career. You get a quarterback that pulls it on JD (Jadeveon Clowney), you better have some cojones because JD normally swallows those guys up.
(on how much he can be in contact with players)
Limited, like normal conversation. There's rules in place that we're not allowed to talk about football. There's certain things we can't talk about and there's certain things that we can. I've seen a few players in the building already. That's going to be important to me, that these guys are able to figure out who I am. It was pretty cool, Taylor Lewan said 'Hey, I've been following your son.' He looked at Tyler (Vrabel) and said, 'I've been watching those Hudl highlights.' That's pretty cool. They play the same position and I know that Tyler watches him and watches how he plays. I've always wanted my kids to be around good locker rooms, whether that be in New England when I was playing or here as a coach. I want them to see what good players look like but better husbands and better fathers and better teammates. It's important to me that we get great guys in here and we go from there.
(on what it takes to set the tone in the locker room and get everybody behind him)
I don't think that I have to go ahead and do anything special. When I stand in front of these guys on April 2 and they look at their head coach, I will have been every single one of those players in those seats. I've been the rookie that got drafted that was having a tough time, that maybe wasn't developing as fast as the coaches would've liked. I will have been a core special teams player. I will have been a starting linebacker that was expected to make some plays because he was a high-priced player. I will have been the aging veteran that needed to be a great leader, or I'll have been a team captain. I'll have a great opportunity to share my story and what I've been through with each one of those players. I'm not going to do anything special, I'm just going to tell them who I am and say, 'Where are you at in your career? This is what we need to do to make you better. Here's what I see. This is what you do well. This is what you don't do well. And we're going to work together to fix whatever you don't do well.'**
(on if he feels like he needs a 'grizzled veteran' on his staff)
I don't want to put stereotypes on the guys that I have. I'm not going to put the staff together saying that 'I have to have a guy that fits this.' They're going to be great teachers, they're going to have passion and energy for football, for making players better. I believe that players are more important than plays, and it's always going to be about that. It's never going to be about the scheme. Another thing I told Amy (Adams Strunk), my job is to make sure that the players know what to do and that they play fast and aggressive. If they go into games and we're not sure of things then it's my job as a head coach to take them out and say, 'they don't know it, they can't play fast and aggressive.' That situation, fourth down, yesterday and somebody's got to make a play, I'm pretty sure that Stephon Gilmore knew what to do and he played fast and aggressive and he was able to make the play to win the game and put his team in the Super Bowl.
(on if the Titans will be a 3-4 defense)
What we are is – and I have a philosophy defensively – that we're going to have coverage consistency, and we're going to have front multiplicity. We have great players, we're going to introduce our coverage concepts to them, that's going to remain consistent throughout what we do. Then we're going to have guys upfront that may be geared towards an under defense, over defense, three down, five down, we're going to have a lot of multiplicity in our front. So, it's coverage consistency, front multiplicity.
(on how important coaching experience is to him)
I think that the right experience is important. I don't think that just experience is good. I think the guys that have been coaching two or three years could be just as good as a coach that has been coaching 30 years. I'm not really sure – I want the right guys who have been through some battles that are loyal. So maybe those guys have been around 30 years, some of those guys are young coaches that you have faith in that you want to develop, and have a part of your staff.
(on what he envisions the base offense looking like)
I think that we're going to run the football. We're going to run it from the quarterback being under center, we're going to run it from the quarterback being in gun. We're going to give Marcus (Mariota) some easy access throws, whether that be RPOs or run reliefs. We're not going to run it into eight or nine guys, we're not going to be silly. I believe in screens, I believe in play action, things that he does well. We were scared to death, again, when we do the stats and we run the statistics, he's averaging 17 or 18 yards a completion in play action. Those things scare you as a defensive coordinator, those are big plays that change field position. Those are things that we believe in, but we're going to run the football and we're going to do it from different ways, different backfield alignments.
(on balancing utilizing Marcus Mariota's athleticism but also keeping him protected)
We never want to put him in harms way. We don't want to sit there and run him for the sake of running him, but we want to make sure that people know he's back there and can run. Got a lot of experience with watching Deshaun (Watson) and what Billy (Houston Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien) was able to do with Deshaun this past year.
(on how far he thinks the Titans are from reaching the team's ultimate goal)
I think to get to where you ultimately want to go, is you've got to win the division. You have to win your division. You have to host playoff games late in January. Both teams yesterday played those games at home, and I think that has a big factor in getting to where you want to go. The first thing we're going to do is we're going to do everything we can to win the division, and our division has gotten better. Since I was in Houston and you watch it, it's changed. We've got our work cut out for us there. But then, once we do that, that allows you to host some home playoff games and try to go from there.
(on what he thinks of the Titans coming off back-to-back winning seasons and a playoff run)
It's an amazing opportunity. It's an amazing opportunity that I'm able to stand here before you with a team that's been to the playoffs. But, that's not the goal. Every year is different, every year in this league is different. There's going to be new coaches, there's going to be new players, the schedule changes, the better you are, the harder it gets. You have to understand that, players have to come back on April 2 and be ready to work and not worry about, 'Well, we came back from Kansas City.' Ultimately, you have to go on and you have to move on, and you have to play the next week until they don't have any more games for you.
(on taking on a new locker room)
Yeah, I think it's a good locker room. I think everything I have heard about it and the guys that I've talked to today, and guys that I'll continue to talk to tomorrow. I'm going to reach out to every one of our players, I don't know any different. Having a relationship with your players doesn't mean being best friends with them, it means caring about them, telling them the truth, being honest. Jon (Robinson) has done a great job of having great guys in that locker room. You can't have just a bunch of great guys that can't play, we get that. There's a fine line of bringing guys in that want to represent the Titans, Amy (Adams Strunk) and her family, represent myself and represent Jon (Robinson).
(on facing both contenders for Super Bowl LII next season and the upcoming schedule)
All I know is that they're all tough. They're all tough in this league, without a doubt. Records mean nothing, there's things that I've learned in this league, records mean nothing. This is a progress league. This league is like the Kentucky Derby, everybody in September thought the Kansas City Chiefs were going to win the Super Bowl, they were 6-0. What happens is you have to continue to improve, whether you win or you lose, you have to make the corrections. You can't let things slide just because you won the game. If you can't tolerate it in losing, you can't tolerate when you win. So, you need to make the corrections, move on, get better, continue to develop players. Guys on your practice squad early in the season are going to be playing games for you in December, that's just how it goes, there's injuries every year. It's important for me to improve our team each and every week, regardless of who we're playing.
(on how his familiarity of the AFC South will help him as the head coach of the Titans)
It may help. I think I'm going to be able to explain to our players, 'This is this guy's skill set, this is what they do, this is how they like to use this player.' So that when a guy is matching up against somebody, he knows what this guy's style of play is because I've scouted him, I've watched him over the course of a couple years. Those teams are going to change too. They may have some carry over, they may have some things that they do differently, because every year every head coach is looking at it the same way – how do you win a championship? You can't just do what you did last year or you're going to get what you got last year.
(on being patient with the process of becoming the Titans' head coach and waiting until the spring to coach players)
The process of not being able to coach players? It's brutal, it's the worst part of my job. The only reason I'm in this profession after winning, which is obvious, is to develop players. There's nothing greater than watching somebody practice something, and try something, and be creative and do something different, and then that player finally gets it. I've seen it with my own kids. There's no other reason that I would coach other than to win, is to watch a player improve, develop and go out there and have success. We've done that and I will continue to do that.
(on how much the 'Patriot Way' is engrained in what he and Jon Robinson want to do with the Titans)
We will take things, that's how we learn. We shared a bunch of success there. Jon (Robinson) and I had a relationship, but he was a scout, he was in personnel. I was a player. So we knew each other, we were friends, we didn't do anything outside of the building together but there's certainly a relationship there. When you talk about how much of those things we'll take from New England, there will be things that I take from New England, from Pittsburgh, from Ohio State, from Houston. There will be things that I take from everywhere. You draw on these experiences just like everybody else would in life, whether you were at another paper and you liked what they did or didn't like. The nice thing is now, there's things that I didn't like that Billy (Bill O'Brien) did, I get to change them. There's things that I like that he did, I get to use them.
(on not being afraid to challenge anyone and how important that characteristic was in his development)
I just felt like as a player and as a coach, that there's a right way and a wrong way. A part of a leader is when you see something that's not right, you say something. You stand up for what you believe in and this is a big boy business. Sometimes there's confrontations, they're respectful, but if I figured that I was working and I was going hard, that everybody should as well.
*(on his approach to the upcoming Senior Bowl while also trying to put a staff together) *Well, up until Saturday I was coaching in it, so I won't have to coach down there. We'll evaluate some players and we'll begin to talk about guys that we like and guys who stand out. It'll be fun or interesting to watch guys that I just coached with for four years, coaching on the field. That will be interesting. We'll go down there for a few days and then we'll come back here and get back to work.
(on what role he will play in personnel)
The role that I'm going to have in personnel is continued conversations with Jon (Robinson). Jon and I, again, it's no secret Jon has the final say over 53. But, if we don't agree on 1-52, it's not going to matter. Maybe we're going to have a conversation on the 53rd guy, and then Jon gets to pick who he thinks is the 53rd guy. But, if we don't agree on 1-52, you probably hired the wrong guy.
(on how spread concepts have entered the NFL and how open he is to using that style of offense)
The NFL has the greatest farm system in the world. We pay our farm system coaches $10 million dollars to develop players. Nick Saban is our farm system, Urban Meyer is our farm system. Those are the types of players that they're developing, those are the types of players that are playing in high school, that's where the game is at. Tyler's (Vrabel) team didn't have a tight end in the school let alone one on the roster. We're going to find those types of players, but that's where the game is at. You have to try to be creative in what you're doing, you have to cause conflict, it's what these guys are doing. They're taking great athletes and they're putting them in good positions to succeed. We're going to do similar things, but again, we're never going to put our quarterback in harms way.
(on if he would consider Hugh Freeze as a possible candidate for offensive coordinator)
I think that what we're going to try to do is we're going to try to bring in the best guys, the right guys. Whether that's Hugh Freeze, or whether that's anybody else, we're not going to put a timeline on it. I'm going to try to get the best guy in here, and with respect, a lot of those coaches that have current situations, it's not fair for me to mention anybody by name.
(on catching 10 touchdown passes as a player)
I had a little bit more than that.
(on catching 12 touchdowns including two in the postseason as a linebacker and how important versatility is to him in players)
Unless you're the starting quarterback, you better be able to play more than one position. We only get to bring 46 guys to the game, so if you are only a right guard, it's going to be really hard for you to be one of those 46 guys. If you are only a tight end, it's going to be really hard for you to, you know, you're going to have to play special teams, you're going to have to be in the kicking game. The more you can do is going to help us win and it's going to help you, help us win.
(on if he sees any potential Titans on defense that could catch a touchdown pass)
Well, I think Jurrell (Casey) might have done it in the past, I think he might have done it. If he can help us, and he wants to go out there, and I feel like it's best for the team, that's who's going to be out there. Every decision that we make is going to be with the team's best interest in mind.
(on it being uncommon for former linebackers to become head coaches and if that gives him a different vantage point than his counterparts)
I don't think so. This is the most competitive business in the world, right? Because I've played linebacker or somebody didn't, whether you played – I never try to use the fact that I played as any type of advantage when reaching a player. I try to sit there and coach him, and show him the techniques that's going to help him, because I know that it's an honor and it's a privilege to be a part of this league. I know how much – when you have success in this league, good things happen. Other teams want to sign you, all of a sudden you get a big contract, your family is taken care of for the rest of their lives. All these good things that, when you win and teams win championships, it's good for everybody.
(on if he thinks his recent playing experience will help him gain respect from the locker room)
You'd have to ask them. But like I said, I'm going to be able to relate to any one of those players that may be having a decent day, or a bad day or a good day. I can kind of be able to say, 'Hey, I remember that situation. Just make sure you're careful of this that can change in a heartbeat. Or hey, hang in there. I didn't start a game for four years in Pittsburgh, just keep getting better, keep grinding. Every day prove your worth and prove your value to this team and good things will happen.'
(on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's longevity)
Tom (Brady) is a great friend, he's an amazing competitor. He's been nothing but good to me since I played with him, or after I played with him. What he's been able to do is nothing short of a miracle. He's highly competitive. I will gear our practices similar so that our players are practicing against each other and are competitive against each other. Some of the most memorable practices I had as a player, was going against the guy.
GENERAL MANAGER JON ROBINSON
(on if he were surprised at how quickly the coaching search was completed)
Yes. When he came in and we had a chance to sit down and talk about his vision for being the head coach of an NFL team, how he wanted to build the roster, the types of players that he thought could win in this league, it was clear to us that he was the guy for the job. He had a great presence about him in the interview, his football intelligence showed quickly and at the end of the day, we felt like this is the next head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
(on if the process of building a roster has already started)
Yeah, we've already started talking through some roster stuff. He obviously has some familiarity. He had a very good understanding of our roster, on the interview process he was able to talk through the strengths and weaknesses of players on the team. He just really had a good grasp of what this program was going to be about and our alignment, was apparent early on.
HEAD COACH MIKE VRABEL
(on what the 'Titans Way' means to him)
I think that that's a great question. I think to get a 'Way,' you have to win. You have to be able to win championships before people start giving you 'Ways' to do things. That will be our ultimate goal, but I talked about how our players are going to be prepared. They're going to play fast and aggressive, and that's what I believe in. Until we can win a championship doing that, then there's not going to be this 'Titans Way.' That will be talked about in the building, but people from outside the building, they won't believe in us, they won't have faith in us until you win.
Mike Vrabel is introduced as head coach of the Tennessee Titans (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)