As the Tennessee Titans parted ways and headed into the off-season, the team left with some questions still to be answered in the coming weeks and months.
One of the primary questions surrounded the Titans defense, where Mike Vrabel did not name a defensive coordinator following the retirement of Dean Pees after the 2019 playoffs.
Vrabel had a hand in coordinating the defense and also assigned a good part of the defensive responsibilities to outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen, though he did not have the title of defensive coordinator at any point.
On Monday in his wrap-up press conference, Vrabel said the whole defensive coordinator situation “took a life of its own.”
“This thing took a life of its own and I guess that was really important. Shane led the meetings. Shane led the walkthroughs. Shane called the defense. We get caught up too much in titles. I guess I apologize, because clearly didn't think it would take on a life of its own,” Vrabel said.
Vrabel indicated that adding a defensive coordinator – or even the option of naming Bowen to the role and hiring an outside linebackers coach – is all part of the Titans’ off-season evaluation.
“We’ll coach better. We’ll play better. But those are things that we have to do in all three phases. There were times that it looked like we put all three phases together, played really well, and then there were stints where we didn't do that,” he said. “We're going to evaluate the roster and the coaching staff, the plays that we run, and the scheme that we have and everything across the board. We ultimately didn't win a championship.”
Vrabel said he made the decision to handle things the way he did last off-season.
“I made decisions a while ago as we worked our way through the offseason. It’s a decision I made. I make a lot of decisions,” Vrabel said. “It's a great honor to be in a position to make decisions for the team and sometimes people agree with them and sometimes people don't, but we’ll keep doing them with the best interest in the team in mind.”
Safety Kevin Byard said that while Bowen was the de facto defensive coordinator, a big part of the defense’s failure fell on the players for not executing the scheme wel.
“Whatever is being called, I try to execute it to the best of my ability. I don’t think we played up to the expectations or the abilities that we’re capable of. The standard we have, not only our DB room, but our entire defense, we didn’t live up to that standard,” Byard said. “For me personally, as a leader, that’s going to be my No. 1 priority – to find a way to be a better leader and make sure that when we do come back that the standard is being set and that we live up to the expectations every single day.”
Byard said he felt Bowen did a good job growing into the role of defensive coordinator, even though he didn’t have the title.
“I remember when Shane first came here, when Vrabel came in, he was just the outside linebackers coach. To see the growth that he had this year, doing play calls, running meetings, I’m pretty sure – and I know that he learned a lot from Dean – and from the meetings we’ve had on the type of defense we’re going to run, he had a little input in that,” Byard said. “I think he did a great job. Obviously as a defense, we didn’t put up the numbers that we wanted, but I feel like he grew a lot this year just like all of us.”
The question now becomes whether Vrabel will promote Bowen with the title of defensive coordinator, or will he go outside the building to bring someone else to run the defense.
If he goes outside, possible options to consider could include trying to coax Dean Pees out of retirement one more time. Or Vrabel could look at his former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who finished the season as the Texans interim coach. Last year’s Titans secondary coach Kerry Coombs has performed well as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator.
Others with less ties to Vrabel include Nashville resident Rex Ryan and former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who recently resigned as defensive coordinator for the Eagles.