NASHVILLE, Tennessee – At 5 p.m. Thursday, Mike Vrabel handed the head coaching keys of the Tennessee Titans to assistant coach Terrell Williams. And just like that, the Ignition was turned on in an experiment that could finally change the scope of opportunity on the NFL’s coaching staff.
The move came just over three days after Vrabel announced he was stepping down from the Titans’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears on Saturday, opening the door for his defensive backs coach (who also holds the title of assistant coach) to take over the team. The full range of master franchise training operations. That means addressing the media on Thursday at the typical coaches press conference, before going into the team meeting afterwards and setting the game table.
profiles will be set. Playing time will be counted. Game officials will be interviewed. A pre-match speech will be prepared. And when the game does start, there is a strong chance that there is an important part of coaching development in this league maybe changes. This is a dangerous assumption in the NFL that can sometimes be stubborn for innovation and progression, but it is what this moment between Vrabel and Williams could represent on the larger scale of the league.
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For decades, the NFL has struggled to find measurable and consistent ways to develop an authentic master coaching toolkit for assistant coaches, especially minority assistants, who often spend their careers in position-specific roles and have almost no chance in a coaching job without experience. Coordinator. This can help change that in a very tangible way. Or at the very least, unleash a new stream of digestible performance data when it comes to identifying future head coaching candidates no Float in a coordinated location. That’s what Vrabel may have unlocked here, with a 14-word ad that says a lot about his coaching culture.
As he put it Thursday morning: “I intend to let Terrell go and serve as head coach.”
no a little Like the coach. no sometimes Like the coach. No, this is the complete Monty experience for Williams, from Thursday afternoon through to the finale on Saturday. This means that when someone asks Williams about his coaching experience levels, he will now have a 48-hour window of enormous importance. Not only for potential future suitors, but also for Vrabel’s knowledge base and Williams’ self-exploration.
As one of the team’s executives said about the move Thursday, “There is some hope that this is something that will inspire other teams to consider a similar approach.”
Again, you never want to assume that something is going to make ripple in the NFL. But there is hope in other organizations that this may happen. As a senior AFC executive told Yahoo Sports on Thursday, “It says a lot about Mike as a coach — and it didn’t go unnoticed here.”
In the past, this type of opportunity was so limited in scope or vague that it was difficult to understand what tasks the head coach was actually performing in a given opportunity. They may have called some plays for a few quarters or weighted the playing time of certain groups on the depth chart. Perhaps they had a chance to talk to the team before the game or wear a training headset for a quarter. But outside of the extenuating circumstances that removed a coach from their team on game day — like the pandemic absence of Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski against the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 — we haven’t seen a head coach deliberately hand over an entire operation for the sake of growth.
In short, this isn’t going to be like most of the part-time opportunities we’ve seen in the past from head coaches.
“What (Vrabel) does here is more than just game day,” Williams said Thursday. “I’m taking the job (at) 5 o’clock today. It’ll be my first meeting with the football team, and then that will continue into tomorrow. I’ve already met with the officials. There have been some examples of coaches giving play-callers (opportunities like)
“Well, you can call this half or you can call this game” or “Hey, you’re the head coach when we get on the field.” But this is completely different. I don’t know of any teams that do what we’re doing here now, take the reins, meet with the media, do all these different things.”
“That’s why I say Mike Vrabel deserves a lot of credit. … Hat you don’t see is what he can do for us coaches and our families. A lot of guys got promoted. A lot of guys got jobs out of here. I’d do anything for Mike Vrabel – Before (becoming) an assistant coach and before he was appointed to the position, because there is really only one reason I know this guy cares about my family. And trust me, for a guy like me, that means a hell of a lot.”
Spanning his career, the 49-year-old Williams has been a defensive coach at multiple positions and levels in football, starting at Fort Scott Community College (Kan.) in 1998 and then moving up the coaching ladder. Five more college programs, including stops at HBCU, Division I-AA, and eventually, jobs at Purdue and Texas A&M. In 2012, he broke into the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, before moving to the Miami Dolphins and then joining Vrabel in 2018. Over the past 26 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a resume that most reflective of the kind of tenacity that got Williams to the Titans head coaching assistant position or opportunity he’s embracing this weekend.
In many ways, this is exactly the kind of coach that makes this moment special across the league. Not only because there are so many other positional assistants who have gone through such a grind, but also because Williams is known and respected by many of his peers. This reality was reflected in the reaction of the NFL community the outside Titans when Vrabel made the move earlier this week.
“I probably got 200 text messages from different people when it was first announced,” Williams said. “But I’m so locked in trying to get (Geoffrey) Simmons not to jump offside – that’s really what’s been my job up to this point. Now I’m focusing more on the football team. I’m going to talk to more players and I’ve said this before, I think we’ve got guys on this team And I hope we get the same opportunity in the future. I mean, Shane (Bowen) and Timmy (Tim Kelly) and Ryan Crowe and (Scott) Booker and all the guys involved – Rob Moore. I hope they all get the same chance.”
“You have all these different programs (for coach development),” said Williams. “I got the minority coaching deal (in) 1999 (with) the Jacksonville Jaguars, (Seattle) Seahawks, and the Dallas Cowboys. And so I was a product of that. But I’m not sitting here today because of that. I’m sitting there because of how hard I worked and how important I am to the team.”
From the outside looking in, this value will be recognized outside of the Titans on Saturday. How far he travels for other NFL assistants—both in practice and purpose—remains to be seen. But some eyes are definitely on Vrabel and the Titans this week, and the positive attention is well deserved.