Mike Vrabel gets to face one of his mentors this week when the Tennessee Titans host Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
While Vrabel never coached under Belichick, he did play for him for eight years as a Patriots linebacker, and obviously learned some things while playing for the legendary Patriots coach.
“I can’t deny the fact I played there for eight years and we had a lot of success. Bill (Belichick) was my coach. He traded me to Kansas City, we didn’t talk for a couple months, maybe a year,” Vrabel said. “Then we became friends, and I used him as a resource when I started my coaching career, and still talk to him a lot now. This week were competitors. We’re always competitors as far as I’m still coaching and so is he. I guess it’s unique from that standpoint.
“As far as how much of his philosophy is in me, I think that spending time there, I think there’s some similarities that I believe in and that you grow up as a player believing in. But, then I think that we have a different personality,” Belichick said. “I respect his friendship, I respect his guidance and leadership when I played there. But, now were competitors. We have to do everything we can to try to beat the Patriots.”
Belichick was equally complimentary of Vrabel as a player and said that that has translated over to his first head coaching stint.
“Mike was a tremendous player. He had great work ethic, and very, very smart. He's like that as a coach on the field. He can handle a lot of responsibility. He is very instinctive of the game, it came easy to him. He's a really hard working - great condition, he can go all day. He took a lot of reps in practice and in the game. He never really needed to come out of the game or practice. He had great stamina. Mike (Vrabel) is very passionate for football. He has natural leadership.”
The Vrabel connection to the Patriots is one of many between the Titans and New England, as Tennessee has become known as “Patriots South” with the addition of so many people on the field and in coaching and the front office with ties to Belichick and the Pats. There is general manager Jon Robinson, who cut his teeth as a scout in New England, who heads up the Titans front office. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees spent several years with the Patriots as an assistant coach, and there are four players on the Titans' current 53-man roster who previously played for Belichick Those include cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, guard Josh Kline and running back Dion Lewis.
For his part, Belichick downplayed the player connections.
“We have to get ready for everybody. We know (Josh) Kline, and Dion (Lewis), and Malcolm (Butler), and Logan (Ryan),” he said. “They have a lot of guys on their defense besides them. They all know us, that's the way it is every week in this league. There are always players that we had or they had. It's the National Football League.”