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VOL. 44 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 9, 2020

Vrabel quietly handling Titans’ crises

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The Tennessee Titans’ practice facility remained closed for more than a week after the team suffered the largest outbreak of COVID-19 to hit the NFL this season.

-- Photo By Mark Humphrey | Ap

It certainly feels like the Tennessee Titans have been cut adrift by the NFL as they try to figure out just how to proceed in the wake of the club’s rash of COVID-19 cases.

As of Sunday, the Titans had 20 players and personnel now in the COVID-19 protocol, including 18 in an eight-day span. That list includes 10 players and 10 staff, and forced the NFL to scramble and move the Oct. 4 game with Pittsburgh to Week 7.

As for the team, it’s still stuck in limbo waiting for the coronavirus outbreaks to somehow subside.

Heading into this Sunday’s game with Buffalo, things don’t look a lot brighter.

With so much in flux, that game is in danger of being postponed, as well.

With so much going on surrounding the Titans – and none of it good right now – the promising 3-0 start the team had this season looks more like a footnote to a season that has been interrupted and incapacitated.

But in all the chaos and concern, one thing stands out for the Titans – the voice of Mike Vrabel through the discourse.

In his third season as the Titans head coach, Vrabel is proving to be adept at handling a crisis. That showed from his very first game as a head coach when the Titans were delayed twice by lightning turning a three-hour tour against the Dolphins into a shipwreck of a game that lasted an NFL record seven hours.

Vrabel, in his time on the job, also has navigated the Titans through:

• Rishard Matthews, a malcontent wide receiver, quitting in the middle of the season

• Losing a high-round pass rusher in Kevin Dodd because Dodd simply didn’t love football

• And last year the benching of “franchise” quarterback Marcus Mariota. He was replaced in mid-game in Week 6 by Ryan Tannehill, who had previously worn out his welcome in Miami.

In all of those incidents, Vrabel and the Titans managed to weather the storms and come out on the other side with hope and the ability to make things work.

Fans saw how he responded to players’ concerns earlier this offseason when the flames of social justice were burning through the sports world. He allowed his players to discuss the matter openly, have a voice and offer potential solutions.

In response, the team put on a united front in dealing with the matter at hand.

Now, Vrabel faces what might very well be his biggest challenge to date in how to pick up the pieces and make the Titans competitive and ready in the wake of all the coronavirus problems that have ravaged the team.

I asked Vrabel how he has remained so calm in the wake of previous controversies, and how that could help him as he navigates this latest trial. He responded that he has had good role models and teachers, and he has tried to learn from them and apply that to the team concept.

“I try not to panic,” he says. “I try to assess the situation and do what’s best for the team. I think I’ve had a lot of great role models and coaches.

“You start with my dad who was a high school basketball coach. Both parents were both educators, were both principals.

“I think spending eight years in New England playing for Bill (Belichick), and I certainly try to take that approach when things come up. You just deal with them, and you put the team first and you figure out a way to get things handled.”

Getting things handled through the COVID-19 situation will be trying and tricky for Vrabel and the organization.

“I think we’re resolved in our focus to move forward, to try to continue to do everything we can do to make it where the players come to work every day and our staff comes to work every day as safe as possible, to make sure that our behavior is in line with what we would expect as we work our way through the season,” Vrabel adds.

“We’ll keep forging ahead and confident that we’ll get everyone healthy, and that we’ll continue to make it a safe environment and to try to make sure that the players’ safety and their families and our coaches are at the forefront.”

Meanwhile, the NFL and the NFL Players Association have descended upon Nashville looking for answers as to why the Titans had an outbreak and whether it is related to undue precautions on the part of Titans players and staff or if there are glitches in the league’s protocol that need to be addressed to keep further outbreaks from flaring up.

“We continue to follow protocol from the NFL that was set forth and that continues to change and adapt and adjust,’’ Vrabel says.

“Whatever the NFL tells us that we’re required to do, and we’re supposed to do as positive tests come in, that’s what we’ll do.’’

The Titans facility will remain closed until the positive tests dissipate, and when it reopens – hopefully in time to salvage the Buffalo game this week – there are likely to be even steeper measures involved in just being able to practice and get ready to play.

Whenever that happens, expect Vrabel to roll with the punches and his team to follow him in that process. So what will Vrabel rely on when that time comes?

“Your life experiences, and how you handle things and your outlook on things, your attitude and what you approach each and every day,” he points out.

“There is just certain things that come up that you don’t plan for, sometimes you do plan for them, sometimes you don’t. But I think that you just do the best job that you can and continue to try to lead the group of people that you’re charged to lead.”

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