Vrabel played the game. This game. The NFL game.
In the Not-For-Long league that measures everything to the extreme, except spite, Vrabel has walked in Jonathan Joseph’s shoes.
It’s why Vrabel knows what it feels like to be spurned, like Jadeveon Clowney. It’s why he knows what it feels like to be told you’re too old, like Joseph. That you’re on your last NFL legs.
It’s why Vrabel is trusted in the league’s inner-circle of players, and BOB? Not always.
In fact, a litany of former players cast away from the Texans for various reasons have indicated as much via cryptic social-media messages or flat-out direct hits at O’Brien’s penchant for preferring players that fit his mold and only his mold.
Tough, smart, dependable. Good teammates. Abiders.
While playing in the NFL never should be considered a prerequisite for success – numerous coaches have won Super Bowls never having sniffed the league – it does come in handy on occasion.
And it just may be why the Titans landed Joseph and soon will land Clowney. While the Texans repeatedly have cut bait with players that rub O’Brien the wrong way or struck him as having lost their best – including Clowney, Duane Brown, Kareem Jackson and recently DeAndre Hopkins -- Vrabel embraces that kind of player. He massages them, knowing full well that a guy does not have to be perfect, just put in the perfect situation.
Ryan Tannehill. J-Joe at age 36. Clowney?
Vrabel’s been there. After an exceptional career with the Patriots, Vrabel knew he had more left in the tank when Bill Belichick shipped him off to Kansas City with Matt Cassell.
The bitter departure from New England left Vrabel in such a way, he didn’t talk with Belichick for two years after that deal. He’s admitted to feeling spurned and spiteful. It also inspired him to prove the legendary one wrong.
Vrabel ultimately repaired that relationship with Belichick, but he also learned from it. He learned that not every player has to fit the coach. Sometimes, the coach has to fit the player. Not every player fake hustles.
And neither do coaches. To Vrabel, the NFL is important and serious, but he doesn’t pretend he’s splitting atoms.
Or didn’t you see the backdrop to his war room, when his kids and their friends put on an eclectic, playful display?
Now, while O’Brien tries to paint the perfect Belchickian picture in Houston, Vrabel is coloring outside the lines. He played for Belichick, but he doesn’t emulate him.
Who knows which way ultimately will work best? But know this: The Titans love their coach. They love how Vrabel treats every player uniquely, adjusting to their personalities rather than forcing them to adjust to his.
And they are stockpiling talent that proved to be either too old or too nonconforming to O’Brien’s way.
Joseph signed this week. Clowney signing with the Titans by some reports seems imminent.
They each will have taken different paths out of Houston to Nashville, like numerous others Vrabel has acquired in his brief time as Titans head coach.
Vrabel may well already know something that O’Brien refuses to acknowledge. Every player is different. And that’s OK.