<
>

Sources: Titans to interview Mike Vrabel, Matt LaFleur

The Titans will be looking for a head coach who can maximize the talents of Marcus Mariota. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have begun the search for the 19th head coach in franchise history after firing Mike Mularkey on Monday. Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have emerged as early candidates to fill that role, sources confirmed to ESPN, and both are scheduled to interview in Nashville later this week. Both are young candidates who just completed their first season as coordinators.

General manager Jon Robinson is leading this process and will have "very, very strong input" in hiring the next head coach for the first time in his career. He listed his top qualities for the Titans' new head coach as "leader of men, team-first, detailed, tough and dependable."

The development of quarterback Marcus Mariota and maximizing the skill sets of a talented Titans roster will be top priorities as well. Robinson said it's "paramount" that he and the new head coach have the same philosophy and vision for this team that advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs this past season.

A third candidate, Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, is reportedly expected to interview with the Titans as well.

The candidate list could expand over the next couple of weeks to include staff members on current playoff teams. It's believed the Titans will have interest in interviewing one or multiple Eagles assistants -- offensive coordinator Frank Reich, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz -- once their season is completed.

Robinson said there's no set number of candidates that he expects to interview and it's not a requirement for him to have a previous relationship with a candidate like he does with Vrabel and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

"We're going into it with really no preconceived notions," Robinson said. "We have a vision for what we want the next head coach to look like. We're looking forward to talking to candidates and seeing if they fit that bill."

Tennessee was the last of seven NFL teams to have its head coach job come open, giving it a little bit of a disadvantage in regards to interviewing candidates on teams still in the playoffs. The Titans will have to wait until the season ends for the Patriots, Eagles, Vikings and Jaguars to interview coaches on their respective staffs.

Let's take a look at the known candidates:

Name: Mike Vrabel

Age: 42

Recent experience: Texans defensive coordinator, 2017; Texans linebackers coach 2014-16

Why he fits: Vrabel seems to be a solid example of Robinson's first head-coach qualification: leader of men. He's often seen on the sideline motivating his linebackers, and it appears he's lit a fire under outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who had a breakout season. Vrabel is a 14-year NFL veteran and three-time Super Bowl champion. He probably would relate well to the players. He also spent eight years playing in New England while Robinson was working up the Patriots' scouting ranks.

Why he doesn't fit: Vrabel has only four years of NFL coaching experience and just one as a coordinator. The Titans are building up to be a championship contender, so it may not be in their best interest to have a head coach learn on the fly. Many of the Titans' issues with Mularkey came from the offensive side of the ball, so a Vrabel hiring would make adding stellar offensive assistants a requirement.

Name: Matt LaFleur

Age: 38

Recent experience: Rams offensive coordinator, 2017; Falcons QBs coach 2015-16

Why he fits: The Titans would love for Mariota to be utilized the way Jared Goff was in L.A. this past season. LaFleur probably picked up and helped develop the formula that led to the Rams' and Goff's turnaround. He also worked as Atlanta's QBs coach in Matt Ryan's 2016 MVP season. LaFleur would seem to be a good fit for Mariota's development and maximizing the offensive talent.

Why he doesn't fit: He hasn't called plays in the NFL. Head coach Sean McVay has that role in L.A. LaFleur probably will be a hot head coaching candidate in the next few years, but he may not be ready right now. Like Vrabel, it's a risk to have a head coach who is learning on the fly. Does he have the connections to hire a good staff?