NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel's weekly messages to his team don't feature a motivational attempt like Knute Rockne's 'Win one for the Gipper' speech. But they are just as effective.
Vrabel is more dialed in on identifying weekly keys for his players to focus on. After a much-needed bye week, Vrabel wants his players to focus on the basics as the Titans (8-4) gear up to face the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The messages that Mike Vrabel establishes for his players from wk to wk come from a variety of sources. He has seen in the past how strong relationships help players relate to their coaches. #Titans pic.twitter.com/Ymdp4XC8nP— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) December 8, 2021
"The message was getting back to the basics and fundamentals for each position," Vrabel said Wednesday. "The details, a lot of those things -- how we block and tackle -- are critical. All the little things; getting in and out of the huddle, communicating, just getting out there practicing."
Titans defensive backs coach Anthony Midget coached alongside Vrabel with the Houston Texans. Midget said Vrabel's weekly messages and keys to the game as the Texans' defensive coordinator made it clear that one day he'd be a head coach.
"It starts with Vrabes," Midget said. "He's out in front of the team showing them evidence of what it takes to win each week. We as coaches make sure that we're holding guys accountable to the message each week.
"We refer back to those keys post-game to show how it correlated to us winning the game. Or losing because we didn't stick to certain keys and do certain things we set out to do going into the game. The good and the bad, we show them how it translates to winning and the guys buy into it."
Midget also pointed to Vrabel's ability to know the pulse of the team. Vrabel uses his past experiences as a player to facilitate an authentic delivery when he wants to establish the weekly messages or keys.
"Empathy is something that is important to be able to understand," Vrabel said. "A big job that I have here is to be willing to listen and to make sure that everybody that wants to talk is heard. Empathy always helps when you are listening to somebody. They may see it differently, I try to relate that to any situation that I had in the past, and I try to do that."
The weekly keys and messages that Vrabel comes up with are derived from a variety of sources. Vrabel mentioned coaches such as Bill Belichick and Bill Cowher as influences on his coaching style.
Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera had an influence as well. It's no coincidence that many of Belichick, Cowher and Rivera's players are like family, just the same as Vrabel's players are like family to him.
"He's done a great job developing a theme of the week," inside linebackers coach Jim Haslett added. "He communicates what it is with the coaches and has a great idea of what it takes to win the game. I think the players really buy into what we believe in, how this team is built and what his vision is for this team."
Earlier this season, the Titans were entering a Week 10 showdown with the New Orleans Saints in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Tennessee was the top seed in the AFC at the time.
Vrabel utilized a conversation that he had with Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin to come up with the message that week. Corbin emphasized to Vrabel how staying centered is the key to success. Vrabel relayed that message to the players encouraging them not to panic and avoid getting too high or low despite the circumstances.
The message resonated with the players, especially wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who was returning to the lineup after playing only three snaps the week before. Johnson went on to lead the Titans with five receptions for 100 yards.
Marcus Johnson with some good points about how the ball consistently bounces their way and they pull out close games. Said Mike Vrabel told them about a meeting he sat in w/Vanderbilt football where they told the guys to stay centered. #Titans pic.twitter.com/u1BprjoT2k— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) November 14, 2021
"He does a good job of finding a message for each week," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "Over the course of time, you see those messages play out. It's not something that gets thrown on the board and at the end of the week you're like, 'Oh it didn't really matter.' He finds things that are relevant. Then if we buy into it and execute it, make it happen, it usually works in our favor on Sunday. That ability to find something relevant and have us, as a team, see it work, [that] makes you really buy into it."
The bye week came after back-to-back frustrating losses to the Texans (2-10) and New England Patriots (9-4). Getting the time away helped the Titans get healthy, especially wide receiver Julio Jones, who was designated to return to practice from injured reserve Monday.
Despite being banged up to the point where they've used a record 86 different players on game day this season, the Titans find themselves with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts (7-6) for the AFC South division title and are the second seed in the AFC race.
A date with the Jaguars, who are on a four-game losing streak, could be the perfect launching board for a strong push as the playoffs near. The Titans have beaten Jacksonville in their last three meetings and have outscored the Jags 101-59 in that stretch.
Rest assured, though, Vrabel's message will have the team looking at Week 14 and not those previous games against the Jags.