Vrabel the Right Fit at the Right Time
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Luke Fickell fielded numerous calls about the vacant assistant coaching job at Ohio State, but in the end he didn’t have to look any further than his old college roommate.
After 14 seasons in the National Football League, Mike Vrabel officially announced his retirement Monday, one hour before being introduced as the new linebackers coach in Columbus.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Age, like Rocky Marciano, retires undefeated,” the 35-year old Akron native said.
“I'm proud of my career but I'm more excited about this opportunity.”
The all-time sack leader at Ohio State played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots before spending the last two seasons in Kansas City. Having spent the last 14 years on the field, Vrabel has never coached football at any level but the three-time Super Bowl winner received a reverberating endorsement from his former head coach.
“Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached,” New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belicheck said in a statement.
“He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners.”
That is exactly what Vrabel was during his playing career, both in the NFL and with the Buckeyes, where he teamed with his new boss to form one of the most intimidating defensive lines of the 1990’s.
“He is a very aggressive, confident person. He communicates very well. He’s a very upfront, honest person. I don’t think that communication will be any problem,” said Fickell, who played nose guard alongside Vrabel from 1994-96.
“I know what he brings to the table with that competitive nature. If you asked me if there was anyone I know that was more competitive, I couldn’t come up with one. I think that’s probably one of the things we’re always striving for.”
When Fickell was promoted to head coach back in May following the resignation of former coach Jim Tressel, he knew there would be an opening on the defensive side of the ball. Fickell had coached the linebackers at Ohio State for the last seven seasons and couldn’t think of better replacement for himself than one of his best friends.
“It was definitely something that was talked about the first day,” the 37-year old Fickell said.
“We went around to our coaches and said ‘what do we need to bring in here,’ and pretty much everybody said we need someone that’s going to have our back, your back and believe in Ohio State. Not be looking over their shoulder in any way or looking around for something different. It’s a unique situation and it was pretty clear the thought process in my head.”
At the time, Vrabel was still considered an active player in the NFL, having helped a young Chiefs team to reach the playoffs last season. He was also member of the executive board of the NFL Players Association, which was wrapped up in an intense labor negotiation this offseason.
“Three things kind of came together at a pretty good time,” Vrabel said of how his decision came to pass.
“The end or culmination of a decent 14-year career, a really good friend getting the opportunity to lead a football team and a 2-year labor negotiation that I was a part of for many weeks kind of coming to a close. Those three things meeting up formed a pretty good opportunity to come here.”
Vrabel also said that he could no longer train at the level he felt was necessary to play football at the level, which is why he told Fickell to “give him a reason” to retire.
Fickell did just that and two will be reunited, at least for one season, at their alma mater.
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