NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In a room full of the Tennessee Titans' biggest power players, Mike Vrabel took control of his spotlight, exuding swagger and natural confidence. He told self-deprecating stories, revealed refreshing honesty and appeared down to earth.
When it came to football, he spoke of aggression, discipline and flexibility on both offense and defense. It wasn't hard to picture Vrabel, a former Ohio State player and coach, getting in an intense banter with left tackle and Michigan grad Taylor Lewan about who will win The Game next season. You could also imagine him encouraging quarterback Marcus Mariota to make plays with the Titans down four points late in the fourth quarter of a big AFC South game.
"Here, my job is going to be to accept responsibility, give credit and be decisive," Vrabel said Monday, looking like he could still fill a gap to stuff a running back for a 2-yard loss.
It was apparent during Vrabel's introductory presser why Titans general manager Jon Robinson was quickly sold on him being the leader they need. Vrabel's lack of coaching experience is and will remain a question, but he can command a room.
I believe the Titans' locker room will love Vrabel, in a similar way that they loved suiting up for Mike Mularkey, known as a players' coach. Why? Because Vrabel can relate, he cares and he'll likely earn their respect.
"I've been the rookie that got drafted that was having a tough time, that maybe wasn't developing as fast as the coaches would've liked," Vrabel said. "I will have been a core special-teams player. I will have been a starting linebacker that was expected to make some plays because he was a high-priced player. I will have been the aging veteran that needed to be a great leader, or I'll have been a team captain.
"I'll have a great opportunity to share my story and what I've been through with each one of those players."
That's a story of a 14-year NFL veteran and three-time Super Bowl champion. Players will listen. But Vrabel has to win -- quickly -- or none of this will matter.
There's no time for a transition season or honeymoon period. Vrabel is taking over a team that won its first postseason game in 14 seasons. But Robinson made a statement that making the playoffs isn't good enough, and Vrabel has to quickly back that up.
"It’s an amazing opportunity that I’m able to stand here before you with a team that’s been to the playoffs," Vrabel said. "But, that’s not the goal."
The 2018 Titans will be a disappointment if they don't at least return to the divisional round of the playoffs. That's the standard Tennessee is setting with its early-offseason moves, and that's what we should hold it to.
A first-year head coach can't be a built-in excuse for the Titans, and Vrabel seems to accept that responsibility.
"You have to win your division," Vrabel said. "You have to host playoff games late in January."
The AFC South could be the NFL's best division next season with a Jacksonville team built to stay a January factor, the Titans building under Vrabel, a Houston club with Deshaun Watson returning and Indianapolis likely returning Andrew Luck and a new head coach. That's a tough challenge, but that's the path to being a true contender.
Robinson said the Titans are a "really good team" and they're in this for championships. The window is open.