The Vrabel Effect … Morning Cup O’Chiefs

Mike Vrabel did not want any part of Kansas City two years ago when his rights were dealt to the Chiefs.

Thanks to the NFL owners’ lockout, Vrabel left the Chiefs on Monday without getting anywhere near Kansas City. He was in Columbus, Ohio, where he ended his 14-year playing career, moving on to his next life’s work, as linebackers coach at Ohio State University.

In between his unhappy arrival and his invisible departure, Mike Vrabel played an important role in the two-year development of the Chiefs rise from last place to first place. Considered by those outside the organization as a throw away item in the trade that brought QB Matt Cassel to Kansas City, he became as important as the starting quarterback.

It wasn’t because of what he did on the field. By the time Vrabel pulled on the red No. 50 jersey, his physical talents were pretty much shot. Why do you think Patriots coach Bill Belichick was willing to part ways with Vrabel? Belichick doesn’t get rid of guys that are in their prime.

With the Chiefs, Vrabel played in 30 games, producing 113 tackles, 2 sacks, 14 quarterback pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble and a pair of touchdown catches on offense. Those numbers were pedestrian when compared to his production in the previous eight seasons with New England – an average of 80 tackles, 6 sacks and 3.6 takeaways per season.

 It was what Vrabel did with his mind, his heart, his gut and his voice that left a mark on the franchise.

There’s been a big focus on Vrabel’s leadership skills and how that helped establish the type of Parcellsian culture that he learned during his successful stint – three Super Bowl rings – with the Patriots.

Vrabel is not a quiet leader. He is unafraid of hurting people’s feelings. If there was a teammate that needed a kick in the butt, Vrabel didn’t think twice. If there was something that Todd Haley did or said that didn’t jibe with what the linebacker knew from experience, he said so. He was never afraid to speak his piece. It was that way in New England and for two years it worked that way in Kansas City.

He talked the talk, and walked the walk – that’s why he was respected by those that he worked with and for over the years. That’s why he will be missed around Arrowhead Stadium. The guy who will miss Vrabel the most is not on the roster, or GM Scott Pioli who brought him over in the trade for Cassel. It will be Haley.

“He’s a great resource for me,” Haley said last year. “He’s smart, he’s perceptive, he pays attention and he sees things from angles that I cannot see.

“He probably won’t like me saying this, but I leaned on him a lot.”

Leadership is hard to define because everyone seems to have a different idea of its definition. There are those that watch professional sports – fans and the media – who decide a participant is a leader based strictly on what they see, and generally that comes down to whether that player is willing to speak publicly or not.

But leadership isn’t so easy as just opening one’s mouth. It comes down to actions and do they match his words. Those that worked with Vrabel will tell you he always backed up what he had to say with blood, sweat and sometimes tears. He was a pro, and handled himself in that manner.

It was an approach that rubbed off on the young guys around him. Vrabel knew what was needed when he arrived in Kansas City and while he wasn’t very happy about the move, he went about getting the job done and helping lead the locker room into the brave new world.

“Mike set the bar for the Chiefs,” said the man who will get the first chance to replace him in the starting lineup, OLB Andy Studebaker. “He showed us – this is what an off-season looks like, this is what preparation for a game looks like, this is what game day looks like and ultimately this is what the playoffs look like. We were a young team and we got to grow up under that leadership. We learned a lot.”

How much they learned we will see in the coming 2011 season. Vrabel won’t be there any longer to set the example, to speak his mind or provide the information that comes with 14 years in the NFL. On the Chiefs defense guys like Studebaker, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, Brandon Carr, Glenn Dorsey and Kendrick Lewis must reflect that Vrabel leadership.

He wasn’t here long, he didn’t play in that many games and there will be no standards next to his name in the Chiefs record book. Originally he had no desire to play at Arrowhead Stadium, and when he left, he didn’t say goodbye.

But Mike Vrabel left his fingerprints all over the Kansas City Chiefs.


Vrabel on his Super Bowl rings – “I haven’t worn them since the day I got them. Once you win them, you don’t really have to wear them. People know that you won the Super Bowl and you helped contribute to a championship team. I don’t anticipate putting three rings on and going out on a recruiting trip.”

Vrabel on his decision to retire from playing – “I just came to the point where I couldn’t train to prepare for an NFL season. I’m not going to pretend I can do it anymore. This is where I want to be.”

Vrabel on his time with the Chiefs – “That’s a young football team. It was a great role to go out there and play. And not only help them on the field, but help guys in the locker room and film room. These last two years, when you’re coaching 20 and 21-year old guys that are fresh out of college, that’s probably helped me the most.”

New England head coach Bill Belichick – “During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over. Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached. 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.”

Chiefs GM Scott Pioli – “It’s no coincidence that Mike won championships everywhere he played – from his time at Ohio State to his role in division titles on three NFL teams. His genuine love for the game, his preparation, his work ethic, leadership and dependability are qualities you want from every player. He is a champion in every sense of the word and I’m confident all of these qualities will make him a great coach.”

New England owner Robert Kraft – “During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. I am sure this is a dream come true for Mike and will be the start of a long and successful coaching career at Ohio State. I know I’ll be rooting for him. Mike is a true Patriot.”

New England LB Jerod Mayo – “He was just a great mentor. He taught me how to be a pro on and off the field, how to study film and prepare for games … a great mentor. He tells you what’s on his mind. Whether it’s the right thing to say or not, he’s going to say it. People love him or hate him. I love him.”

Former New England LB Willie McGinest – “We got to the point with that New England defense where we knew it so well that there were several of us who could basically run the meetings. But I don’t think any of us could have done it like Mike did. He knew pretty much what every guy was supposed to do on every call. He’s one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around.  We had packages where we would play five or six linebackers at a time, and you can’t do that without a guy like Mike who could not only play multiple spots but get everybody lined up. Teams weren’t sure who was going to blitz. He was such a smart player, but he was athletic enough to rush the quarterback on one play and cover a running back one-on-one on the next play.”

4 Responses to “The Vrabel Effect … Morning Cup O’Chiefs”

  • July 12, 2011  - RW says:

    Excellent review. I wonder how long it will take before Vrabel will be the next hot head coaching prospect in the NFL? Is Belichick keeping that seat warm for him?

    Next, who on the team is going to step up and fill the void left by Vrabel? Anyway, as a Chief’s fan, I’d like to thank the Patties for the 2 year loan.

  • July 12, 2011  - Jimbo says:

    It’s hard to argue with success when you have a player the caliber of Mr. Vrabel. I’m sure there is no love lost on his part with the young KC Chiefs. He did state however that the two seasons with the Chiefs gave him an opportunity to teach and mold young minds into thinking and playing like champions. A perfect spring board for his upcoming rookie season as a College coach. Everybody wins during this period, the Chiefs players(especially Studebaker), Chiefs staff, Mike Vrabel and Ohio State.
    Vrabel’s play on the field last year led me to believe his best years were behind him and by all accounts he knew it as well. Saying good-bye to him is easy yet almost regretably so. We simply turn the page and go on to the next chapter. Now we can really test drive & capitalize on a “Studebaker” bound for maybe “Houston”.
    Go Chiefs.

  • July 12, 2011  - Alan Schwegman says:

    Todd Haley better be looking over his shoulder because Mike Vrabel is a Pioli guy who could be a Chiefs head coach one day.

  • July 16, 2011  - ED says:

    Alan come on dude now you running out. Anyways good to see Mike has found another life after football. Now with Studebaker being thrust into starting line up lets see how he does

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