Vrabel Fitting In On OSU Staff

When Urban Meyer took over the Ohio State football team, he gave Mike Vrabel a challenge if he wanted to stay on staff. The former OSU defensive lineman passed with flying colors, and the result is that Vrabel is a rising star in the coaching ranks.

When Urban Meyer was putting together his staff that would attack the job of restoring Ohio State into a national championship contender, there was one question that was hard to answer – and it involved Mike Vrabel.

Meyer always was a fan of the three-time Super Bowl champion and Ohio State legend, who was hired by friend Luke Fickell to coach OSU's linebackers in his stead during the 2011 season.

On the other hand, Vrabel accepted the gig to join Fickell's staff as a coaching greenhorn fresh off a 14-year career as an NFL stalwart. When he joined the Ohio State staff, Vrabel had never known what it means to be a full-time coach – and that includes the recruiting realm.

"When I talked to him about keeping him on the Ohio State staff, I said it's very simple," Meyer told fans at his spring kickoff luncheon in April. "We are at the end of the day going to be judged by the talent level and how good you are at bringing quality student-athletes to Ohio State.

"Basically, he went out on a two-week mission to go out and show me he could go recruit, and I would have to say with all due respect to the other eight coaches on the staff, if he's not the best, he's one of the best recruiters I have on staff. That tells you what kind of future this young guy has in college football."

That attitude basically sums up Vrabel, who worked himself into a highly recruited prospect at Walsh Jesuit High School in northeast Ohio and then one of the greatest defensive players in Ohio State history.

To this day, the man who made No. 94 famous in scarlet and gray holds the school record for season tackles for loss (26), career TFL (66) and career sacks (36). Now in his second act as a Buckeye, he's returning in 2012 to the position at which he excelled in his playing days, having moved to defensive line coach with Fickell sliding back into the linebackers coach role he previously held.

Through the spring, Vrabel said he was happy with taking over as the coach at his old position.

"I think it's been good," he said. "It's been fun. It's been challenging. I think guys are trying to improve and trying to do things we're asking them to do. We're not close to where we need to be, but as long as we can put a good day's work in every couple of days we'll be where we need to be."

The early returns were positive from a player standpoint as well.

"He's awesome," said Johnny Simon, his star pupil. "He's a tremendous coach. With all of the experience he has in the league and the Super Bowl wins, every little detail he says we try to soak up."

It also helps that Vrabel fits in with the mold Meyer is trying to instill at Ohio State when it comes to the phrase "competitive excellence." Vrabel is no wallflower; in fact, he oozes intensity both on and off the gridiron, which is what Meyer is looking for.

"Coach Vrabel is more intense," lineman Johnathan Hankins said. "He's pretty young, so he's out there running with us, working with us and just getting us fired up and ready to go every day for practice."

There's a method to the madness, though. No one accumulates such lofty school records and then goes on to the pro ranks and has such success without knowing the tricks of the trade, and Vrabel spent the spring trying to impart those to his charges.

"We're going to play physical and we're going to play square and we're going to play with violent hands," he said. "If we do those three things, we'll be graded positively. If we're able to go from point A to point B as fast as we can and compete and find a way to compete for the length of a play, which we talk about as four-to-six seconds around here, we're going to have a good D-line.

He also boasts a "healthy respect for the game," as Meyer put it, something the head coach noticed during Vrabel's playing days. Meyer is confidants with Bill Belichick and often visited the New England head coach when Vrabel suited up for the Patriots.

The head coach wants to see his coaches get better each day along with the players, and that's challenge Vrabel seems excited to live up to.

"Coach Meyer has obviously provided some leadership and direction," Vrabel said. "He's worked his way up from GA here, so he's going to continue to challenge each one of the coaches on his staff to get better.

"We're going to be on-edge and there's going to be some uneasiness and you may not know the answer to every question, but you need to be prepared when you come to work every day."

With Vrabel becoming more and more comfortable in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, his talents there and on the recruiting trail are combining to make him one of the rising stars of the profession.

Of course, the coach would say the latter skills were easy to develop given the product he gets to sell when he's out on the road.

"I think it's just being honest," he said. "It's easy to sell Ohio State. It's not a very hard sell job. So it's our players, it's the people that are here. It's easy for me because I experienced it. That's not a real tough sell job. It's not like I'm trying to sell ketchup popsicles to a woman in white gloves. It's pretty easy.

"This place is special and the guys we have around, the people that continue to want to make it important to be around Ohio State, is what makes this thing easy to sell."

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