Vrabel Settling In To Coaching Ranks

Getting into the coaching ranks has been a transition for Mike Vrabel, but it's one the longtime OSU and NFL star has made with great success. Now, the third-year OSU assistant faces a big challenge in replacing four starters, but he seems up to the task.

When Mike Vrabel was in the midst of his standout football career, his slogan might as well have been, "What, me worry?"

He was a prep All-American at Walsh Jesuit High School in northeast Ohio, named the top player in the state by the people who kept track of such things back then.

At Ohio State, he obliterated the school's career and single-season sack records, finishing with 64 career TFL and 46 sacks, both school records.

In the NFL, he played 14 seasons, standing out as both a linebacker and occasional pass-catching tight end while racking up three Super Bowl rings.

So yes, Mike Vrabel could sleep pretty soundly when he knew he'd be waking up in the morning and strapping on the pads.

But it didn't take that long for it to change when Luke Fickell lured him to join Ohio State's staff for the 2011 season.

"I never woke up in the middle of the night as a player, ever," he said. "I hit the pillow, I woke up the next morning and went as hard as I could because I could control the situation. As a coach, I rarely sleep through the night and I wake up and I wonder, ‘What is so-and-so going to do? Are we going to be able to play this technique? Are we going to be able to do this install?'

"I worry about a lot more things than I ever did as a player. In that regard, it would appear I have figured out part of coaching because that seems to be what happens in this business."

It's clear, though, that Vrabel has figured out a lot more than how to deal with insomnia, and you don't have to go any further than head coach Urban Meyer to find confirmation of that.

When speaking at Media Day on Sunday, Meyer – unprompted, no less – spoke glowingly about the coaching growth of Vrabel, who is in his third year as a Buckeye coach and his second coaching a defensive line he once roamed with such prowess.

"He is attacking coaching the same way he attacked playing as a pro," Meyer said. "You don't survive as long as he did in the National Football League unless you have an extremely good work ethic and are very professional about your job. He was a first-year defensive line coach, and you can tell he's a very experienced defensive line coach right now. I'm seeing some progress in technique and some things that we expect, and it has to happen."

So far, Vrabel's work has been impressive. After having never recruited in his career, he seems to have picked that up with aplomb given last year's haul of defensive linemen and another great start to the 2014 group.

But a true test of his coaching abilities will come this year while mentoring an Ohio State defensive line that lost all four starters from a year ago and that has no seniors in its meeting room.

There's no doubt, though, that Vrabel knows the tricks of the trade, skills he tries to instill in the almost 20 members of the line that are under his purview.

"I just try to coach them as hard as I possibly can – get them to play with effort, get them to try to play with some toughness and some technique, and I think I can help in all three of those phases," he said.

Given his résumé – including 57 NFL sacks – his protégés don't have any room to argue with his methods.

"It's awesome because you know he's been through it and he's been where we want to go to, and he brings so much energy and passion to the game," junior tackle Michael Bennett said. "I don't think a lot of schools have coaches that are like Coach Vrabel and a lot of the coaches here. He's flying around, I don't know if he's ever not yelling. He's great because you can see where he's been and where you want to go. You know everything he says is relevant."

That exuberance that Bennett referred to is encouraged under Meyer, who has allowed a colorful group of coaches to be themselves on the practice field.

"I know to go cut loose," he said. "We can do whatever we want as far as motivating our players and getting them going and making sure our guys are ready to play the game."

And there wasn't much doubt his coaching career would start at Ohio State. Though Vrabel was hired by longtime friend Fickell to serve as the latter's linebackers coach in 2011, he was able to show Meyer he had the mettle to stay on board. In doing so, he was able to stay in the Ohio State and central Ohio community he's been a part of for half his life.

"I've lived in Columbus since 1993," he said. "I've lived in a dorm room, I rented an apartment, I owned a condo and I own a house since 1993, so it was only natural to come back here to Columbus. I really never left, just spent half the year somewhere else playing football."

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