NASHVILLE — As The Spinners’ classic “Rubberband Man” began to play from the massive speakers next to the practice field, Titans coach Mike Vrabel turned to face Tom Brady. A grin began to spread beneath his mustache.
“Hey, Tommy,” Vrabel shouted. “It’s your song!”
Zing. Just like old times.
When Vrabel, who played for the Patriots from 2001-08, talked to Bill Belichick about how they wanted this week of joint practices to go, one thing each coach was interested in doing was getting a good amount of time in watching his own defense. So, for most of Wednesday’s session, Belichick watched the Patriots defense on one field while Vrabel stayed on another watching his defense take on Brady and the Patriots offense.
Vrabel wanted that setup because he wanted to watch his team deal with the cadence and timing the Patriots have perfected. At least, that was the main reason.
“Plus,” Vrabel said, “that gives me the chance to stand there behind Tom and chirp in his ear a little bit.”
More than a little bit. Vrabel put the entire bird population of Tennessee to shame over the course of two hours, and he started the second Brady took the field.
“You’re walking out on the field?” he yelled as Brady emerged from the locker room and started strolling toward the sideline where the Patriots were gathering. “No walking.”
“Why don’t you pay attention to your [expletive],” Brady shot back.
“They’ll walk if you let ’em,” said Vrabel, gesturing to Brady’s teammates.
“Why don’t you pay attention to yourself,” Brady said again.
“They’ll walk if you let ’em!” Vrabel repeated.
This came after Vrabel was greeted by the entire Patriots rookie class singing “Happy Birthday” when he walked onto the field. The Titans coach celebrated his 44th on Wednesday, and, by his estimation, either Brady or Belichick put the horde of first-years up to it. Vrabel doled out fist bumps as the group sang, then huddled them all up and broke it down.
The hijinks went on all morning.
“It was fun,” Vrabel said. “It brought back a lot of memories just to be able to sit out there and have [Brady] make a play and he turns around and says, ‘Mikey, you know you better cover that, you guys need to do this.’ I’m sure I had plenty to say, too.”
Like when Brady started a play a bit quickly for Vrabel’s liking and Vrabel issued a loud reminder not to let the quarterback do whatever he wanted out there:
“I know Tom’s won six [expletive] Super Bowls, but run it again.”
Brady was the main target, but Vrabel dished it out to others, too.
He told Brian Hoyer to get off the field because, in a real game, he’d have been run over by the defense if he held the ball as long as he did on one play.
He made a few inaudible comments in the direction of Nick Caserio and even Ernie Adams. The officials at practice had been instructed to call everything as they would in a game, and certainly heard it when Vrabel felt a holding call was missed.
Even at 44, Vrabel is so full of energy it seems as if he could jump back into the huddle should the Titans find their linebacker depth tested at some point this season. He runs between drills and plays music all practice long.
“Turn this [expletive] up!” Vrabel yelled when Luke Combs’s “Beer Never Broke My Heart” started playing.
The only time Vrabel was still was during a play, or when he quietly jotted down notes. Vrabel was fairly quiet and even-keeled when it came to critiquing his players.
This was a special day, with Vrabel’s former team in the house, but he’s apparently this hyped up all the time.
“That’s coach right there,” said Titans receiver Taywan Taylor. “Day in and day out, that’s what you get.”
People who know Belichick well often say he’s wickedly funny when he wants to be, only it’s usually when he’s in private with his team or with friends.
It’s easy to see Vrabel in the same mold, just without the filter. If his trash talking needed any tuneup, he had a favorite old sparring partner on hand in Brady, and he made sure everyone could hear it.