NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s fair to say Mike Vrabel can sometimes be a little rough around the edges.
It’s necessary intensity for the job he performs, but where does that natural intensity come from?
I dug into his roots and tried to get the best picture of something that’s, frankly, hard to picture: Mike Vrabel as a kid.
“Probably one of the best examples of a mixture of intensity and fun loving I’ve ever seen,” said his high school football coach at Walsh Jesuit, Garry Rardin.
“I got to see a lot of different sides of Mike and it was just amazing. He would be in the front row of Spanish 1, and I don’t know if he ever did not have a smile on his face,” said Rardin, who was also his Spanish teacher. “And then, to watch that same kid on the football field be one of the most intense players you’ve ever seen, I think that was the amazing thing about him. I’ve never seen somebody with that much extreme in their nature, but that was Mike.”
Vrabel was a three-sport athlete who walked the halls of Walsh Jesuit with the same amount of calm confidence he still carries. Now, he strolls an NFL sideline.
“He was bigger than most kids at that age,” remembers his offensive and defensive line coach Steve Grescovich. “The one thing about it though, Mike would pick kids who were smaller to be on his team and help them out.”
His reach stretched from student to staff.
“The ladies that worked in the kitchen, they loved Mike. They loved being around him because they’d always have great conversations. Not only with them, but the custodial staff and that type of thing. He was the kind person that when you brought up his name in the school, everybody knew Mike.”
Almost immediately after becoming a first-time head coach, he invited Rardin to see him in action.
“I had tried to talk him out of coming down to Nashville,” said Rardin. “I said, “No Mike, I don’t want to. You’re just starting off.” And I’m thinking of me. My first year coaching. I was nervous I was worried about this, worried about that and Mike says, “No. Why? I want you there.”‘
“We’d be in the car on the way to this radio show and he’d just start bringing up taco days from Spanish class. This was in the middle of his first time with a Pro Football team and he showed no signs. It was like he’d been doing that for years.”
Vrabel took Rardin to his media requirements and showed him around the building.
“He introduced me to this real nice lady it was just like he was talking to some lady on the street or his mom’s friend or whatever and we go down the hall and he was like oh yeah, that was the owner (Amy Adams Strunk).”
Vrabel’s seemingly-deceptive ease comes from his reputation for unmatched hard work. A prepared confidence that’s contagious.
“When I quit coaching after 35 seasons, I became the Dean of Students here (Walsh Jesuit) and quite frankly, I didn’t know if I was up to that. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved with the administrative stuff, but actually, the lesson of Mike Vrabel is what has helped me. It’s that, “Why?” Just do what I did what before and just be me and continue to work and I’ll be fine,” said Rardin. “I think he’s right. Here I’ve learned it from a punk kid from Spanish 1 class.”
Three-straight playoff appearances and a favorite to win NFL Coach of the Year (which he did, by the way) for the fourth-year head coach. For those just getting to know him, it may seem miraculous. But, to those who have known him since he struggled to conjugate verbs, it’s not miraculous, it’s Mike.
“Coach of the Year does not shock me, and I wouldn’t be shocked if there were many more in his future because I don’t think Mike Vrabel’s going to change. I think people are gong to see that this is a special person and he’s very worth having around. I could see Mike Vrabel being around for a long time if he wants.”