When defensive coordinators Mike Vrabel and Steve Wilks were hired to take over the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals respectively, it was a mystery how they’d handle the offense. Wilks went the Sean McVay route and hired a veteran coordinator and former head coach. Vrabel hired the next best thing to Sean McVay. The Titans have hired Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to reboot Marcus Mariota. The Cardinals have hired former Broncos offensive coordinator and former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. Both are great hires and signal what direction both franchises are headed.
The Titans thought that the “exotic smashmouth” would be the best way to protect Mariota and coax out a Pro Bowl season. It didn’t. Mariota regressed big time. He set a career high in interceptions with 15 and a career low 13 touchdowns. Mularkey got the boot and while the Titans missed out on Josh McDaniels, hiring Mike Vrabel allowed them to get the next best thing. Instead of doling out whatever the Colts will eventually give to McDaniels, the Titans get two young coaches on cheaper deals. Vrabel can grow the defense while Matt LaFleur (who interviewed for the Titans head coaching gig) has autonomy over the offense. LaFleur garnered interest from a variety of teams after serving as the offensive coordinator for the Rams. The Rams went from 31st to first in offensive rankings and its in no small part to Matt LaFleur.
Prior to working with Sean McVay in Los Angeles he was the quarterbacks coach in Washington (where McVay was the offensive coordinator) and served under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta as the quarterbacks coach. LaFleur decided to leave because in Tennessee he’d have all the play calling duties where as in Los Angeles McVay called a lot of those shots. If LaFleur can take his experience in turning Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff into Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks then Mariota is in good hands.
Mariota will likely be put in an uptempo offense that will resemble what he had done at Oregon. This should make Corey Davis a much more productive receiver and if the Titans can add either a marquee receiver or find some weapons in the draft, this offense can go places. Derrick Henry will be the feature back and LaFleur could turn him into a discount Todd Gurley. The Titans have a chance to be fun next year and LaFleur should be a hot head coaching candidate next year.
Steve Wilks went a slightly different route in choosing his offensive coordinator. He turned to a veteran offensive coordinator because the Cardinals are entering a hard rebuild. Mike McCoy served as the offensive coordinator for the Broncos between 2010-2012. He didn’t receive much credit for how awesome the Broncos offense was because Peyton Manning was the quarterback. McCoy would go on to coach the Chargers and turned Philip Rivers around. He was never able to find playoff success but once he was let go the Broncos scooped him back up.
His second stint in Denver wasn’t as successful. He wasn’t able to turn Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch or Brock Osweiler into a franchise quarterback. He was fired midway through last season after the Broncos went on a six-game losing streak. That might scare off Cardinals fans but this is a great pick-up. His offense is malleable enough that if the Cardinals decide to draft which ever quarterback falls to their 15th pick or if they trade for a vet it’ll still work.
It isn’t entirely clear which direction the Cards are headed. They aren’t players in the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes as they don’t have the cap space but McCoy gives them options. He will have a now healthy David Johnson to work with and possibly Larry Fitzgerald. It’s likely that their draft will be spent rebuilding their offensive line and adding even more weapons.
Whichever route the Cardinals are going its clear that like Mike Vrabel and Steve Wilks knew what they in fact didn’t know and turned the keys over to someone who does. That might seem like faint praise but many coaches have thought they could master both sides of the ball effectively. Vrabel and Wilks have put together solid staffs in their first year. Vrabel is likely to have more instant success than Wilks because the Titans are more ready-made for it. The Cardinals will likely take a year or two to get back in the thick of the NFC West race.