Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Pep Hamilton shines as Texans' biggest victory from coaching shakeup

John Crumpler 

It’s official.

On Monday, Feb. 21, 38 days after the dismissal of coach David Culley, the Houston Texans announced a finalized coaching staff under new head coach Lovie Smith. Smith, formerly the defensive coordinator under Culley, has opted not to hire a defensive coordinator and retained Frank Ross as special teams coordinator.

Despite ample speculation that former Texans’ and heavily tenured backup quarterback Josh McCown would join the staff, his name is notably absent. This comes after McCown was considered a finalist for the coaching position and, after Smith’s hire, commentary that the former backup would make a terrific football coach in the future. It’s a bit of a surprise but a welcome one that signals this is truly Smith’s own staff.

With all the hirings official, there is one name that stands out as a glaring victory and the shining star of the Texans’ decision to overhaul their coaching staff this offseason. Pep Hamilton, formerly quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator under Culley, was elevated to offensive coordinator and convinced to stay in Houston despite a multitude of interviews and offers this offseason across the league.

Simply put, Hamilton donning a headset for the Texans’ staff is the franchise’s biggest victory since they defeated the Buffalo Bills in the 2019 playoffs.

Hamilton is massively credited with the development of Justin Herbert during his shocking rookie of the year campaign for the Los Angeles Chargers during 2020. His work with third-round pick Davis Mills, who arguably performed better than any of his 2021 rookie peers at the quarterback position, officially put the league on notice.

During his last tenure in Indianapolis from 2013-2015, the Colts’ offense finished 14th in points scored during his first year and then progressed to sixth in yardage and third in scoring during the 2014 campaign. Hamilton was oddly fired during 2015, a season where Andrew Luck only started seven games behind an atrocious offensive line.

He was the hottest name in the offensive coordinator landscape, and many are projecting he’ll have offers to be a head coach next year. For someone with ample options, it’s a minor miracle he opted to stay in Houston with the current state and reputation of the franchise.

Houston desperately needs help offensively. They finished 28th in passing yards, 32nd in rushing yards, and 30th in points per game in 2021. Make no mistake, Hamilton has his work cut out for him. However, his presence on the team represents Houston’s best chance to improve rapidly across from Smith’s defense.

The right offensive mind can make a world of difference, just look at the Los Angeles Rams or the San Francisco 49ers before the arrival of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan respectively. If Hamilton is who the league is billing him to be, then Houston could be the site of an offensive renaissance after being burdened with the same Bill O’Brien/Tim Kelly scheme the last three seasons.

He’ll need plenty of help from general manager Nick Caserio. A viable running back, a slot receiver to compliment Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, and a sizable upgrade for the interior offensive line are certainly on the checklist. If Mills is able to take steps forward during his sophomore campaign and Caserio can just hit a few needs this side of the ball has the potential to improve exponentially from their dreadful 2021 campaign.

Houston, your coaching hiring process was a disaster, but it may have fallen back into a good result. Hamilton provides as much optimism for the Texans’ as they’ve had since the departure of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in 2020.

The Texans employ one of the hottest up-and-coming coaching candidates on the market, someone who may even follow Smith as coach should the 63-year-old choose to retire sooner than expected. A colossal victory for a franchise that hasn’t had many.

Embrace the hope; Hamilton is worth it.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Neal honored at CSUB, where he grew beyond ‘just being a champion’



Feb 11, 2022

Former CSUB wrestler and NFL football player Stephen Neal shares how much CSUB helped help as he is inducted into the university's Alumni Hall of Fame on Friday night.

  • Rod Thornburg / For The Californian

Stephen Neal's atypical, profoundly successful athletic career brought him plenty of honors: a pair of unbeaten college wrestling championships at Cal State Bakersfield, a Dan Hodge Trophy, a World Wrestling Championship win — all before he became an NFL starting lineman and won three Super Bowl rings.

But as he's quick to point out, his capacity for self-motivation — which helped him win all those awards, and which he honed at CSUB — was never tied to external accolades.

"It was never about just winning the championship," Neal said, "it was about accomplishing other goals.

"My senior year, my goal was to pin every single opponent I had; I fell short. Then it was to get bonus points for every single opponent; I fell short twice of that. Then it was not to give up a takedown; I actually accomplished that, but I gave up a reversal."

One honor the Roadrunner legend will accept unreservedly: his induction into the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame, carried out Friday night at the school's Doré Theatre. The class of 2022 also features local hospital executive Terri Church, English professor Paula Parks and United Farm Workers vice president Connie Perez-Andreesen.

Neal has retold many times the story of how CSUB won his heart by showing him a hard-nosed wrestling practice when he toured the school rather than taking him out for fun and frolic. It was at such practices that he became the multiple-championship-winning wrestler, but also learned from people like assistant coach Darryl Pope, who would "push (him) past just being a champion."

The school also prepared him to take his eventual left turn into professional football, CSUB president Lynnette Zelezny noted. 

"Even though we didn't have football and it was probably a passion of his his whole life," Zelezny said, "he used the opportunity with wrestling to master his skills ... If you want to take advantage of opportunities here at CSUB, the sky's the limit."

The grind of professional football was familiar to Neal. But on a football field, unlike on a wrestling mat, other people — in his case, a young quarterback named Tom Brady — would pay for his own errors.

"If I do something stupid in football," Neal said, "the little baby giraffe back there is getting slammed."

Neal won three Super Bowls as a guard with the Patriots, but only got to play in the third win at the culmination of the 2004 season. Finally, Neal felt like he really contributed.

"In wrestling, you only get a medal if you win," he said. "And so to get those (first two) rings and not play, and finally get to do that, it was exciting for me and for my family, kind of validated that I do belong here."

Neal has stayed involved with CSUB wrestling through turbulent times for the program, including budget cuts in 2010 that threatened the team's survival. With funding stabilized, Neal said he's optimistic about the future of the program that shaped him.

"We drove around the campus with my kids and I was showing them the 2.7-mile course we used to run three times a week," Neal said. "To get honored here just means so much, because this is kind of where I went from a no-name person coming from San Diego to having a little bit of recognition throughout the country."

Friday, February 11, 2022

Tennessee Titans' Mike Vrabel named 2021 Associated Press Coach of the Year


Ben Arthur

Nashville Tennessean

Published 9:18 p.m. CT Feb 10, 2022 | Updated 10:04 p.m. CT Feb 10, 2022

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel has been named the 2021 Associated Press Coach of the Year, it was announced Thursday night during NFL Honors. 

Vrabel, 46, guided the Titans to a 12-5 regular-season record, a second straight AFC South title and the AFC’s No. 1 seed. That came in spite of Tennessee using 91 players, an NFL record for a non-strike season. Star running back Derrick Henry missed nine games, while receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown missed seven and four games, respectively. 

Vrabel beat out Bill Belichick (Patriots), Matt LaFleur (Packers), Sean McVay (Rams), Zac Taylor (Bengals) and Rich Bisaccia (Raiders) for the award. Vrabel received 36 of the 50 votes

“It is an honor and a privilege to play and coach in this league,” Vrabel said in accepting the award at the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles. “My job and every coach’s job is to teach, develop and to make a connection and make an impact. 

"I want to thank our owner, Ms. Amy Adams Strunk," Vrabel continued. "I want to thank my family. I want to thank my wife, Jen. I want to thank (my sons) Tyler and Carter. I want to thank my best friend, 'Stretch' (Titans coordinator of football development John Streicher). This is a testament of our 91 players who helped us win 12 games and our coaching staff. Thank you, and this was a pleasure."

The Titans earlier this week extended the contract of Vrabel, who was also named the 2021 NFL Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association of America

Vrabel led Tennessee to its first No. 1 seed since 2008, when it won 13 games. 

The Titans hired Vrabel in 2018 after parting ways with Mike Mularkey. Tennessee has won at least nine games in each of Vrabel’s first four seasons and made three consecutive playoff appearances. In 2019, Vrabel guided the Titans to their first AFC Championship Game appearance in 17 years.  

Vrabel’s 43 wins with the Titans through the 2021 season, including playoffs, tied Jack Pardee for the most wins by a coach in his first four seasons with the organization. 

Before joining the Titans, Vrabel was defensive coordinator for the Texans in 2017. He also worked as a linebackers coach for Houston (2014-16) after beginning his coaching career at his alma mater, Ohio State, as linebackers coach (2011) and defensive line coach (2012-13). 

A former All-Pro linebacker, Vrabel played 14 NFL seasons with the Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs. He won three Super Bowls with New England. 

Titans coach Mike Vrabel named 2021 AP NFL Coach of the Year


Published: Feb 10, 2022 at 10:18 PM

Chase Goodbread

Original Content Writer

The Tennessee Titans overcame the loss of their most impactful player among a rash of injuries to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC last year, and now their coach has been honored accordingly.


Mike Vrabel was named the AP NFL Coach of the Year on Thursday during the 11th annual NFL Honors event.


He is the first coach in Titans history to earn the award.


Vrabel drew 36 of the nationwide panel's 50 votes, with Green Bay's Matt Fleur receiving eight votes. Las Vegas interim coach Rich Bisaccia (three), Cincinnati's Zac Taylor (two) and New England's Bill Belichick (one) also got votes.


Not surprisingly, the Titans rewarded Vrabel with a contract extension earlier this week.


The Titans reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs, losing a home game to the Cincinnati Bengals, 19-16, to finish the season at 12-6.


Nonetheless, it was an especially impressive campaign for Vrabel, given that the club lost star running back Derrick Henry for the second half of the season due to a foot injury. Backup running back D'Onta Foreman filled in effectively, and the Titans defense tightened as well.


Minus Henry, the club went 6-3 from Week 9 through the end of the regular season despite averaging roughly 10 fewer points per game without the two-time Pro Bowler. The strong finish allowed Tennessee to claim the top seed in the AFC and earn a bye in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.


But the injury issues went far deeper than Henry.


Skill-position players missed a total of 112 games, including missed action for starting wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. By the end of the regular season, the Titans had broken an NFL record with 91 players seeing action. COVID-19-related unavailability contributed to that total as well -- something every club in the league dealt with -- but it's worth noting that the clubs which set the previous mark of 84, the 2019 Miami Dolphins and 2020 San Francisco 49ers, finished 5-11 and 6-10, respectively.


Also noteworthy from Vrabel's fourth season in Tennessee was a pair of overtime wins. The Titans opened the season 6-2, with victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts requiring an extra period.


Vrabel, the former New England Patriots linebacker, has yet to post a losing season in four years as the Titans' coach. The club was 9-7 in each of his first two years, including an AFC title game berth in 2019. Since then, Vrabel's teams have won back-to-back AFC South titles.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Is Pep Hamilton Texans' Big Offseason Coaching Move?


Elevating Pep Hamilton to offensive coordinator after hiring Lovie Smith as head coach could be Texans' most influential decision of offseason.

fEBRUARY 9, 2022

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans coaching staff is in the midst of a substantial rebuild for the second consecutive year. 

Lovie Smith, introduced as the fifth head coach in franchise history on Tuesday, is putting together a staff with the intentions of guiding Houston out of football purgatory. Smith has given the daunting task of revamping the inferior offense to Pep Hamilton. 

Hamilton served as the team's quarterbacks coach under David Culley during the 2021 season, but was elevated to offensive coordinator following the hiring of Smith.

Smith, NFL Coach of the Year in 2005, said having Hamilton on his staff "was a must," especially considering the relationship he established with rookie quarterback Davis Mills. There is a chance that Hamilton could be the most significant decision Smith and the Texans make this offseason.

"We have a new challenge," Hamilton said Tuesday. "... It helps when you have an idea of your personnel's strength and weakness, and it is our job as an offensive staff to put our players in a position to utilize their strength." 

One of the lessons Mills learned under Hamilton's tutelage was that scars are a reminder of prospering, and it's one the 47-year-old North Carolina native could utilize for himself taking the reign as Houston's offensive coordinator. 

Amidst a 4-13 season in 2021, the Texans put together the league's most inefficient offense, averaging an NFL low of 278.1 total yards per game while averaging 16.5 points. Fortunately for the Texans, Hamilton has experience taking an inadequate offense and turning it into one of the best in the league. 

In 2013, Hamilton received his first NFL offensive coordinator job with the Indianapolis Colts. Before his arrival, the Colts were a mediocre offensive team at best despite an 11-5 record. Indy ended the 2012 campaign with the league's 18th-best offense. 

The Colts upped their offensive production in two of the three seasons Hamilton served as OC. Hamilton's best season came in 2014 — where the 11-5 Colts averaged 28.6 points and 417.1 total yards

With Hamilton helping the Colts reach the AFC Championship game (lost to the New England Patriots), the 2014 season marked Indianapolis' most successful campaign during the post-Peyton Manning era.

"It's always a great opportunity to have one of these 32 jobs to lead an offense in the National Football League," Hamilton said. "It's a collection of people — it's not just coach Smith. But the guys on that staff that are with us moving forward that make you feel good to hit the ground running."

Hamilton had several suitors who sought his services, but ultimately decided to reunite with Smith for the first time since their days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2007-09.

Hamilton has served as the Texans' offensive coordinator for three days since his promotion. And he's already thinking about 2022 and the tools in his possession.

"With some of the known camaraderie in the locker room, starting with Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan, they have shown the ability to step up and be big-time players for us," Hamilton said. "I think any good offense, you have to be able to adjust to your personnel. We will have the flexibility in our offense to execute the strength and true talents of our players."

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Tennessee Titans extend contracts for head coach Mike Vrabel, GM Jon Robinson


4:42 PM ET (February 8, 2022)

Turron Davenport | ESPN


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans announced Tuesday that they have extended the contracts of general manager Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel.


"I am proud to say that Jon and Mike will be leading our football team for years to come," Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement. "I have seen the team improve on a yearly basis under their direction, and I know their singular goal is to deliver a championship for our fans. Together they have developed a culture within our organization that has been essential to our success. Their values align with mine and what I want the Titans to be. They demand excellence from themselves and others, work well together, are always striving to improve and they care deeply for our players and staff."

Vrabel joined the Titans in 2018 and matched Jack Pardee's franchise record for wins (43) over the first four seasons with the team. Vrabel's .614 career winning percentage (43-27, including playoffs) ranks the highest in franchise history.

He led the team to the AFC Championship Game in 2019 and back-to-back AFC South titles over the past two seasons. Vrabel earned Coach of the Year honors by the Pro Football Writers of America this past season after guiding the Titans to a 12-5 record and the top seed in the AFC.

Robinson joined the Titans in 2016 and helped lead them to a winning record in all six of his seasons in charge. In that time, Robinson has become the second-winningest general manager in franchise history with 62 wins, trailing only Floyd Reese (111 wins).

During Robinson's tenure with the Titans, the team has added nine Pro Bowl players to the roster through the draft (S Kevin Byard, RB Derrick Henry, WR A.J. Brown, DT Jeffery Simmons, OLB Harold Landry), free agency (G Rodger Saffold, ST Brynden Trawick) and trades (RB DeMarco Murray, QB Ryan Tannehill).


Additionally, the team added two coaches to its staff on Tuesday: Tim Kelly as passing game coordinator and Bobby King as inside linebackers coach.

Kelly joins the Titans after spending the past eight seasons with the Houston Texans, the last three of which were as the offensive coordinator. Before becoming the offensive coordinator, Kelly spent two seasons (2017-18) coaching the tight ends for the Texans.


King brings 12 years of NFL coaching experience to the Titans, including eight seasons (2017-21, 2011-13) with the Texans. King coached the Texans' defensive line this season after coaching the inside linebackers the previous four seasons.

The team also announced that Jim Haslett (inside linebackers), Matt Edwards (assistant special teams), Kenechi Udeze (defensive line assistant) and Mondray Gee (strength and conditioning assistant) will not be returning to the coaching staff.


Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Ten Years of Stoops-Era Recruiting: Ten Things I've Learned


February 3, 2022 | FOOTBALL

Justin Rowland • CatsIllustrated

Hard though it may be to believe, Kentucky just wrapped up its tenth recruiting class under head coach Mark Stoops.

To start the series off here are ten lessons I've taken from the last ten years of Kentucky recruiting under Stoops.

Vince Marrow has been the best recruiter Kentucky's ever had.

There are other coaches on the staff who deserve a lot of credit for some of their recruiting. Former assistants and current assistants alike.

But when we're talking about Kentucky's recruiting over the last decade nobody has done more, nobody has done close to as much, as Vince Marrow himself.

Several years ago I ran the numbers myself and found that about 40% of all Stoops-era commitments were recruited with Marrow as the lead. That number probably hasn't changed much.

At first it was Marrow pulling in obscene numbers from Ohio. Then, he moved to Kentucky and turned the program's fortunes around in its backyard. Along the way he has ventured into other states to land players like Josh Paschal, Lonnie Johnson, Terry Wilson, and many others.

There has not been another coach at Kentucky who approaches what Marrow has done for the program as an assistant coach. What probably doesn't get mentioned enough is the four- or five-year impact and experience for players after Marrow has recruited them. For many, he's the coach they go to when they need someone while they're in Lexington.

His recruiting success for a full decade could have only happened for someone who tries to do right by the people he recruits. It would have fallen apart by now if he didn't, so he deserves the credit he has gotten.

I've said before, if Marrow were at Alabama or Georgia he would be one of those assistants pulling in multiple five-star guys.

Another big part of his job that doesn't show up in commitment numbers is how he manages so many relationships and situations over long periods of time. That takes 24/7/365 willingness to deal with anything and everything that comes up.

He makes Stoops' job easier and he's a big part of Stoops' success. More than any other individual who has been there along the way.

It's hard for me to imagine Marrow not being with Stoops even though other programs have made runs at him. With the recent raise and Kentucky winning 10 games twice in four years, it's even harder to imagine him leaving.

Vrabel Popular With Pro Bowl Players


The Tennessee Titans' head man was one of the top vote-getters among those asked which coach they would like to play for.


February 7, 2022

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Mike Vrabel is a popular coach among the league’s top players.

According to an anonymous survey taken by The Athletic at the Pro Bowl, Vrabel was named one of the coaches players most wanted to play for.

One of the questions in the “Pro Bowl Confidential” asked 20 players – a small mix of AFC, NFC, offensive, defensive and special-teams standouts – which coach they’d most like to play for. Vrabel, who coached the AFC players at the Pro Bowl this year, earned three of the 20 votes. He finished in second place, one behind Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin (four votes).

A couple of other coaches with Titans ties figured in the voting as well.

Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, who served as the Titans’ offensive coordinator for a year under Vrabel, finished third behind Tomlin and Vrabel with two votes.

In the most unexpected development from the survey, one player gave his vote to former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, who was recently named head coach of the United States Football League’s Michigan Panthers.

In the previous Pro Bowl Confidential survey, which was taken following the 2019 season, Vrabel received two of the 32 votes. He trailed Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Seattle’s Pete Carroll in that survey as both of those coaches received four votes.

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard went on the record last week with praise Vrabel following a Pro Bowl practice. Leonard has seen plenty of Vrabel over the years, as the Titans and Colts – AFC South rivals – have met eight times since he was drafted by Indianapolis in 2018.

“I’m so glad you asked me about coach Vrabel, man,” Leonard told the Titans’ website. “Ever since I’ve been playing against him for four years, I had the utmost respect for him, and it wasn’t even how he coached. It was more so how he talked to his players, how he interacts with his guys. When his guys are on the turf hurt, he’s the first one out there to check up on them, and that, as a player, that’s what you want to see from a coach.

“Now being out here (at the Pro Bowl) with him, seeing how he carries himself, seeing how he has fun with his guys, I have nothing but respect for coach Vrabel, man, and he’s a hell of a coach. That’s why they’re having the success they’re having over there in Tennessee.”

Vrabel was recently named Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America after guiding the Titans to a 12-5 regular-season record, which included the team’s second straight AFC South title. The Titans lost 19-16 to the Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs.

He also is a leading contender for this year’s official Coach of the Year award, which will be presented this week during the NFL Honors program.

In four years as head coach, Vrabel has led the Titans to a 41-24 record and three consecutive postseason appearances.



Monday, February 07, 2022

Katie Smith with the assist: Hall of fame player, WNBA coach helping Upper Arlington girls team


Posted: Feb 4, 2022 / 11:15 PM EST

Updated: Feb 4, 2022 / 11:31 PM EST


UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio (WCMH) — Imagine being a high school player and learning from a three-time gold medalist. That’s exactly what the girls basketball team at Upper Arlington is getting.

Former Buckeye great and WNBA coach Katie Smith is volunteering with the Golden Bears this season. It’s her first time on a high school team since her playing days at Logan.

“I’m just an assistant coach with all the others and some days I can’t be here because of my other job.”

That other job? Associate head coach of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

“I thought it was crazy that she wanted to come,” UA senior Alyssa Gest said.

“I was like there’s no way. Like there’s no way,” UA junior Ceylone Brooks said.

As a player, Smith won three Olympic gold medals, 2 WNBA titles and is a first ballot hall of famer.

“I loved playing [basketball]. I loved being around it. It’s given me some of my best highlights, it’s given me my best friends,” Smith said. “I want them to have the same memories about being a part of a team and basketball, so they can take that wherever that goes in their lives.”

Last year during the WNBA’s 25th season, Smith was voted a top 25 player of all time, but you wouldn’t know it by just talking with her.

“She’s so humble that whenever you mention something about her accomplishments she just brushes it off like it’s nothing,” Gest said.

The Golden Bears are led by first-year head coach and longtime boys assistant John Wanke who welcomed the opportunity to have Smith on his coaching staff.

“For me, she’s been an amazing coach, she’s been an amazing addition but more importantly I think her humility, the way that she approaches things in a very humble way just speaks volumes to her as a person and we’re really blessed to have here,” Wanke said.

But why is Smith at Upper Arlington?

“There’s a love right? There’s a passion for what you do,” Smith said. “It really brings you a lot of energy. We give them stuff, but I tell you they give it 10 fold back.”

The Golden Bears only won a few games last year but are 12-7 this year and are guaranteed a winning season with four games left in the regular season.

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