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COLUMBUS — One pillar of Ohio State’s football program is staying. Another is going.
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Buckeyes junior quarterback Braxton Miller will return for a final season, while defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is leaving his alma mater to join former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s staff with the Houston Texans, the school confirmed Thursday night.
Miller’s announcement came with little suspense, following a report by Sports Illustrated last week that the two-time Big Ten player of the year would pass on the NFL. The electric dual threat, who was forecast as a midround draft selection in need of more consistency as a passer, will likely enter next season among the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.
“I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year,” said Miller, who passed for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions and rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 TDs last season. “Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I’m looking forward to working for another year with coach [Urban] Meyer and [offensive coordinator Tom] Herman. And I want to graduate, so this will help get me closer to my academic goal.”
Vrabel’s exit, meanwhile, was a surprise and leaves a major vacancy on Meyer’s staff.
A former Buckeyes All-American who played 14 years in the NFL, Vrabel returned to OSU as a linebackers coach in 2011 after his close friend and former teammate, Luke Fickell, was hired as interim coach, then stayed on under Meyer as defensive line coach and became one of the profession’s hottest new names.
Vrabel, 38, helped develop the line into the strength of an otherwise erratic defense last season, and perhaps more important, was an elite salesman. He helped the Buckeyes land four five-star defensive linemen in the last two classes alone — Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence, and Tommy Schutt — and was named ESPN.com’s Big Ten recruiter of the year in 2012.
Vrabel, though, clearly felt the pull of the NFL and had a connection to O’Brien, who was an assistant with the Patriots from 2007-11 — Vrabel played there from 2001-08 — and shared the same agent. Both are represented by the Cleveland-based Neil Cornrich.
“I am thankful for everyone associated with [Ohio State] for 3 great years,” Vrabel posted on Twitter. “My family and I are excited to join the Houston Texans.”
There was no indication any of the Buckeyes’ committed defensive line recruits planned to look elsewhere, though one such 2014 commit, Illinois tackle Dylan Thompson, wrote on Twitter that Thursday was “probably the most sad I’ve ever been in my life.”
Vrabel’s exit leaves OSU’s defensive staff with two openings. Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers recently became the head coach at James Madison of the FCS.
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