Lately, the Houston Texans have been going through head coaches almost as fast as Pete Carroll goes through bubble gum.
Since firing Bill O’Brien four games into the 2020 season, they have hired two coaches – David Culley and Lovie Smith – only to show each the door after just one season.
Hopefully, they’ll show a little more patience with their latest head-coaching hire, DeMeco Ryans. The Texans reached an agreement with Ryans on Tuesday on a six-year deal, according to ESPN.
“Being the head coach of the Houston Texans is my dream job, and my family is thrilled to be back in H-Town,” Ryans said in a statement. “I have been around the game of football my entire life and have always had a natural ability to lead others. I know what it takes to win and be successful in this league both as a coach and a player.”
A two-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Texans, Ryans is taking over a team that has won just 11 games the past three seasons and finished 3-13-1 in 2022. It was a steep drop for the Texans, who won the AFC South four times from 2015-19 under O’Brien.
“He wasn’t a star player, but he was a good player,” said Wade Phillips, Ryans’ former coach with the Texans and analyst for the 33rd Team. “Sometimes those kinds of players make better coaches because they have to work at doing things and learn to teach those things.”
Phillips isn’t the only expert intrigued by the move.
“He’s going to have a big challenge there, no doubt about that,’’ said former NFL executive Joe Banner, who is an analyst for The 33rd Team. “I do think they have a little more talent than their record indicates. That’s not to say they’re ready to make some huge step in one year. That’s not going to happen. But there’s a little bit more of a foundation than it appeared as they went out and lost week after week.
“They’re capable of a two- or three-year turnaround like we’ve seen other teams make if they make the right decisions going forward.’’
Ryans, 38, is considered one of the league’s top young coaches. He spent six years as an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, including the past two as the team’s defensive coordinator.
The 49ers arguably had the best defense in the league this season. It led the NFL in points allowed (16.3 per game) and finished third in takeaways (30).
Banner believes Ryans has the right stuff to be a successful head coach in the league if given a fair chance by the Texans.
“I had the pleasure of being with him for a few years in Philadelphia (when Ryans was playing for the Eagles),’’ he said. “I think everyone recognizes that the No. 1 thing you’re looking for in a good head coach is leadership. And it’s hard to exaggerate what a dynamic, effective leader he is.
“That’s the single most important thing he brings to the table. The challenge, as it is for any new coach, is who does he have on his [coaching] staff and how will he manage them. That’s an unknown at this point. But DeMeco is a very smart guy. So, I’d be very surprised if he didn’t have a strong plan.
“Hiring a coach is a very hard projection. You see how many teams get it wrong. On average, just one out of every eight coaches hired succeeds. But I think the key ingredients you’re looking for in terms of a dynamic leader, he has as many of them as anybody I’ve met in the league.’’
Ryans is taking over a team that needs to be upgraded on both sides of the ball. While the defense gave up just 15 touchdown passes this season, it couldn’t stop the run and finished 27th in points allowed (24.7 per game).
The offense finished 31st in scoring (17.0) and scored more than 24 points in a game once all season, in Week 18.
They have the second pick in the draft and almost certainly will use the selection on a quarterback, possibly Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Alabama’s Bryce Young. They haven’t completely given up on 2021 third-round pick Davis Mills, but he threw an NFL-high 15 interceptions this season, and his passer rating dropped 10 points from his rookie year. At one point, he was benched.
“If you look at coaches that fail, one of the primary things that usually contributes to it is that they never found a quarterback,’’ Banner said. “Because it’s next to impossible to win in this league without a good one.’’
With two head coaching jobs still open, Ryans is one of just three Black head coaches in the league, along with Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles. That’s the same number as last year when Tomlin, Bowles and Ryans’ predecessor, Lovie Smith, were the only ones in the league.
Given the duration of his contract, Ryans would seem to have more job security going in than Culley and Smith had, but who knows? Since the death of Texans founder Bob McNair in 2018, this hasn’t been a particularly stable franchise. There’s been endless in-fighting and one bad decision after another.
“You would like to think they’re a little more committed to [Ryans] than they were Culley and Lovie,’’ Banner said. “But remember, the general manager (Nick Casserio) is going to be on the hot seat next season. And you don’t really want to be the head coach of a team where the principal voice that wanted to hire you — which is presumably the general manager — isn’t there anymore.
“It’s a little bit of a dangerous job to take, quite honestly. Because they’re going to really have to show some progress next season, which is hard to do when you’re a first-year head coach. Winning a few more games than they did this year should be the expectation next season. Rarely do you see a team jump up and win six or seven games more than they did the year before.”
True, but the bar was raised this past season by the Giants (Brian Daboll), Jaguars (Doug Pederson), Vikings (Kevin O’Connell), and Dolphins (Mike McDaniel) — teams with first-year head coaches who made the playoffs in Year 1.
Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.