Gary Kubiak has been coach of the Houston Texans for approximately three and a half years. Those three and half years have been the most successful of the young franchise's history, although a record of 25-28 would hardly be considered successful by most NFL teams' standards. Long known as a team on the verge of success, this year was considered by many as a make-or-break year for the first-time head coach. Now that the Texans have a 1-2 record, Gary Kubiak faces the proposition of losing his job.
Gary Kubiak inherited a team that had won just two games the previous year, and outside of a few players, was devoid of talent. Opinions differ on whether Kubiak is a good coach on Sundays, but it's hard to debate that Kubiak and his General Manager Rick Smith have revamped this team for the better. Both products of the Mike Shanahan Denver Broncos' system, Smith and Kubiak have been accused often of imitating and attempting to recreate that franchise, including the hiring of coaching personnel. Two of of those hirings are now causing the most scrutiny for Kubiak and may determine his future with the Texans.
Kyle Shanahan is considered by many as a young, budding offensive mind in the NFL, and from his pedigree, it's hard to argue. Since his hiring in 2006, Shanahan has received a promotion every year--from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach, and then eventually to offensive coordinator in January of 2008. In his first year as OC, Kubiak eased him into the situation by keeping an unknown amount of the playcalling responsibilities. This year, however, Kubiak was supposed to hand the reins over to Baby Shan.
Shanahan had a rough first game as playcaller when the New York Jets came to Houston and held the Texans' offense to zero points. The offense was unable to adjust to the constant Jets pressure, which set a precedent in that game for blitzing more than any NFL team, still true after three games. Since that game, things seem better, given Matt Schaub's 657 passing yards and 7 TDs in the last two games, but his 107 passing attempts dwarfs Steve Slaton's 38 rushing attempts for the season. If you add in Chris Brown's 19 attempts, it's still almost a 75/25 pass-to-run ratio. For an offense predicated on playaction pass, running the ball this little will eventually get them into trouble.
The other hire that Kubiak made from his circle of past Denver colleagues was Frank Bush. Bush was not a popular hire in Houston because he was part of the old defensive regime led by Richard Smith, who produced three years of sub-standard defense. Bush started to win people over, though, because he preached a mantra of attacking the football (in other words blitzing), something that Smith didn't do often.
Bush's defense this year, although showing flashes of improvement, is statistically terrible. They are, in fact, the worst defense in league after three weeks of play. Bush has succeeded in producing more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but that pressure hasn't resulted in sacks and the atrocious secondary has been picked apart. Despite having more talent than ever before, the defense has seemingly regressed under Bush.
Kubiak has handed over a majority of playcalling to Shanahan and has little to no control over Bush's defense, but it doesn't matter. As head coach, he made the decisions to place those two as coordinators, so he is responsible for their successes and failures. If the Texans managed to lose to the Raiders on Sunday, they would be staring at a 1-3 record and a hard fight to make the playoffs, the realistic goal for this season. This would really test the balance between owner Bob McNair's affection and patience for Kubiak and his stated desire for a playoff berth this season.
Obviously, everyone hopes that Kubiak rights the ship this week and leads the Texans to their first home win of the season. For conversation's sake though, is this a must-win game for Gary Kubiak? In the event of a loss, would he destined to lose his job some time during or after the season? Some writers around here have even begun to question Kubiak's rightful place as head coach.
I personally want to believe that Kubiak is safe. Not only do I think that he can be a great coach in this league, but I also detest the idea of going through another rebuilding period. Great franchises in the NFL have shown a huge amount of tolerance to losing and struggling to get over the hump. If we want to have that same success, I think we need to show the same patience.
What do you think? If the Texans fall to 1-3, is and/or should Gary Kubiak be a doomed man?