November 18, 2013
A man sweats. Heat, humidity, and urban smog mix in a rancid soup around him. I'm getting too old for this, he thinks, oblivious to the cliche. He passes through a sparsely populated parking lot and into a back entrance of the squatting behemoth that is Reliant Stadium.
He moves through silent hallways and empty elevators until he arrives at a set of oak double doors. He's afraid of what comes next – always has been. Every head coach has strong and varied emotions concerning his boss. His owner.
Well, he's not my owner, he thinks. You can't own a person. Not anymore. It's illegal. And secure in this knowledge, he pushes through the doors and enters the reception area of Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
A 20-something receptionist looks up from her Bridal Weekly magazine and regards him coolly. An intercom on her desk connects her to the office behind. "Mr. McNair? Coach Kubiak has arrived." Within seconds the door behinds her opens with a mechanical hiss, revealing the darkness within. Frozen for a moment, Gary hears the young woman say, "The owner will see you now."
You can't own a person. Coach walks into the darkness.
"Gary! Thank you for coming in today. I know Mondays are busy for you." The man behind the desk smiles and gestures to the empty stool before his desk. Behind him ESPN anchors jabber mindlessly on endless repeat. A stool? This is ridiculous. Even Garret gets a regular office chair.
"I wanted to commend you on your effort Sunday. It took a lot of guts to do what you did. I was worried there for a minute Gary – I won't lie to you - but you came through! You always come through!"
Climbing up on the dunce's stool, Gary fails to meet the man's eyes.
"Actually I wanted to talk to you about that, Mr. McNair. I don't know how much longer I can keep this up. We got lucky last week – most of the fans were too shocked to riot. But if I start Schaub this week, the fans-"
"The fans will take it. They always have and they always will."
An uncomfortable silence breaks over the room leaving only the muffled sound of sports tabloid television. The man behind the desk leans forward. Almost whispering, he says:
"Gary, he played again Saturday. Did you watch it?"
"No, Mr. McNair. I spent the night with Matt making sure he understood the game plan. That kid Keenum watched it. He said the guy didn't look so good."
Furious now, the man pounds a fist on the desk and aims a finger in the general direction of the locker room.
"Don't tell me about that... Keenum asshole! He almost blew the whole thing yesterday! I told you to get him on board or sit his ass down." A few seconds later, with more composure, he says, "besides, it was just one mediocre game. Teddy still won. Winning is what he does."
Unconsciously swinging his feet from the stool, Gary nods. "Yeah, but, I mean, the Cougars aren't even ranked, Mr. McNair. I just don't know if the guy is worth... all this."
"You don't have to know! I know. You just have to stick to the plan. Now we've got a big game coming up against Jacksonville this week. This is the toughest one yet. Tell me what you've got planned."
"Well as you saw, we finally got Brandon Brooks on board. That's huge. Wade Smith took him out to dinner and broke things down for him. Newton's a little banged up, but I think we'll be able to get him in for at least half the snaps – that should be more than enough. We convinced Foster to take a paid vacation for the rest of the season. He said something about a 60 day juice fast in the Mojave Desert.
"Tate's still got sore ribs so I've told Swearinger to make sure he gives him his patented 'shoulder-to-the-ribs-no-wrap-up hit' during practice this week. Dennis Johnson is the other running back, but hell, he's the guy who delivers Ozarka to the practice facility. He actually still works that job – he just shows up on Sundays for the game.
"Anyway, Hopkins, I'm not sure about. Marciano slipped a bottle of nyquil into his Gatoraid last game and it did a number on him. But now the kid is bringing his own bottled water to work. As for Andre, he's gonna be a problem. But I figure, as long as I keep calling the same bootleg roll out over and over, even the Jaguars can figure that out."
The Owner grins and spreads his hands across the desk. "You're a hell of a coach Gary. What's Wade got prepared?"
"Well, uh, you know me and Wade don't actually talk, but I stood outside the door during one of his meetings with the defense. Sounds like Brice McCain is starting so, I mean, it should all be fine. And of course, if all else fails, we've always got special teams."
The man behind the desk rises and walks over and peeks between the curtains that overlook the field. "I wanted to talk to you about that. What the hell was Martin thinking? And Bullock, for that matter? Special teams was a total disaster yesterday."
"Well the funny thing is... is... Bullock and Martin aren't actually in on the plan Mr. McNair."
The man turns quickly from his view. "My God. Are you serious? They've been our go-to guys this year!"
Gary shrugs. "Just dumb luck I guess."
Horror and incomprehension blend into a scowl on the owner's face. "Well for God's sake don't say anything to them. They've had a hell of a season and we don't want to jinx them. When are you announcing Matt Schaub as the starter?"
Shifting uneasily, Gary rubs the back of his neck. "Sir, I've got to tell you, even if the fans can stomach this, I'm not sure the players will. The ones who don't... know, I mean. You saw Andre yesterday. He's been on the phone with Ed Reed all morning – God only knows what Ed's telling him. I've got 35 unanswered voicemails from Cush, and JJ destroyed the squat rack, the leg press and three of the vending machines. Boss, he threw them across the weight room."
McNair's eyes widen for a moment. But only a moment. "Well a little unrest is to be expected with something like this. Hell, start Keenum if you want – it won't make any difference. Being ahead at half-time doesn't hurt our draft positioning. And speaking of JJ, is there someway we could slow him down? Nothing serious, mind you. Maybe we could get him some lead-tipped cleats? Is that possible?"
"I don't know Mr. McNair. Wade's already ensured the rest of the front seven won't get any penetration – he's getting double-teamed every snap as it is. I think we'll just have to live with him getting a few sacks every game."
McNair reaches into his desk and pulls out a bobble-head doll, flicking the head to create a furious nodding of the head. "Fine. If a quarterback can't make a play against a 1 man rush with multiple open receivers, well, I don't know what! It's not like we can score the touchdowns for them! Well, of course we can and we have, but we can't do it every game. Far too suspicious. Yes, it's a good game plan. Teddy likes it and I do too. Alright, I've got a marketing team coming in to talk about next season. You can show yourself out."
Gary rises to go but pauses at the door. "Just one last thing, Mr. McNair". He can't take his eyes off the jiggling bobble-head. It creates the impression for a moment that he's speaking directly to the doll. "The fans, the media, even the players – they're all blaming this on me. I mean, I'm happy to do it, you know that. It's just, well, you're gonna keep me around for next year, right, Mr. McNair? You'll tell 'em how I'm a good coach and that I fight and battle and battle-fight every week. Won't you?"
Bob McNair follows the gaze down to the Teddy Bridgewater doll. Already, the uniform has been changed from red to blue, hand painted and hastily done. "Of course Gary. I think you've done a great job, and so does Teddy. Don't you Teddy?" Another flick sends the head ricocheting back and forth.
Silently, Gary exits the office. As he passes through the reception room he hears the intercom's speaker pop open. Before he reaches the hallway he hears the owner's voice, thin and mechanical, say, "Lorraine, get me Bill Cowher on the phone."
Strange he thinks.
I could'a sworn we had Dish...