Last year was different. Last year, when the Houston Texans were working to find a new head coach and general manager, there was a sun the team orbited around. RIck Smith did the hard part and found the thing every team is striving for—a franchise quarterback. Deshaun Watson was a top five quarterback despite his teammates not allowing him to pull off the miraculous to win the close games they had won in 2020. Despite going 4-12, an immediate bounce-back was in sight. Find a head coach who could scheme an offense to get the most out of Watson, trim the fat on the roster, and find players with whom to build around Watson.
During last year’s coaching search, there was a blueprint sitting there. A franchise quarterback is the staple of teams who consistently make the postseason. It isn’t a great running attack, or secondary, or winning in a tough and gritty way. Numerous parts band together to win in that fashion, creating several points where one piece can break, forcing the entire operation to crumble. A quarterback is immune to that to a certain extent. Year in and year out, the great QBs consistently carry a team to the postseason.
The head coaching decisions made from 2017 to 2020 should have been based entirely around getting the most out of Watson. Bill O’Brien drew up a great game-plan occasionally, but overall, his run-heavy offense limited Watson’s performance and production. The Texans won because of the overall talent on the roster. O’Brien was able to get by year after year, until the dam finally burst. Tim Kelly did the bare minimum in O’Brien’s absence. He utilized an empty spread passing attack, with Chad (CHAD) Hansen and Jordan Akins at wide receiver, with Watson picking apart defenses from five wide receiver formations, using his running ability as a kill switch if everything was covered. Houston had the best passing attack of O’Brien’s entire tenure in Houston in 2020, and it came after he was fired.
Who could build an offense around Watson year in and year out was the question to answer? Brian Daboll’s quarterback-heavy scheme turned Josh Allen from incredible athlete to a MVP caliber quarterback. Eric Bieniemy calls the plays for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs’ all-time passing attack. Byron Leftwich could bring in the vertical passing scheme he learned from Bruce Arians. Greg Roman would surely ground Watson into dust, but Watson could finally tap into his rushing ability.
These were the ideas we had a year ago when the Texans were looking for a head coach. Then Watson was rumored to be on the verge of demanding a trade. Then Watson was accused of sexually assaulting 22 women. Everything fell apart. Houston fired O’Brien to get ahead of other head coaching searches and ended up being the last team to hire a head coach, a guy named David Culley. The ideas we had were eviscerated.
A year later, the Texans finished 4-13. Culley was one and done, unable to perform the bare minimum aspects of the job. Insane in-game decisions, players constantly out of position, an obtuse loyalty to the worst offense in the NFL...the Texans are now once again back to the drawing board and trying to find a new head coach.
I don’t care at all.
The difference this year is the Texans no longer have a source of light and energy. The franchise is cold. Maybe Davis Mills can improve on his accuracy. Maybe Houston can create a competent run game, acquire second third wide receivers, and Mills can become a starting quarterback. Maybe Jonathan Greenard can be the third best player on a good front seven. Maybe they finally stop screwing around, leave Tytus Howard at left tackle, and trade Laremy Tunsil, who has an impossible cap hit in 2022. Maybe the rookie class from 2021 has a starter besides Roy Lopez in it.
The Texans have a talent problem. O’Brien mortgaged everything to give up a 24 point lead to Kansas City in the Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs. O’Brien’s failings and mismanagement of the offensive line led to the Tunsil trade. DeAndre Hopkins became Brandin Cooks, Ross Blacklock, and David Johnson. Eric Murray was the answer to a crumbling pass defense. The defensive talent that had carried O’Brien for years declined because of time or moved onto other franchises. The Texans were left in ruins.
There isn’t a scheme out there that makes perfect sense for the Texans as they’re currently constructed. Jonathan Gannon’s Quarters defense (the one he was unable to really run in Philadelphia without linebackers or safeties), Kevin O’Connell’s zone heavy play action attack, Leftwich’s power run vertical play action scheme, Todd Bowles and Brian Flores’ high blitz defense...none of them fit the Texans’ current personnel. Except for the FCA leadership traits Josh McCown brings.
Houston has maybe one cornerstone player in Howard. The rest require more work and time to discover if they will stand the test of time.
The key to this offseason is for Nick Caserio to find good football players. That’s it. It’s simple. Firing Culley allows Houston to bring in a head coach who can grow with the team and match an ideology with roster construction. There isn’t a perfect scheme. Houston is malleable. The key is to find players the next good Texans team can be molded around, whenever that may finally be.
Because of this, I don’t care who the Texans hire as their head coach. It could be Flores, O’Connell, or McCown. It doesn’t matter. What I care about is what Houston gets for Watson and Tunsil, if they trade down from that third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which positions they address in the draft and free agency, and which one-year mercenaries stick around for another season.
The coach and scheme doesn’t matter at the moment. Finding good players and improving the overall talent level of the roster is what does.