Two days ago, long-tenured Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was removed from his position as head coach after 14 years. That same day, legendary coach of the University of Alabama, Nick Saban, announced his retirement after 17 years at the school. Yesterday morning, news broke that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is leaving his role after 24 years; after nearly a quarter-century at the helm. All three of these coaches were national icons, paragons of football, and had been in the profession of football for a collective 148 years.
Six-time NFL champion Bill Belichick confirmed at a press conference that he will part ways as the coach of the New England Patriots, bringing an end to his 24-year tenure as the architect of the most decorated dynasty of the league’s Super Bowl era https://t.co/NyxlX88I3f pic.twitter.com/F1a96LLj0C— TIME (@TIME) January 12, 2024
For all of that experience and history to suddenly disappear in the span of two days? Three of the most tenured coaches in the country, all leaving their positions nearly simultaneously? It’s so hard to believe that you wouldn’t be remiss to think that there was some conspiracy behind it...is there?
Intriguing, but unlikely given each NFL coach’s circumstances. Carroll and Belichick’s exits were less of a personal decision than Saban’s, both suffering from the consequences of disappointing seasons. Regardless, all three are currently out of the profession, and in their place lies a massive, gargantuan, herculean-sized hole that may never be filled.
Unless it can.
In the NFL, a new generation of head coaches have begun to creep into the spotlight. Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers, Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams, and Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins quickly come to mind, their dominance in the regular season speaking for itself. Other young coaches that have shown signs of a bright future are Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni. None of these coaches have been in their position for longer than seven years, meaning we have a long way to go before we can start definitively claiming any can rival Belichick or Carroll. But, I do think several of these coaches have dazzled and impressed enough over their young careers that comparisons to the greats is not unwarranted. After all, what are the greats there for if it is not constant comparison?
McVay and Shanahan are the most tenured of the new crop of coaches, each with seven years under their belt. Both have already had so much success that a hall-of-fame career almost feels inevitable, and Matt LaFleur is not far behind. Any of these three guys could be your pick for the next Great, but…I feel like there’s someone else…there must be someone else that has gone unmentioned thus far…oh yeah, DeMeco Ryans!
THE CASE FOR DEMECO RYANS
Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans is, out of all the coaches previously mentioned, my pick to become the next Great NFL head coach of this generation. In his first year at the helm, he turned the defense around seemingly overnight, quickly assembled a winning culture in Houston, became a popular coach amongst players for his ability to talk to them both as a coach and as a former player, and won the AFC South division under the wings of maybe the greatest rookie quarterback who ever lived, C.J. Stroud. This leads me to my first reason why I believe in Ryans to make it over all the rest: he’s had a franchise quarterback right off the bat.
Think about it: what is the most important element to an NFL roster? What part of the team impacts the final score most often? The quarterback. Like it or not, the quarterback has an outsized impact on the outcome of football games, and Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick can tell you all about how important it is to have a great one for as long as humanly possible. Truly great quarterbacks are incredibly rare, but none can compare to C.J. Stroud. Stroud is the epitome of an anomaly, a player practically tailor made to be a success in the NFL. It’s gonna take awhile before we can declare him to be the next Tom Brady, but I think it’s safe to assume Stroud is pretty darn good.
We all knew Stroud had a cannon when he was coming out, but his arm strength still takes me by surprise sometimes. It just looks easy. pic.twitter.com/T2GOZ9nlKn— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) January 7, 2024
What else do these great head coaches possess that has been important to their best years? Besides a great quarterback, many of the most successful seasons both Belichick and Carroll have had has been due to a top ten defense. Carroll’s best years came during the “Legion of Boom” era of the early 2010s, a nickname given to his hard-hitting, ball-hawking defense. Belichick has long had the reputation of being a defensive mastermind, he and his staff responsible for a defense ranked in the top ten in points scored 16 of the 24 years he was in New England. In those nine Super Bowl appearances the Patriots had since 2000, they had a top eight scoring defense in all of them. Look at the most successful teams of recent years: the Chiefs didn’t get over the hump until they hired Steve Spagnuolo and got the defense into the top half of the league, the 49ers have had a dominant defense for years, and the Ravens, as the top seed in the AFC, had the first-ranked scoring defense this year.
So, why do I think DeMeco Ryans is capable of replicating this dominance? Well, take a look at the numbers for his first year:
2023 Houston Texans Defense:
- DEF PTs — 11th
- DEF YDs — 14th
- PASS YDs — 23rd
- PASS TDs — 1st
- INTs — 16th
- NY/A — 27th
- RUSH YDs — 6th
- RUSH TDs — 27th
- RUSH Y/A — 2nd
There’s clearly room for improvement here, but compare it to last year’s stats:
2022 Houston Texans Defense:
- DEF PTs — 27th
- DEF YDs — 30th
- PASS YDs — 10th
- PASS TDs — 1st
- INTs — 7th
- PASS NY/A — 22nd
- RUSH YDs — 32nd
- RUSH TDs — 31st
- RUSH Y/A — 29th
DeMeco Ryans on what this moment means pic.twitter.com/cmAPZD5mOT— Bridget Condon (@BridgetCondon_) January 7, 2024
There has been a bit of a statistical dip in passing defense, but that blame may lay with how poor last year’s Texans squad was against the run, allowing opposing teams to minimize the number of passing attempts they make, thus artificially inflating Houston’s overall passing defense statistics. Regardless, Houston has maintained their no-fly-zone in the end zone philosophy and adequate interception rate into 2023. On top of that, Houston’s run defense has completely remade itself in the new year, leaping 26 spots up the rankings in rush yards defense.
This doesn’t happen by accident. DeMeco Ryans has completely transformed Houston’s approach to attacking the run, knighting linebackers like Blake Cashman, Denzel Perryman, and Christian Harris with the task of clogging rushing lanes. But, beyond that, Ryans has assembled a mighty defensive pass-rush, emulating part of what made his defenses in San Francisco so successful. Behind the starting pass-rushers Jonathan Greenard, rookie Will Anderson Jr., Sheldon Rankins, and Maliek Collins lies a continuously rotating line of solid veterans, like Jerry Hughes, Derek Barnett, Khalil Davis, Kurt Hinish, and Teair Tart. Individually, these players have not had a significant impact against the run, but combined, they are capable of keeping the offensive line flustered all game long. With a healthy Greenard, a rookie phenom, and a few solid free agents, DeMeco Ryans has been able to completely transform the defense.
DeMeco Ryans is forever engaged with his defense.— Will Kunkel (@WillKunkelFOX) January 7, 2024
“Great stop defense, lets get back to work” pic.twitter.com/gQds2AnVks
Finally, besides coaching and the quarterback, what sets great teams apart from good teams? Well, this is highly subjective, but in my view, a higher number of star players on a roster will separate the great teams from the good teams. There’s plenty of star players to go around in the league, and every team has at least a few, but most teams competing in the divisional round and beyond are usually those that have 3+ pro-bowl caliber players on both sides of the ball. Take a look at any of the final eight teams in a season from the last five years, and you’ll probably find at least four pro-bowlers on their team and a few other players that were snubs.
So, what does Houston have in terms of star power? Well, in my view, I can see these players challenging for the pro-bowl in the next few years:
QB: C.J. Stroud
LT: Laremy Tunsil (who made the AFC Pro Bowl roster this year)
WR: Nico Collins, Tank Dell
DE: Jonathan Greenard, Will Anderson Jr.
LB: Blake Cashman
CB: Steven Nelson, Derek Stingley Jr.
S: Jalen Pitre
That’s ten players already on the roster that I genuinely believe can become top-of-the-league performers at their respective positions, and I challenge anyone that thinks I may be wrong about one of these players to tell me why in the comments below. In year two, I can see C.J. Stroud, Tank Dell, and Will Anderson Jr. improving dramatically from their rookie seasons. With Stroud improving even further, I can see Nico Collins becoming a perennial pro-bowler, and with Will Anderson Jr. improving, I can see Jonathan Greenard entering a similar space. Derek Stingley Jr. just recently won AFC Player of the Month for December, so his trajectory is clearly up entering his third year in the league. With him improving, Steven Nelson will get more targets, thus more interceptions, and now you start to see a really complimentary team starting to form.
The Texans are in a position with their quarterback where his rising tide will lift all the boats around him, and with how much the defensive line improved in one year under DeMeco Ryans, I can see something similar happening on that side of the ball, as well. Think about the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles. Started slow, really found their groove in the middle of the season because of better rookie performances and consistent veteran play, all combining to result in a playoff berth. They immediately lost in the wildcard to Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but everyone could see that the Eagles were primed to become a powerhouse in 2022. If DeMeco Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio play their cards right in the draft and in free agency next year, they could set for a long time.
What do you think, though? Will this momentum carry this young Texans team to legitimate dominance for several years, or is it far too early to tell? Will this team become a routine AFC contender, or will they end up disappointing in the end, like the 2018 to 2020 Texans squad? Tomorrow, on the eve of a new era in the NFL, Houston will have another chance to prove doubters wrong and show that their window is already open.