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How Important Is Head Coaching Experience?

Potential or proven track record—which matters more?

John Madden Holding the Ball High

On February 4, 1969, Al Davis, former owner of the Oakland Los Angeles Las Vegas Raiders elevated a seemingly unknown linebackers coach to head coach. Davis was already known as a maverick, a man who wasn’t interested in doing things the way they’d always been done. Instead, at the time, he was a shrewd businessman with a very keen football intellect.

While no other team would give this former collegiate player a second thought as a professional head coaching replacement, Davis saw something others did not. The potential Davis spied in his new head coach paid off in legendary fashion. That former linebacker turned linebackers coach turned head coach would go on to take his team to the last AFL Championship before landing a berth in five of the first eight AFC Championship Games, winning Super Bowl XI in the process. That coach retired with a record of 103-32-7 (to this day, nearly 50 years later, the highest winning percentage in NFL history among coaches with 100+ games), never once having a losing season. And the team he built with Davis would go on to win two more Super Bowls over the five years after he retired.

That coach was John Madden, who recently passed away, having carved a legacy as one of the most iconic figures in American football history. He literally changed the landscape of football forever.

When the current Houston Texans started their most recent coaching search, they also bucked traditional wisdom like Davis did so long ago. Names like Jerod Mayo, Hines Ward, and Josh McCown have come up early and often through this process.

While it’s a stretch to see any of those three as the next John Madden, and clearly Houston has no one in the building intellectually close to Al Davis in his prime, there is still a possibility that one of these unsung coaching candidates could turn the Texans from a struggling franchise that has yet to truly escape expansion team status into an NFL powerhouse.

We all know Jack Easterby is basically the anti-NFL genius. His name doesn’t deserve consideration alongside the likes of NFL greats like Madden, Davis, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, or any of the other legendary men who shaped this game. If anything, many believe Easterby’s association should fall in with the likes of Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff, and Reed Slatkin.

That doesn’t mean that looking outside the standard path to head coachship (is that a word?) is wrong. Indeed, Madden is one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, and he was never a coordinator before he took the reins of a team.

However, this is the Texans we’re talking about... so... best to hedge ALL THE BETS on this one. As of this writing, we know Houston has interviewed the following candidates:

  • Brian Flores - former Dolphins head coach
  • Jonathan Gannon - Eagles defensive coordinator
  • Joe Lombardi - Chargers offensive coordinator
  • Josh McCown - veteran NFL QB
  • Hines Ward - special assistant to the head coach at Florida Atlantic University

Fans have expressed a deep desire for the Texans to talk to former H-Town linebacker and fan favorite DeMeco Ryans, current defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, but that hasn’t happened yet.Links to last year’s candidates, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Buffalo Bills OC Brian Daboll and New England Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, are still fluttering along out there in winds of rumors as well.

Last year, the Texans side-stepped the traditional coordinator pipeline in favor of David Culley - a guy seemingly far better suited to be the character coach and rise to a position currently held by Easterby than hold a head coaching role. We all saw how that worked out...or didn’t.

That doesn’t mean someone like Mayo or McCown couldn’t step in and immediately improve the future of the Houston Texans. One thing we’ve learned is that under the guidance of Cal McNair, anything is possible when it comes to making major decisions for the team.

Could they hire the next John Madden? Maybe.

Could they hire the next David Culley? Maybe.

Will they do something most don’t expect? Probably.