AFC South reporter
On paper, the Texans have one of the most attractive head coaching jobs in the NFL.
They have two first-round picks in the top 12 of the upcoming draft: No. 2 (original pick) and No. 12 overall (the Browns’ pick acquired in the Deshaun Watson trade). They have 11 selections in total. And they currently have $46.8 million in cap space through 2023, the eighth-most in the league, according to Over The Cap.
Houston has the draft assets and financial flexibility to quickly improve a roster that already features promising young players in running back Dameon Pierce, safety Jalen Pitre and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
But Lovie Smith’s firing Sunday, just hours after the season finale, is a reminder why coaching candidates might view the opening with skepticism.
Smith is the Texans’ second straight head coach, joining David Culley, who was fired last January after going 4-12 in the 2021 season. He also didn’t have what most NFL observers would call lists winnable (Culley might have overcome his circumstances), and given that both are black coaches in a league that has a poor record of recruiting and retaining those who look like them, the optics aren’t . good for houston
It’s fair to speculate why a potential hire should believe they’ll have time to build a winning culture. Houston will have its fourth coach in four years in 2023 (technically, its fifth, if you count Romeo Crennel’s 2020 interim after Bill O’Brien was fired). The Texans will have promising young talent to work with in 2023, but it could take a season or two for that to translate into wins. Will the next coach be able to do that?
Here’s a question candidates will inevitably ask general manager Nick Caserio and president/CEO Cal McNair: How will the organization define progress under a new coach next season? Because that was not clear with the previous two coaches. Culley did not have a first- or second-round rookie pick on his roster. Smith had probably the worst roster in the NFL. Will the next Texans coach allow himself to have a bad season?
There are several examples of NFL coaches who have turned loss early in their tenure into success. Zac Taylor of the Bengals won a combined six games in his first two seasons, then went to the Super Bowl last season. The 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan won a combined 10 games in his first two seasons, then, like Taylor, went to the Super Bowl in his third season. Bill Belichick and Andy Reid won just five games in their first seasons with the Patriots and Chiefs, respectively. Both have a Super Bowl win (in Belichick’s case, multiple titles).
Organizational patience, which the Texans failed to offer their last two head coaches, has led to success with other franchises.
Of course, the counterargument is that the need for time does not always outweigh the reality of really poor results. The Broncos’ firing of first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett after 15 games this season, for example, seemed justified given the caliber of Denver’s roster.
And ultimately, the Texans’ head coaching job will be coveted, not only because of the draft assets and cap space, but also because NFL head coaching gigs are so rare. There are only 32 of them, of which only a few are open each year. There are an infinite number of coaches who would line up just for the chance to interview one of them, let alone take the opportunity to turn around a losing franchise. Safety is fleeting in NFL coaching, but that won’t deter prospects from scouting the Texans.
Less than 24 hours after Smith was fired, Houston has already requested interviews with at least five candidates: Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, 49ers defensive end DeMeco Ryans and Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
However, if the Texans’ choice has other head coaching options, what reason is there to go with Houston given his track record?
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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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