Rivers McCown’s 2021 Texans Head Coach Interview List

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.


This is part two of a two-part series. Yeah, you got it.

As I mentioned in the first post of the two-part series, I would cast a wide net on these coaches, meaning that I would be looking to interview up to 15-20 different coaches. I went over most of my criteria in that post as well, so have a look before you complain to me that the guy you want isn’t in the spot you want him in. My biases are at play here and inform a lot of the list.

Between Cal McNair, Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry, and (sigh) Jack Easterby, we have the main players in the room. They mentioned wanting to get a general manager first on both the telecast of the first Texans-Jags game and several times thereafter — I’m mostly going to stay out of that because there’s no real way for me as an outsider to pre-evaluate a general manager without prior experience. I think John Dorsey’s work has aged well in Cleveland though he’s not someone who I would consider a great cap guy. I think Scot McCloughan is to blame for most of Washington’s most recent playoff push. I’m happy to poach a newcomer from a good front office. I don’t hold strong opinions on most general managers until they start making bad trades.

But, let me do the work of Korn Ferry for Korn Ferry and put some good thoughts into the world about who I want to see as head coach. Come with a good cup of coffee.

A major thing I will say before we begin is that as long as the Texans hire someone I’d consider interviewing, I’m not going to get mad about who they pick. I think there’s a certain level of detail that, as an outsider, I don’t get the full gist of. I’m willing to give some credit there. I don’t come at this full of hubris and my-guy-is-better-than-your-guy. I just have leans and those leans produce the number of guys I want to talk to.

I’ve produced this list using a) my own biases and b) a list of most-mentioned names by people in a Twitter post asking other Texans fans to name their own five guys. If you’ve got someone that wasn’t named on this post, well, I’m sorry I can’t cover literally everyone. If I did, the post would be 20,000 words instead of 5,000.

Who do I __NOT__ want to be head coach?

I respect to various degrees the work that David Shaw, Dabo Swinney, and Pat Fitzgerald have done as college coaches. I don’t think Dabo or Pat have an attitude that meshes well with the NFL vis a vis enlightenment about players. I think they’d stage their own versions of the Hopkins trade at some point. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good head coaches, but they’re not fits to me in a post-BOB landscape. Shaw is a good egg with a big track record of success, but I think they’ve faded recently and I don’t believe the system the Cardinal run is a great one for Deshaun Watson. Matt Campbell gets thrown around by some people who are interested in finding a young superstar coach, but I think I’d like to see what he can do at a place where there are no built-in excuses. (That reminds me a lot of hiring O’Brien from a sanctioned Penn State team.) I would say the same thing for Baylor’s Dave Aranda. Florida’s Dan Mullen has been pretty good, but I want a longer track record at a big program — he’s probably the guy on this list I feel the worst about not writing more about. Urban Meyer will quit this team in a hot minute. I think Jim Harbaugh needs to rehabilitate his image somewhere before he’s ready to be a professional head coach again.

Because of my clarification in the last post about hiring anyone that Jack Easterby knows, obviously, I am not interested in Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, or Jerod Mayo. No, I don’t care how fawning the Chronicle article was about Mayo.

Some guys who got mentioned to me in the post are guys I just don’t think have any reason to leave for the Texans. I don’t think Ryan Day should leave Ohio State to go to the Texans. They’re not hiring John Harbaugh. Some of them I just don’t think are ready to be head coaches — I saw a lot of 49ers underlings like Mike McDaniels being thrown around as potential hires. Maybe that will happen, but it wouldn’t be my focus. There are plenty of guys with coordinator experience who I’d give a shot first. I haven’t been particularly impressed with Byron Leftwich in his stints as Arizona OC or, now, with Tampa Bay.

I am very grateful for his best years, but no thanks on Gary Kubiak as a reunion. I can’t believe I have to say this, but because people have asked — no, I don’t want Tim Kelly to be the head coach. Great job this year after BOB bit the dust, but that’s an elevation that makes me squeamish.

Who am I interviewing despite some reservations?

Todd Bowles
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Bucs DC, -16.1% def. DVOA (3rd)
2019: Bucs DC, -10.5% def. DVOA (6th)
2018: Jets HC, -17.0% total DVOA (25th)
2017: Jets HC, -19.2% total DVOA (27th)
2016: Jets HC, -34.5% total DVOA (32nd)

Bowles’ defenses with the Jets were similarly not good, never rising above 22nd place after 2015. While I admit that those Jets teams were lacking talent — by the end it was Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams playing around stopgaps at best — I think if you look at his Tampa teams you can say that he inherited a ton of talent. The fact that when given control to pick an offensive coordinator the team wound up with Chan Gailey and guys who would never coordinate again is also not optimism-inducing.

Bowles’ defensive blueprint is to turn up the heat. Tampa is fifth in blitz rate as of Week 12’s games at 39.3%. They were second in 2019 with a 43.4% blitz rate. The Jets were top-six in blitz rate in 2018.

Bowles’ first season with the Jets was some good lightning in a bottle. I do think he deserves a second chance somewhere, particularly with how Tampa’s defense has showed up under him. But I would question the offensive direction of the franchise and think his defensive blue-print winds up being a bit one-dimensional.

Steve Spagnuolo
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Chiefs DC, 3.2% def. DVOA (17th)
2019: Chiefs DC, -2.6% def. DVOA (14th)
2018: n/a
2017: Giants DC, 7.6% def. DVOA (25th)
2016: Giants DC, -13.9% def. DVOA (3rd)

One thing I’ve thought a lot about since I heard it was from a For The Win podcast that Steven Ruiz did with Chris Vasseur, and Vasseur (I’m paraphrasing) defended Matt Patricia and said something along the lines of Patricia has good ideas even if the results haven’t been there.

I think Spagnuolo has some great ideas. I think he’s extremely creative. I don’t doubt that he’s in the upper echelon of defensive coaches in the NFL. But that track record? Just not enough for me to want to bank on him to turn it around. And it’s not like his 11-41 head coaching record has been all that impressive either.

(It’s funny that his two offensive coordinators in St. Louis were … Josh McDaniels and Pat Shurmur.)

Kellen Moore
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Cowboys OC, -13.0% off. DVOA (26th)
2019: Cowboys OC, 24.5% off. DVOA (2nd)
2018: Cowboys QB, -6.3% off. DVOA (24th)
2017: Still playing
2016: Still playing

Well, you certainly can’t hold his year against him without Dak Prescott. Coming into Week 5 the Cowboys led the NFL in passing yards and that’s without the benefit of most of the vaunted offensive line. Without Prescott, the Cowboys are basically in free-fall on offense, trying to make Andy Dalton hit three receivers who can get open in the very brief window of time they have before someone runs over a backup lineman.

That said, I don’t know if I can justify going out and banking on just one year of production, and it’s not like there are a ton of hidden upsides to the Cowboys this year. Maybe you get someone like Kris Richard as defensive coordinator out of the deal and that’s not so bad, but it feels like a big projection at this point and making Prescott and Amari Cooper torch the league isn’t exactly ground-breaking stuff — those are good players.

Moore’s on a good track to becoming a head coach, it just feels about two years too soon to me.

Dave Toub
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Chiefs ST Coordinator, -1.7% ST DVOA (23rd)
2019: Chiefs ST Coordinator, 4.1% ST DVOA (2nd)
2018: Chiefs ST Coordinator, 5.6% ST DVOA (2nd)
2017: Chiefs ST Coordinator, 5.3% ST DVOA (4th)
2016: Chiefs ST Coordinator, 7.8% ST DVOA (1st)

Back in the day — by the day I mean like, 2016 — Toub used to get a lot of steam as a John Harbaugh guy — someone who can oversee an entire team well because they’re used to dealing with special teams and the detail-level work that takes. Now I feel like maybe his time has passed a little? Nobody interviews him anymore. But you can’t say he’s not a maestro at what he does — I’m sure the Chiefs special teams DVOA will be on the up-and-up these last four weeks, and other than that it’s an instant top-five unit every year he’s in charge, mostly working with UDFA guys outside of Tyreek Hill. He’s been running special teams since 2004 between the Bears and Chiefs.

I know it’s a little outside the box of what I’m preferring, but maybe he’s a guy who wows in his interview and has a plan for everything, like Harbaugh did. I’m a big fan of his work and I’d absolutely take an interview with him.

Matt Eberflus
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Colts DC, -11.4% def. DVOA (8th)
2019: Colts DC, 3.0% def. DVOA (19th)
2018: Colts DC, -3.5% def. DVOA (11th)
2017: Cowboys LBs, 1.9% def. DVOA (16th)
2016: Cowboys LBs, -2.2% def. DVOA (14th)

This is the one I expect to be a major disagreement between me and the lists I’ve seen from everyone else — I just don’t think Eberflus is some kind of rising star. I think he has coached a steady, passive defense that has done extremely well at times. But if you look at the elevation this year, I think a lot of it is about bringing in DeForest Buckner and, breaking news, DeForest Buckner does not get hired with Eberflus as head coach.

If you listen to Colts fans, you’ll hear plenty of complaints about Eberflus. They’ll talk about how his zones allowed the only Jaguars win of this season to date, one where Gardner Minshew completed 19-of-20 passes. Drew Brees completed 29-of-30 against the Colts last year. I think where I stand on defense in general right now is that I want someone who isn’t afraid to mix up multiple mindsets, but I prefer the defense be aggressive rather than passive, and there are times over the past few years where Eberflus has played passive and gotten burned. After years of watching Romeo Crennel zones on third-and-long get torched, I’m not yearning for more of that. The underlying numbers are good, not great. I want great if someone is going to be the head coach.

Now, does that mean that I have no interest in him? No. But rather than being a presumptive top candidate for the job, he’s gotta come in and wow me in an interview.

Don Martindale
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Ravens DC, -11.4% def. DVOA (7th)
2019: Ravens DC, -11.5% def. DVOA (5th)
2018: Ravens DC, -11.7% def. DVOA (4th)
2017: Ravens LBs, -13.4% def. DVOA (4th)
2016: Ravens LBs, -9.5% def. DVOA (6th)

Here is the yin to Eberflus’ yang. Nobody has sent more blitzes over the last few years than Martindale, and because the Ravens run an organizational philosophy that stacks the roster with good defensive backs, the Ravens have generated a ton of pressure without much in the way of investing in star edge rushers. It’s been Matt Judon for most of his reign, and the results have empirically been quite good.

However, as much as I like Martindale and prefer his operating philosophy to Eberflus, I think Martindale needs to find the off switch sometimes. I think his game plan against the Chiefs — blitzing Mahomes early and often — has been destroyed every time the two teams play. He’s the major reason I have no faith in the Ravens to make that a fair fight right now. It’s a minor quibble to a unit that has, overall, been very successful. This is where the Yannick Ngakoue trade came from — a desire to be able to beat Mahomes with pressure that isn’t schemed.

I do believe in Martindale a little more than I believe in Eberflus. But there may be a little more Rex Ryan in here than you’d really want in a head coach.

Jim Caldwell
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: n/a
2019: Dolphins assistant head coach/quarterbacks, -14.5% DVOA (28th)
2018: n/a
2017: Lions HC, 9.0% total DVOA (12th)
2016: Lions HC, -11.2% total DVOA (26th)

I have no idea if Caldwell actually wants a job — and I’m not saying that in a coded way, I haven’t read anything about him interviewing anywhere — he recently said he might be interested on Adam Schefter’s podcast. I think you have to look at him seriously. He’s the only person in years to turn that Lions franchise into something respectable. He won 14 games when he had a healthy Peyton Manning. His 2-14 season — the thing that makes his career record 112-62 instead of something obscene — came with Manning sidelined and him hung out to dry with a retirement-worthy Kerry Collins.

Caldwell’s offenses routinely were among the league’s least interested in running, which fits well with Watson. His job as interim offensive coordinator in Baltimore culminated in the Joe Flacco Super Bowl explosion. Even what happened in Miami in 2019 is mostly above expectations for what you might have thought from an offense with DeVante Parker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and company.

I’m not saying there’s no downside here — it’s not like we know of Caldwell as some master innovator or anything — but someone who has put up the records he has and been involved in some overperforming teams should be on the radar.

Doug Pederson
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Eagles HC, -18.5% total DVOA (27th)
2019: Eagles HC, 5.5% total DVOA (11th)
I2018: Eagles HC, -1.0% total DVOA (15th)
2017: Eagles HC, 23.7% total DVOA (5th)
2016: Eagles HC, 13.3% total DVOA (6th)

This is assuming he’s fired — Super Bowl-winning head coach available. Who is to blame for the collapse of the Eagles? Is it Carson Wentz, is it Pederson, is it the talent around both of them? I think the easy answer is that it’s a mix of the three. Brett Kollman did a video on Wentz that I found enlightening. I agree on most of the points of it.

At the same time, Pederson’s offense in and of itself hasn’t struck me as especially innovative or anything. Neither Travis Fulgham nor Zach Ertz gets easy separation often out of it. Is that a groceries thing or is it about the schemes? I think when I watch the Eagles there’s just been something lacking in the calls. I’m not saying that Wentz isn’t to blame — he is — but even when he’s played decently in it, the offense hasn’t been dominant in any year since 2017. 2017, of course, was dominated by an obscenely great third-down offense.

My read of Pederson? He’s someone who was strategically ahead of the game on fourth-down conversions. The rest of the league caught up to that. Now he doesn’t really have a winning edge. I don’t think he’s bad, I’m happy to interview him, but I think the recent Super Bowl might draw eyes here that wouldn’t exist if they’d watched just the last three years of Eagles games.

Brian Daboll
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Bills OC, 7.7% off DVOA (8th)
2019: Bills OC, -7.1% off DVOA (21st)
2018: Bills OC, -27.9% off DVOA (31st)
2017: Alabama OC, 33.5 off S&P+ (11th)
2016: Patriots TE coach, 27.9% off DVOA (1st)

I don’t want to speak ill of what Daboll has done in the past, but what keeps me from giving him a full endorsement for the job he’s done with Josh Allen is that it’s mostly just a six-game sample. Nobody could have made that 2018 Bills defense good, but 2019 could have done quite a bit better. It’s also an inescapable fact in my mind that he has tied himself to Bill Belichick and Nick Saban and that is what is driving a lot of league-wide interest in his services.

That said, what a breakout year this has been for Allen. And Daboll has done an excellent job of using more play-action (122 passes through Week 12, third-most in the NFL) and letting Allen and Stefon Diggs create a real connection. It would look even better if they had an actual run game. I can’t look at what Daboll has created this year and say with a straight face that I thought it would happen. So I’d love to hear more about what made him reinvent things for Allen during quarantine and how that has worked.

Another thing I think Daboll would have going for him is that both the Bills and Alabama defense roots should probably turn up somebody who is a good defensive schemer. (If it’s Matt Patricia, though, kill me.)

Who is clearly in the inner circle?

8. Greg Roman
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Ravens OC, -6.7% off. DVOA (24th)
2019: Ravens OC, 28.2% off. DVOA (1st)
2018: Ravens assistant, 1.2% off. DVOA (13)
2017: Ravens assistant, -4.6% off. DVOA (21st)
2016: Bills OC, 10.5% off. DVOA (9th)

Recommended further reading: https://blogs.usafootball.com/blog/6977/learn-how-to-adapt-your-quarterback-run-game-like-the-baltimore-ravens

If you want to build a run-first attack, Greg Roman is your man. Roman’s created powerful rushing offenses as Jim Harbaugh’s right-hand man in San Francisco, as Rex Ryan’s counterpoint in Buffalo with Tyrod Taylor, and now with the Ravens. While I don’t think what the Ravens do as a run offense is replicable because Lamar Jackson is a special talent in that regard at the quarterback position, he’s had empirical success with guys like Taylor and Colin Kaepernick who are closer to what Deshaun Watson is. The 2016 Bills had the best rushing DVOA in the NFL.

In trying to decide between Roman and passing-game focused coordinators, I’ve leaned towards the passing game because the NFL is a passing league. The Ravens led the NFL in pass offense DVOA last year, and Jackson was MVP, but I am less sold on Roman’s ability to create pass offense from a negative game-script. I don’t think what’s happening with the Ravens this year is 100% his fault, as I don’t think the team has a good receiving corps, but he definitely hasn’t helped things.

Roman’s past is kind of odd. After being let go by the Ravens in 2006 he didn’t see much of an NFL future and went to call offensive plays at his high school. He was also, weirdly, fired by Rex Ryan in the middle of the 2016 season. It’s hard, as an outsider, to understand why he’s not been in the right circles to keep moving up in the NFL. But it would be a return for Roman — he was on the original Texans staff in 2002 — and I’ll bet he could divvy up a hell of a run game for Watson.

7. Brent Venables
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Clemson DC, 15.3 def. S&P+ (7th)
2019: Clemson DC, 14.6 def S&P+ (4th)
2018: Clemson DC, 12.6 def S&P+ (3rd)
2017: Clemson DC, 8.3 def S&P+ (2nd)
2016: Clemson DC, 14.1 def S&P+ (6th)

Recommended further reading: https://rileykolstefootball.com/2018/05/26/clemsons-brent-venables-base-defense/

If you want a defensive schemer who is on the forefront of college football right now, there are really two answers: Brent Venables and Dave Aranda. I think Venables could come in to the pros tomorrow and make even this bad Houston defense pretty competitive right away. The track record is unfathomably good. Cut-ups of this guy’s work on defense make film Twitter’s world go round.

Ultimately though, it’s someone who has never been a head coach, so it’s a big leap of faith. I like the idea of him picking an offensive guy to complement Watson because, well, he watched Watson’s college career. I think he has a good idea of how to fit that. This may seem like a wildly aggressive ranking and I’m okay with that, but between the sustained dominance and the connection to Watson, I’d be very excited to grant an interview here and learn more.

Why Venables and not Dabo? I just think it’s all about the personality and ego management — one of them has it, the other one really needs to be in college football for what he does to clear the bar of acceptable.

6. Lincoln Riley
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: HC Oklahoma, 44.4 off. S&P+ (3)
2019: HC Oklahoma, 46.1 off. S&P+ (3)
2018: HC Oklahoma, 54 off. S&P+ (1)
2017: HC Oklahoma, 49.8 off. S&P+ (1)
2016: HC Oklahoma, 48.7 off. S&P+ (1)

Recommended further reading: https://www.footballstudyhall.com/2017/6/8/15760764/the-lincoln-riley-oklahoma-sooners-offense-bob-stoops-legacy

It’s hard to argue with the offensive genius of what Riley has built at Oklahoma. Even in a down year with a new quarterback, they’re still churning out points by the boatload. While I’ve got some coaches higher on this list with less head coaching experience, I would even say that as someone with experience running a program as a whole, and perhaps that breadth of experience of a Riley would be extremely helpful.

But what has he done with that power? The defense has largely been pretty bad, and that is squarely on his shoulders to fix. That’s giving me some major Kubiak vibes. Kubiak in Houston ran his own guys for five years at DC and basically washed Andre Johnson’s career down the drain because of it. I like what Riley is about as an offensive designer and I’m sure he’d have better talent to work with a defense in the pros, but the combination of no pro game experience and that bad OU defense are big questions I need answers to before I sign up for him as Watson’s coach for the next part of this journey.

That said — you can’t find anybody with his track record in the college game, and if what he does translates, it’s high-reward. High-risk, high-reward. Nobody in the collegiate game does it quite as well as Riley has over this recent stretch.

5. Brandon Staley
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Rams DC, -12.2% def. DVOA (6th)
2019: Broncos LB coach, -2.8% def. DVOA (13th)
2018: Bears LB coach, -25.4% def. DVOA (1st)
2017: Bears LB coach, -0.4% def. DVOA (14th)
2016: John Carroll DC

Recommended further reading: https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-los-angeles-rams-created-the-leagues-most-unique-defense-jalen-ramsey

I think this is the best stab out there at hiring a long-term defense guy who has already established some roots at the NFL level. Whenever I praise Staley, what inevitably happens is that somebody says “Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, how hard could it be?” Well, let me read off to you some of the other players that are starting on this defense: Sebastian Joseph, Leonard Floyd, Samson Ekubam, Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, Jordan Fuller. The Rams lost a ton of defensive talent last offseason, and even some of their long-time stalwarts like Michael Brockers are pretty one-dimensional.

Doesn’t matter, Staley’s defense has (through Week 12) held opponents to the lowest net yards/attempt in the NFL and just 3.9 yards per carry. Jalen Ramsey, by the way, has been targeted 46 times in 10 games. Players like Darious Williams (UDFA) and Troy Hill (small stakes free agency) are the ones doing well with a massive amount of targets. Micah Kiser had stepped in and done an excellent job replacing Cory Littleton, a huge free-agent bust for the Raiders.

Honed under Vic Fangio, who has created several of the best defenses of the past decade, I believe importing Staley to Houston would do quite nicely for the bad defense here. And, you know, if they want to bring some of those Rams offensive concepts that have hid Jared Goff so well to Houston too, that’s pretty nice as well.

4. Eric Bieniemy
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Chiefs OC, 30.0% off. DVOA (1st)
2019: Chiefs OC, 25.6% off. DVOA (2nd)
2018: Chiefs OC, 35.4% off. DVOA (1st)
2017: Chiefs RB coach, 16.4% off. DVOA (4th)
2016: Chiefs RB coach, 3.1% off. DVOA (13th)

Recommended further reading: https://theundefeated.com/features/kansas-city-chiefs-offensive-coordinator-eric-bieniemy-will-just-have-to-wait/

Listen, football media attributes a lot of everything that happens on offense to Andy Reid in Kansas City. Is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t see what Eric Bieniemy does on a daily basis. I don’t know how he prepares the guys. But given the relative success of the Reid coaching tree and the fact that he’s an offensive mind who reportedly already has Deshaun Watson’s eye if you listen to Jason La Canfora, I think it’s important that we consider him seriously.

My main negatives on Bieniemy are things he has no control over. His career as an offensive coordinator has overlapped the career of a generational quarterback talent and a generational play caller as his head coach. From an empirical standpoint, that makes it hard to measure what Bieniemy’s contributions are. There’s also skeletons in the closet about his time in Colorado as offensive coordinator — I have no clue how much they matter to anybody today. The 2011 and 2012 Buffalos were terrible at offense, but Colorado as a program has floundered for years.

Would we consider Matt Nagy’s coaching career a success if he had drafted Deshaun Watson? I have no idea. I definitely believe Bieniemy is worth an interview and has a shot at being a great coach. But I have less evidence of him working well with inferior surroundings to compare him to my top three on.

3. Robert Saleh
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: 49ers DC, -5.8% def. DVOA (9th)
2019: 49ers DC, -20.3% def. DVOA (2nd)
2018: 49ers DC, 6.5% def. DVOA (24th)
2017: 49ers DC, 9.1% def. DVOA (27th)
2016: Jaguars LBs coach, -2.1% def. DVOA (15th)

Recommended further reading: https://www.ninersnation.com/2020/10/22/21522692/film-room-defensive-coordinator-robert-saleh-deserves-more-praise-than-hes-getting

If we had just the last two years of Saleh, I think I’d be more excited about him than any other candidate besides my No. 1. But those first two years with the 49ers were brutal. Yes, they had nobody. I remember how bleak the pre-Shanahan 49ers were. But they were not great years. Saleh checks the leader of men box emphatically, to the point where Richard Sherman continually goes to bat for him.

Schematically, I think he’s done a great job of adjusting to his own weaknesses, and this year in the wake of losing Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Buckner, there have been a lot of them. They’ve successfully integrated Javon Kinlaw, which has helped, but for this ragtag unit to be ninth in DVOA is a minor miracle.

Listen to some of the names that have started games for the 49ers this year: Kevin Givens, Kerry Hyder, Jamar Taylor, Jason Verrett. These are scrapheap free agents or UDFA guys. Saleh has helped develop Fred Warner into one of the best linebackers in the NFL. I think he’d be a major upgrade for Houston’s defense, and bringing a Shanaclan-approved OC would be a nice bonus.

2. Arthur Smith
Last five years by the numbers:
2020: Titans OC, 23.7% off. DVOA (3rd)
2019: Titans OC, 13.0% off. DVOA (6th)
2018: Titans TEs, -5.6% off. DVOA (23rd)
2017: Titans TEs, -2.1% off. DVOA (18th)
2016: Titans TEs, 10.8% off. DVOA (32nd)

Recommended further reading: https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-new-nfl-offense-49ers-titans-packers-mike-shanahan-offense

I’m blown away by what the Titans have done over the past two seasons, and I want in.

Smith has created an outside-zone heavy system that runs a ton of effective play-action (per SportsRadar, nobody has more play-action passing yards than the Titans this year through Week 12’s games.) Yes, Derrick Henry isn’t on this roster and is a special flower, I agree. But I don’t think that what he does in getting to those holes is all that special — he’s special because he’s running over your safety and corner after he reaches them. He’s rejuvenated Ryan Tannehill from a nobody into a franchise quarterback with nothing more than the second-round stab at A.J. Brown and a bunch of nonsense.

There’s a secret allure here in my eyes because, well, I’m not a huge Mike Vrabel guy as far as the schemes go. I think he’s a great leader of men. I think he’s heady as far as creating timeouts and exploiting rules. I give him a lot of credit there. But I think his defense has been rough this year without Dean Pees. If you take away his advantage with Smith, well, are the Titans necessarily going to be able to recreate that? Is that guy in the building? I don’t know. I’m not positive about that.

Smith’s background isn’t much — he’s a quick-riser with almost no direct control before the 2019 season — but what he’s put out so far has been so good that it’s hard to ignore. The idea of pairing Watson on a bootleg sort of game appeals to me, and with no direct Kyle Shanahan availability, I think this is the guy that reminds me the most of him in this class.

Who would I most like to see as Texans head coach?

  1. Joe Brady
    Last five years by the numbers:
    2020: OC, Carolina Panthers (5.8% DVOA, 10th)
    2019: OC, LSU (48.9 S&P+ O, 1st)
    2018: Saints offensive assistant (27.0% DVOA, 1st)
    2017: Saints offensive assistant (16.1% DVOA, 2nd)
    2016: Grad assistant, Penn State

Recommended further reading: https://www.pff.com/news/college-football-study-in-social-distancing-how-lsu-isolated-jamarr-chase-in-unique-environment

Everyone wants to find the next Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan. I think Brady is the best fit for that. It is a goddamn miracle that the Panthers offense is in the top 10 in offensive DVOA. Teddy Bridgewater was left for dead. Christian McCaffrey has been out for weeks, they’ve plugged in Mike Davis and lost nothing. The offensive line that the Panthers have rolled out is Taylor Moton and some hot garbage. Do they have good receivers? Sure. You know who else has good receivers right now? The Houston Texans. A big part of what elevates Brady above the best of the rest to me is that he’s done what he’s done this year with the NFL equivalent of table scraps.

Last year at LSU, Brady was the main author of one of the best offenses in the history of college football. With a transfer quarterback leading the way — one who his offense would help elevate to the No. 1 overall pick — LSU scored 36 or more points in every game but one for the entire season. They faced a worthy Clemson defense in the championship game and dropped 42. The year before, with mostly the same team, LSU scored 36 or more points just six times in 13 games. His deeper history has Sean Payton/Saints roots, which are also wildly successful at the NFL level.

Is he a perfect, 100% flawless candidate? No. I have no idea what he would do at DC. I don’t know much about his talent evaluation or his GM acumen. (I know the Texans will hire a real GM, spoiler alert to fans: head coach evaluations matter a lot in the GM process.) What I do know is that you’ve got a guy with a history of elevating even janky talent to good places and that you can pair him with Deshaun Watson. That seems to be the cleanest fit on the board to me.


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