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.
The Houston Texans were the first team in the NFL to fire their head coach in the 2020 season. They now become the last team in the NFL to hire a head coach, and they’ve hired a head coach who has never been a head coach at any level, and who nobody else even bothered to interview. He is 65 years old — 66 before the season, which makes him the oldest first-time head coach in NFL history. The uh, the history of first-time head coaches that old is not great!
With some teams, we would be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on a hire like this. The Houston Texans shouldn’t be one of those teams. Not only has the search been slow, it also alienated the franchise quarterback for no reason. They wound up trying to placate him through an interview of Eric Bieneimy — the hottest head coach candidate in the game who can’t be hired because he actually wants power — and immediately dropped him from consideration. They didn’t even wait for the Super Bowl to conclude to give him a second interview.
This process meandered in the only way that a process that ended with Jack Easterby firmly in control of the Texans could. He scrambled to protect his base with Nick Caserio when it appeared a search firm was going to recommend someone who’d get rid of him, then, as he did with Bill O’Brien, immediately began directing all blame for things right back to Caserio.
And, of course. Of course. The two rumored last candidates for the job, Leslie Frazier and Culley, were renowned men of faith who had no other suitors. Just as Caserio was given an exorbitant sum of money with the idea that the Panthers would be interested, but otherwise didn’t appear to have any suitors. Jack Easterby knows how to play front office politics, and Cal McNair doesn’t. Once they are indebted to you for making the drop, you are safe. Eric Bieniemy would have taken less than two months to can Easterby. Meanwhile, the story:
It isn’t hidden. It is overt. It is a part of this organization’s thinking. It is their type. It is what they care about. When they say “tough, smart, and dependable,” it is a stand-in for religious background.
This is yet another capitulation to Easterby, who now enters the actual offseason in total control of the organization. Two offseasons of his moves have left the cupboard entirely bare outside of Deshaun Watson, and if Watson wants to leave, there will be nothing here. I doubt J.J. Watt is going to want to stay here. I doubt Will Fuller is going to want to re-sign here if Watson isn’t going to be here. It pretty much all hinges on a random wide receivers coach who nobody had ever heard of until he took these interviews convincing Watson that he’s worth the drama this organization creates.
It is a bleak place to be. Congrats Coach Culley.
This is where I would go in and tell you what we know about David Culley, but we don’t really know a goddamn thing. We know that his major influences are John Harbaugh and Andy Reid, Harbaugh of course was the Eagles special teams coach before he was hired. He’s been an NFL wide receivers coach for Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Baltimore. With the Bills, he was their quarterback coach. Some careers that launched under him that are notable: Tyreek Hill, Jeremy Maclin, Hollywood Brown.
I imagine we will find out a lot more at the presser, the general gist of it is that Culley’s being pitched as the CEO of the operation, an inspirational leader who will, as Cal McNair put it, make people want to run through a brick wall. I could see him absorbing enough from Reid, Greg Roman, and Harbaugh to be a good head coach. I could also see him being a misguided attempt at installing somebody who never has demonstrated the skills he needs. Your guess is as good as mine. My forays into listening to Culley talk have mostly shown a man who talks an awful lot like Easterby — dodging questions to spout life advice — but without sitting in the literal interview room, I can’t tell you what all this is going to look like. I imagine Houston media is going to have a lot of questions for Mr. Culley and what he wants this to look like. He is essentially a blank slate for us to judge empirically, analytically, schematically, and so on.
It is very easy to see that he is respected as a person. A lot of the praise that came for Culley was about who he was as a person. It was a lot harder to find specific praise for him as a coach outside of this Ravens.com article.
Reid was quoted at the Pro Bowl in 2017 as saying about Culley’s move back to the Bills as QB coach “He played quarterback so he always wanted to get back to doing that. He was always involved in our pass game all the time. He’d set it up with me and present it to the players. He’s done installs. He’s done everything. I looked at him like another coordinator.”
The things that we can learn from the staff that immediately began leaking are a little more granular. We know who Tim Kelly is: He is a stab to keep Deshaun Watson happy as the returning offensive coordinator. He coordinated the worst running attack in the NFL last year, and while I think he does deserve some credit for listening to Watson and opening up the offense away from what O’Brien put together last year, I don’t think a lot of the success that happened last season was about easy yardage. Obviously, because I’d rather have Watson on the franchise than not, I hope it works out! But if there’s no Watson, well, I have a lot of concerns about the ability of this team to generate easy offense. Kelly’s still young, but I think of last year more as a moderate step than as a stepping stone to greatness.
Then there’s (gulp)
Listen, Lovie Smith is a great man who had a great peak in the NFL, but that time passed hard after his tenure in Chicago. The 2014 Tampa Bay Bucs finished 19th in defensive DVOA, at 2.0% — 24th as a pass defense. The 2015 Bucs basically repeated that — 19th in defensive DVOA at 3.3%, 24th as a pass defense. Illinois’ defense was concerning. They finished 89th in defensive S&P+ in 2017, and mostly just continued to bend and break. They actually got worse in 2018, finishing 115th in defensive S&P+, and allowing 63 points to Penn State, Maryland, and Iowa.
I am willing to be wrong on this — maybe he learned a lot in his time off! — but old coaches generally don’t change. There’s certainly nothing we saw changing as his NFL and college defenses backslid into oblivion. Tampa 2 was the trademark defense of every team in the NFL for a little bit, but those days are done. And to try to ask this front four to give him the pressure to make it work? Whew. That’s got potential disaster written all over it to me. You probably need two free agents to even get the pass rush to passable if Watt leaves.
As with everything that’s happened this offseason, it’s all up to what Watson does. He can put a lot of lipstick on this pig if he stays. I don’t blame him in the slightest if he wants to force a trade — these are extraordinary times we’re watching down at NRG, as a naked power struggle has left someone who has no business running a football team as essentially the ruling executive. That executive has run off several good players, seems likely to run off more before the offseason is over, and has hired nobody with any definitive proof that they can be a good coach in the year of our lord 2021. We have rah rah promises, a guy who we have no idea about sans Deshaun, and a Tampa 2 dinosaur. All of them are devoted to the Church of Easterby.
Can’t wait for the presser! 😀
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