DeMeco Ryans has turned things around in short order for Houston. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.
Over the course of the last few years, I've noticed a marked change in my writing. It coincided with the ebbs and flows of the sports culture here in Houston. Namely, the Rockets and Texans falling off while the Astros tried to keep the city's hopes afloat. Even with winning titles, going to consecutive American League Championship Series, and staying a top contender, the Astros couldn't hold the city's collective attention (in some realms) as much as the Texans.
I don't care what you say. Football is king here in Texas. The Astros winning helped the city get over the debacle that was on Kirby and Polk. What they truly desired was a respectable football team. Having gone without for years, finally getting one, it not being up to par, being okay for a while, then taking a nosedive, it made fans feel like they were in a Twilight Zone of sorts.
Enter DeMeco Ryans. Not only has he changed the culture in the organization, but they're winning too! Who'd have thought the Texans would be in the Wildcard position this late in the season? Absolutely NOBODY! Well, I won't say nobody. There were some overzealous fans wearing Battle Red and Deep Steel Blue-tinted glasses who would say this same thing no matter what happened in the offseason. This is why DeMeco Ryans is the NFL's Coach of the Year right now, and there's no debate to be had.
The first reason was already listed above. He came to the Texans organization and changed the culture. From top to bottom, the expectations and thought processes have changed for the better. Gone are the days of people feeling like they're walking on eggshells around an arrogant jerk who had no reason to be such a blowhard. No longer are the sidelines patrolled by one and done coaches who were more of a placeholder than a purse on a church pew on Sunday morning. He brings a presence, an aura if you will. When he walks in a room, people genuinely are excited to see and talk to him. He obliges willingly and fully engages by talking directly to people and making eye contact. Never heard him yell or be condescending.
Secondly, and perhaps most notably, he's winning. Last year at this same time, the Texans were 1-8-1 and in last place in the AFC. They finished the year 3-13-1 and picked second overall in the draft. As of this writing, they're 6-4, second place in the AFC South, and sixth place in the AFC as one of the Wildcard teams. They're scheduled to play the Jags this weekend with sole possession of first place in the division on the line. No other team in the league has made as big a jump in the standings from last season to this one than the Texans. NRG Stadium was the loudest some have heard it the last couple wins against the Bus and Cardinals. Craziest part: it wasn't even full to capacity.
Changing the culture and winning goes a long way. Perhaps the biggest influence DeMeco has had is his commitment to player development. When he was with the 49ers, they raved about how he turned them into better players. Fred Warner was emotional over losing DeMeco as a coach for what he's done for Warner's career. Pairing a coach like him with players like C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson Jr, and others with the same level of commitment has this team in place to not only win, but be a factor for years to come.
I've seen coaches make some unreal turnarounds in my lifetime. It usually comes with a ton of other sweeping changes. While he did have the number two and number three picks in this past draft, this team was in shambles. The salary cap was a mess, draft capital was abysmal, and the team was devoid of talent. General manager Nick Caserio came in and cleaned up a lot of it before DeMeco was hired, so he should get some credit. However, he set a table for DeMeco to come in and work his magic. It's hard for a GM to make those moves and not have a coach to help finish the job. He bought the groceries, but had no chef. DeMeco came in and not only cooked a great meal, but he set a nice table and cleaned the kitchen when he was done.
If this man doesn't win Coach of the Year, fire everybody who has a vote. No coach in the league has done what he's done over the course of this season from last season. Improving the winning of a franchise and changing their culture to the point where the fan base did a complete 180-degree turnaround means the award should already have his name on it. The trophy should be in Houston in a lock box at a secure location. There should be plans already made, but flexible enough for their impending playoff run. If you can name a better candidate, I'd love to hear your argument. Send it to me on November 33rd. Promise it'll be the first thing I read that day.
Phoenix All-Star Devin Booker and Houston rookie Cam Whitmore got into a minor scuffle midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night and both players were called for a technical foul.
With a couple big blocks on the ensuing possession, Suns center Jusuf Nurkic was there to back his star teammate.
Booker scored 35 points, Kevin Durant added 24 and the Suns held off the Rockets 110-105, with the teams set to meet again in Phoenix on Saturday night.
Nurkic had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. His biggest moment came in the fourth, when he stuffed Whitmore twice on the possession following the scuffle, drawing huge roars from the Phoenix crowd.
“Very important — that's the team sticking together,” Booker said. “That goes a long way. That's what you need when things get tough, it gets to the thick of things and the energy is high. You want to know you have people on your team that are built like that.”
Booker scored 20 points in the first quarter to help give the Suns an 18-point lead they would never relinquish. He has scored at least 20 points in an NBA-high six quarters this season.
Three-time All-Star Bradley Beal missed his fifth straight game because of a hamstring injury.
The Suns took an 86-75 lead into the final quarter. Houston cut the advantage to six midway through the fourth, but Booker responded immediately with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine.
That led to the brief skirmish between Booker and Whitmore. Tempers stayed hot over the next few minutes — Houston's Alperen Sengun fouled out and then got two quick technicals, earning an ejection.
Booker hit both of the technical free throws, Nurkic followed with his two free throws from Sengun's foul, and that pushed the Suns' lead to 99-84. The Rockets would cut the lead to four with 16.9 seconds left, but Royce O'Neale hit two free throws to end the threat.
Jalen Green led Houston with 34 points. Fred VanVleet added 21. The Rockets connected on just 11 of 45 3-pointers and shot 33.3% from the field overall, which was their worst percentage of the season.
“It wasn't one of our better nights as far as guys getting open looks and making the extra pass,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “We had a few guys who had it going, but a few guys who were struggling.”
Phoenix has won seven of its past 10 — and nine in a row at home — as it tries to stay in the top six of the Western Conference playoff race and avoid the play-in tournament. The sliding Rockets have lost eight of 10.
“We're getting confident in this building,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said.
Booker's big first quarter pushed the Suns to a 33-17 lead. The four-time All-Star made 8 of 10 shots from the field, including a 33-foot 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Phoenix settled for a 64-53 halftime lead. Booker had 26 points before the break while Green led Houston with 21.