It's hard to trust Nick Caserio after hiring David Culley. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
“She ys fals [is false]; and ever laughynge, with oon eye, and that other wepynge” - 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales.
“To laugh and cry both with a breath” – William Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis.
“We don’t know whether to laugh or cry” – Houston Texans fans listening to general manager Nick Caserio’s postmortem for the team’s dismal 2021 season.
They all say the same thing: we’d laugh if it didn’t hurt so much.
Most of Caserio’s press conference last week had the general manager clumsily defending why he hired David Culley as head coach and fired David Culley as head coach less than one year later.
Caserio repeatedly insisted that he thought Culley was the right man for the job a year ago, and stood by the hire. He said, “I think we’re in a lot better position now. I think that is because of the leadership and guidance that (Culley) provided. I have a lot of personal respect and appreciation and admiration for what he did for this team.”
But now Caserio had philosophical differences with Culley so the one-and-done coach had to go.
Is this any way to run an NFL franchise? The Pittsburgh Steelers have employed only three head coaches in the past 52 years. The Texans have had four head coaches in the last 15 months: Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, David Culley and “who’s next?” The Texans still will be paying off O’Brien and Culley’s contracts this upcoming season. In Culley’s case, they’re on the hook for his money three more years.
Listening to Caserio’s deflective mumbo jumbo, I kept thinking … “You’re the guy who hired Culley. What’s your responsibility here? Munschausen by proxy much? You picked a guy who’s been in football more than four decades, 27 years in the NFL, without ever being named a coordinator let alone a head coach. You hired a guy who stood on the sidelines with a puzzled look on his face, who didn’t seem to comprehend football rules, who ran an undisciplined locker room, who failed to establish a presence in the community. Who inherited a 4-12 team and left a 4-13 team. And you think this is a ‘better position?’ You don’t see a glass half full, you must see the entire Waterford stemware collection.”
Culley’s biggest failure wasn’t in the NFL standings. He put a lackluster, dull, unimaginative and frustratingly predictable product on the field. They say the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. Well, the largest city in football-crazy Texas simply gave up on its team. Fans who spent thousands of dollars on tickets decided not to show up for games. They just stopped caring. That’s the opposite of love.
And things may get more frustrating next year. The Deshaun Watson dilemma may not be resolved with a simple trade for a haul of draft picks in the near future. Some legal analysts believe the 22 civil cases against Watson may be headed to court and if verdicts go against Watson he may end up on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list – still a Texan and sidelined for a second season.
The NFL coaching trend is toward younger, creative offensive minds and big personalities like Sean McVay, who was only 30 when the Los Angeles Rams hired him in 2017. Kliff Kingsbury was 39 when the Cardinals hired him in 2019. You might have seen McVay and Kingsbury battling in the playoffs Monday night. Packers coach Matt LaFleur is 42. Bengals coach Zac Taylor is 38.
Everyone says the same thing about Culley – he’s a nice guy. You know what they say about nice guys, right? They finish next to last in the AFC South, thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars being even more dysfunctional than the Texans.
So far the Texans have interviewed recently fired Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, former Texans QB Josh McCown, and former Steelers receiver Hines Ward. Others reportedly on the “to do” list: Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Do you trust Caserio to make the right choice this time? The most important decision an NFL general manager makes is hiring a successful head coach. Caserio is a huge 0-1. Most of the Texans’ wish list candidates are being interviewed by other teams, too. There are eight head coach openings and the consensus opinion among NFL insiders is that the Texans position is the least attractive. Why? As ESPN’s Michael Wilbon so eloquently and bluntly put it, the Texans are a “fraud” and “the franchise is a joke.” But it hurts too much to laugh.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.