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7 coaching options that could turn Houston Texans franchise on its head

Add former Saints coach Sean Payton to the Texans' list. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans are on the clock as they look to sign their next head coach after firing Lovie Smith earlier this week.

After back-to-back years of one-and-done leaders at the helm, general manager Nick Caserio and owner Cal McNair will be looking to commit to a head coach that can be the long-term answer with a plethora of new, young players on the way.

The Texans have put in interview requests for numerous people, including former Houston linebacker DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, according to NFL reporter Aaron Wilson. The Texans also requested an interview with former Saints coach Sean Payton on Wednesday.

With Houston being at the beginning stages of its search, here is a breakdown of some rumored candidates the team has shown interest in and what the potential upside and downside for each could be should the Texans opt to sign any of them as their next head coach.

Sean Payton

The last time Payton was on the sidelines in the NFL it was in 2021 with the New Orleans Saints. He was navigating a team that for the first time in years, was without star quarterback Drew Brees, and he led them to a 9-8 record. Houston requested permission to interview him on Wednesday.

Pros: Payton has it all when it comes to his NFL résumé. He has 15 years of experience. He has a Super Bowl. He has a track record of winning with a franchise quarterback who did not necessarily have the All-American build or height. And above all else, he has a track record of long-term success.

Cons: There are many teams across the NFL looking to make Payton their next head coach. The most notable team could be within the same state in the Dallas Cowboys if its playoff run isn’t as long as Jerry Jones would like. In order to land Payton, the Texans will have to differentiate themselves among a crowded field. Selling the vision of Caserio and McNair could be what determines if Payton is wearing red, white and blue on the sidelines in the near future. Of course, the Texans have to be willing to give up draft capital to the Saints.

DeMeco Ryans

Ryans is a popular candidate among Houston’s fans for numerous reasons. With the top two being that he currently oversees the stout San Francisco 49ers defense as its coordinator, and because it would be a homecoming for him if he did take over the helm of the Texans.

The pros: Ryans is the leader of a 49ers defense that ranked high in multiple rankings in the 2022 regular season. Including second in fewest rush yards allowed, tied for first in interceptions, tied for fifth in forced fumbles and second overall in fewest total yards allowed.

The Texans, on the other hand, ranked last in rush yards allowed, tied for seventh in interceptions, in a six-team tie for ninth place in forced fumbles, and they were 30th in the league when it came to total yards allowed.

Ryans becoming the next head coach for the Houston Texans could do wonders for a defense that has struggled throughout the past two seasons, especially at containing the run. Ryans could also help the development of the team’s younger defensive players, in particular, Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre.

The cons: While the Texans have shown interest in Ryans, it is unclear if the feeling is mutual. After a revolving door at head coach the past two seasons, the former Texans’ player could opt to head elsewhere. According to NBC Sports in the Bay Area, Ryans will be “picky” about choosing a head coaching gig.

While Ryans has proven he is a stellar defensive coordinator, it is unsure what kind of scheme or personnel he would bring along on offense. With Houston potentially drafting a new quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, pairing the right offensive mind with the young playcaller could make-or-break the Texans’ long-term success too.

Jonathan Gannon

Gannon was reportedly a finalist for the head coaching job a year ago. How accurate that was, only the Texans know for sure, since Brian Flores and Josh McCown were also reported to be finalists and none of them ended up with the job.

Pros: We do know that Gannon received two interviews with Houston last year, and the Texans have put in a request to interview him again this year. Not only is there familiarity, but there is reason to believe both sides have mutual interest.

As the defensive coordinator of the Eagles, Gannon led the unit to a first-place ranking in fewest passing yards allowed, tied for fourth in interceptions and seventh in forced fumbles as Philadelphia overall soared toward the top of the NFC.

Cons: Philadelphia’s defense had one weakness and that was holding opponents in the run game. The Eagles were only middle of the pack when it came to containing the run, ranking 16th in rushing yards allowed in 2022.

While 16th is an improvement from Houston’s 32nd ranking, it could be a slight concern for the Texans. Overall, it should not be enough to stop the team from choosing Gannon if he indeed is viewed as the guy. Similar to Ryans, it is unclear what his plan for offense would be if selected, since he is a defensive-minded coach.

Ejiro Evero

Sticking with the theme of defense, the Texans have also put in a request for Evero, who was the defensive coordinator of the Broncos. While Denver had the most disappointing season in the league in 2022, it was not because of the defense.

Pros: Despite getting little-to-no help from its offense throughout much of the season, the Broncos defense managed to be a top 10 defense against the rush and top 13 against the pass. The Broncos also forced 31 total turnovers, including 15 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles.

Evero now has 15 years of experience coaching at the NFL level. He spent several years with the Los Angeles Rams under Sean McVay, including being a secondary coach during the 2021 season when LA won the Super Bowl.

Cons: While Evero has a lot of experience being around the NFL, he only has one season under his belt when it comes to being a defensive coordinator, which was this past season with the Broncos.

Shane Steichen

The Texans have interest in another member on the Eagles coaching staff. Steichen currently serves as the offensive coordinator for Philadelphia.

Pros: With two years of experience as the team’s offensive coordinator, Steichen was able to lead Philadelphia toward a top eight passing offense and a top five rushing offense.

The Eagles were second in the entire NFL in total touchdowns scored in 2022 behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. With a key piece in running back Dameon Pierce already a part of Houston’s offense, and potentially a new, young quarterback, pairing the Houston offense with Steichen could be fruitful.

In 2021, Steichen’s first year as the Eagles offensive coordinator, Philadelphia was first in the league with 2,715 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. He has experience developing a young quarterback after two seasons with Jalen Hurts.

Cons: Steichen has had the luxury of playmakers like A.J. Brown, Miles Sanders and Hurts, a stellar offensive line, and a great defense that does not put the offense in compromising positions often. The Texans have a long way to go in most of those areas.

Mike Kafka

The offensive coordinator of the New York Giants led the team to its most successful season since 2016.

Pros: On offense, Kafka helped the Giants find ways to defeat opposing teams with a strong ground game and a limited passing game.

New York was fourth in the league in total rushing yards and fourth in the league in total rushing touchdowns. Kafka was able to make the most out of quarterback Daniel Jones, who had 15 passing touchdowns in 2022, which is the second-most he has thrown in his career, and most importantly, he had a career-low five interceptions.

Jones also had seven rushing touchdowns, the most in his career. Kafka showed his ability to cater an offense to the strengths of his players, which is a huge asset for a head coach. He also spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, working closely with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and under the umbrella of Andy Reid.

Cons: Kafka has only six years under his belt of NFL coaching experience, including only one as an offensive coordinator. It could be a big jump to go from coordinator to head coach in just a span of two years. But, it should not be enough to hinder Houston from choosing him if they are high on him.

Ben Johnson

Johnson has been around the NFL for over a decade, and he was the offensive coordinator of one of the most explosive offenses in the league this past season with the Detroit Lions.

Pros: Under Johnson, the Lions had the third-scoring offense in the NFL with a top seven passing offense and a top 11 rushing attack. The Lions’ balanced approach would be a welcomed sight for a Texans offense that has been abysmal the last two years, and with a rushing attack that has been toward the bottom of the league for three years straight.

Cons: While Detroit’s offense, for the most part, was a juggernaut throughout the 2022 season, there were a few games this season when the Lions were completely shutdown. Including a 29-0 beat down at the hands of the New England Patriots in Week Five and a 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Patriots and Cowboys were among the best defenses in the league, and while it’s not realistic to expect a high-powered offense every week over the course of an 18-week season, those two games could be something to make a note of.

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DeMeco Ryans looks like the Texans' choice as the next head coach. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans have been busy interviewing coaches over the last few weeks, and just this week, the team held second interviews with Giants OC Mike Kafka and Broncos DC Ejiro Evero. The Texans have also interviewed Los Angeles Rams tight ends coach and assistant head coach Thomas Brown, Sean Payton, Lions OC Ben Johnson, Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon, and Eagles OC Shane Steichen. Johnson has taken himself out of the mix and is returning to Detroit.

But according to a new report from Ian Rapoport, the Texans may already have their minds made up about their next head coach.

Former Texans linebacker and current 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans appears to be the top candidate for the Texans, and he is reportedly interested in the position, with a second interview likely to take place next week.

Ryans has been the defensive coordinator for the 49ers over the last two seasons. San Francisco was the best defense in the league in 2022.

Ryans is a popular pick for the position in Houston, and fans will be super excited if he eventually gets the job. Let's hope Rapoport's sources are correct, and the Texans have their new head coach lined up.

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