TEXANS IN TURMOIL
Here's why the biggest loss for the Texans is flying under-the-radar
The Houston Texans, seemingly in the blink of an eye, have hired a new head coach with no experience as a head coach, a new general manager with no experience as a general manager, fired their popular director of media relations and other popular behind-the-scenes personnel, said goodbye to the team's biggest and most beloved star, traded their best receiver for peanuts and, while they deny it, they're on the verge of losing their divinely talented and accomplished quarterback for a bushel of untested draft picks.
Oh, yeah, and they've gone from perennial division champions to a 4-12 disaster.
The Texans are in turmoil. They're the laughingstock of the NFL. But here's what I'm wondering:
Does Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair know that fans refer to him as "Hee Haw" and "Jethro" and "Hillbilly Cal" and believe he simply doesn't have the intelligence to run an NFL franchise?
Does McNair know that fans see Jack Easterby as an evil Svengali who has mind control over McNair and has driven the Texans into the dumpster and created a toxic work environment? Seriously, I know very smart people who believe that Easterby has photos on McNair. They're not saying it as an expression, they think there are actual photos.
Does Easterby hear fans call him a phony TV preacher and puppet master who is pulling the strings at Texans headquarters. They say that Easterby has singlehandedly destroyed the Texans as a winning NFL franchise. Well, not singlehandedly since his other hand is up McNair's backside controlling the CEO's mouth.
For me, the final brick in the Texans' demolition project was team president Jamey Rootes' resignation last week. Because Easterby refuses to talk to the media, McNair shouldn't, and Deshaun Watson won't, we don't know what's really going on with the Texans – except every move they make of late is a head shaker.
This much I do know, Rootes' departure will devastate the Texans, not so much on the field (that's Easterby's wrecking ball), but off the field where the Texans are one of the most successful, valuable and admired sports franchises in the world. The Texans are a $3.3 billion empire in Houston. To a large measure, that was Rootes' doing.
Rootes came aboard the Texans in 2000, two years before the Texans even played a game. Team owner Bob McNair hired Rootes from the Columbus Crewe soccer team. Over the next 20-plus years, Rootes helped build a spectacular, state-of-the-art stadium, negotiated contracts with sponsors and vendors and hired the business staff. He helped lead the charge that brought two Super Bowls to Houston.
Most important, Rootes created the "culture" (Easterby's favorite word, except it's b.s. when he uses it) that inspired the love affair between Houston fans and Houston Texans. Every home game ever played in NRG Stadium has been a sell-out. It's not a little thing to Rootes, but the Texans host the best tailgate parties in the NFL.
Rootes wasn't just leader of the Houston Texans, he made his mark in Houston as Board Chairman of the United Way of Greater Houston, Chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership and professor at the University of Houston. Rootes ran the Houston Texans Foundation that raised $32 million for youth activities in Houston. After Hurricane Harvey, he helped coordinate NFL fundraising efforts that provided $50 million for the United Way.
He was named the Steinberg/DeNicola "NFL Humanitarian of the Year" in 2020.
Rootes once told me, "We are the most diverse big city in America in terms of people, cuisine, culture and industry. Houston is a fun city. If you want to do it, you can find it in Houston - and it's affordable, and you can do it year 'round. This is a special city. If you can dream it, you can do it. That's the essence of the brand we're selling, the message we're trying to get out."
I asked Rootes, what exactly does an NFL team president do? His answer was "I just find the best people and put them in position to best use their talents and succeed. I trust my people and I let them do their jobs."
That's the biggest difference, I guess, between late owner Bob McNair and prince Cal McNair who inherited the Texans reins. Bob McNair hired Jamey Rootes and let Rootes do his job. Which Rootes did magnificently.
They say an apple doesn't fall from the tree. In Cal McNair's case, he's stumbled completely out of the orchard.
Cal McNair hired a reputable search firm to find a new general manager for the Texans. The firm gave him two recommendations. McNair ignored them. Instead, he hired a Jack Easterby disciple with no experience. After recruiting a distinguished panel to help pick a new head coach (Rootes was a member of the panel), McNair ignored them and hired a head coach also with no experience in that position, a choice that came as a shock to Texans fans.
With Rootes' departure, the team's rudder, the adult in the room, is gone. While Rootes has not announced his next move, some say he will put together an ownership group to buy a pro soccer franchise.
I've got a better idea. I know a city that's begging for new ownership of its NFL team.