INDIANAPOLIS -- – The Texans’ revolving door of head coaches has spun around for the third year in a row.
Lovie Smith was fired Sunday night, according to a league source, hours after finish 3-13-1 in his one season as head coach.
Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair later made it official with a statement announcing that Smith is out and general manager Nick Caserio will remain on the job.
“Nick Caserio and I spoke with Lovie Smith tonight and informed him that we will be moving in a different direction as an organization,” McNair said. “I appreciate Coach Smith and his entire family for their contributions over the last two seasons. We are grateful for his leadership and character, and we wish him the best moving forward.
“While we understand the results have not been what we had hoped for, we are committed to building a program that produces long-term, sustainable success. Our fans and city deserve a team that they can be proud of. I will work alongside Nick Caserio throughout this process and I’m confident we will find the right leader for our football team.”
Among the reasons cited for Smith’s dismissal and concerns expressed by sources about his management style: not being receptive to suggestions and feedback regarding strategy, scheme, practice routines and the use of analytics and other data to inform decisions.
WATCH: KPRC2 Sports Team discuss the Texans future
Communication within the building had deteriorated dramatically.
“Lovie would meet with players, but he would never use any of our suggestions and ideas,” a Texans player said. “It was bad. We wanted to be heard, and he ignored what we had to say. It was very frustrating. Talking with him became a waste of our time.”
Smith didn’t implement suggestions from staff, and kept a close counsel instead of embracing an interactive approach with several departments and subprograms in the building.
Smith was hired after a coaching search a year ago that drifted between former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores as he sued the Dolphins, the NFL, Texans and Denver Broncos alleging discrimination and unfair hiring practices, Josh McCown, a favorite of former executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby as the former NFL quarterback nearly landed the job, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who interviewed twice, and Smith.
“Ultimately, Lovie was a bad hire,” a source said. “He’s a good man and a good coach. It was just a poor fit.”
Smith, 64, was characterized as an old-school coach who was as advertised in terms of applying a hard-nosed and hard-working approach to the game, but was unwilling to adapt his patented and outdated Tampa Cover 2 scheme despite its predictability.
Smith was regarded as being in serious danger heading into the final game of another dismal season as the rebuilding organization weighs dismissing the former Chicago Bears Super Bowl coach and NFL Coach of the Year after one year as head coach, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
“Lovie’s job is not safe,” a league source said Saturday. “This has been a terrible season, but that’s not all that this is about.”
The myriad of issues with the Texans have not involved a lack of buy-in from players, per multiple sources. To the contrary, the effort is regarded as being consistently strong, including solid performances in five one-score defeats that includes recent losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Texans were steamrolled 31-3 by the Jacksonville Jaguars and were not competitive on either side of the football as the offense struggled mightily to run or pass and the tackling was shoddy on defense. It’s the lack of consistency and execution along with a roster that still has obvious holes, including the all-important quarterback position expected to be addressed in the draft and/or free agency. Not to mention the empty seats at NRG Stadium and increasing apathy surrounding the AFC South franchise.
The Texans were never regarded as a potential contender this season due to an extremely thin roster, but the overhauled franchise has performed even worse than expected after going 4-13 last season under David Culley. A first-time head coach, Culley was fired after one season. His dismissal came one year after the Texans fired former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien following an 0-4 start in 2020 as the Texans finished 4-12 overall that season under O’Brien and interim coach Romeo Crennel.
Smith made his case for staying on the job publicly and privately to the Texans, including CEO and chairman Cal McNair, but it wasn’t enough.
Smith acknowledged this week that the Texans haven’t met expectations, even admittedly low expectations for a franchise in flux.
He said after Sunday’s game he expected to return, but now he is out.
“We understand the totality of the season on what’s going on,” Smith said. “Do I expect to be back? Yeah, I expect to be back. Absolutely.”
“Hypotheticals. No need for hypotheticals. I can’t get into those. Do I expect to? Yes.”
Hours after the Texans returned to Houston on their team charter flight, Smith was unemployed.
The Texans are considered an attractive job destination.
“That’s a great situation to walk into,” a source said. “The Texans have money to spend and some good young players. It’s not like the cupboard is bare. They’ve got some guys you can build around.”
The Texans have two first-round draft picks in 2023, second and 12th overall, following the blockbuster trade of three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns executed by general manager Nick Caserio along with a projected $47.7 million in salary-cap space.
A former New England Patriots executive who worked under legendary coach Bill Belichick, Caserio has been the architect of a difficult rebuild after contractual mistakes and lopsided trades during the O’Brien era left the organization without valuable draft capital and salary-cap space.
Several sources said Saturday and this past week they would have been extremely surprised if Caserio didn’t remain in place to hire a third head coach.
“Nick has had a lot of heavy lifting to do in Houston,” a source said. “They practically had to start from scratch. That’s not an easy job.
“Has he been totally perfect? No, but who is as a first-time GM. And that’s not an easy situation to deal with. If you look closely, you can see they’re trying to build through the draft and do it the right way.”
The Texans have some talent under contract, including Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil, Pro Bowl alternate running back Dameon Pierce, right tackle Tytus Howard, wide receivers Brandin Cooks, who’s likely to be traded this offseason after nearly being dealt at the NFL deadline, Nico Collins and John Metchie III, who missed his rookie season while being treated for leukemia, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Jonathan Greenard, linebacker Christian Harris, safety Jalen Pitre and cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson.
The Texans and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon are believed to have mutual interest if the job is open, according to sources.
Several league sources have labeled Gannon as a top candidate for the Texans’ potential opening after he made a strong impression during two interviews last season before the Texans promoted Smith from defensive coordinator after considering former NFL quarterback Josh McCown for the job.
Gannon could possibly assemble an experienced staff with his connections to former Colts coach Frank Reich and Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.
Gannon interviewed with the Texans, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings during the last hiring cycle.
Gannon “knocked it out of the park” and “crushed” his meetings with NFL teams, impressing them with his knowledge, creativity, detailed plans about strategy and staff and his passion for the game, according to league sources.
One member of an NFL search committee said of Gannon: “He knows the answer before you even ask him the question.”
One NFL executive described Gannon as having some similarities to Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley 2.0. Staley and Gannon are close friends who grew up competing against each other in youth sports in Ohio.
“Incredibly intelligent and passionate,” a source said of Gannon. “This guy is a superstar. He’s worked with great people like George Paton and Rob Brzezinski with the Vikings. It says a lot that those guys think the world of the guy.”
Former NFL defensive coordinator Gregg Williams worked with Gannon when he was a scout for the Rams and with the Tennessee Titans as a quality control coach.”Jonathan is a really good person with a great upbringing who’s never been afraid to outwork everyone around him and never afraid of any tasks,” Williams said. “He’s had to work his way up in the business. Those are the guys I love the most. If he winds up as a head coach, you have to have a working understanding of all of the other people at all of those levels and those positions they occupy.
“I think Jonathan does a great job of being a great people person. He’s sharp. He’s a detailed person. He’s a good football man. When you start out as a defensive assistant and quality control, no one can do their job without the information that’s passed on from him. Players want to know, ‘How can I be better? And he has a knowledge and a feel that is really impactful to help someone improve.”
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero are other highly regarded candidates. Former Broncos coach Vic Fangio could be in play as a defensive boss if Johnson, who has done a commendable job with quarterback Jared Goff, was the choice as a potential successor to Smith.
“Johnson is impressive, very sharp,” a source said. “He’s done a very nice job with that offense.”
Former Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the San Francisco 49ers’ highly-rated defensive coordinator, is not expected to pursue the job, according to sources. Ryans once filed a lawsuit against the Texans and the NFL seeking damages and alleging issues with the field surface’s design and construction after suffering a torn Achilles at NRG Stadium on Nov. 2, 2014. Ryans is expected to be picky as he pursues head-coaching opportunities and isn’t in a rush to leave the 49ers’ high-caliber defense.
The Texans are expected to run a wide-ranging coaching search. Other highly regarded candidates include Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks, Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is a perennial candidate for jobs and has interviewed with the Texans previously. Former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell is expected to draw interest around the NFL, as will Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
The Texans interviewed seven candidates last year: Smith, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, now a Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant who sued the Dolphins, Texans, Broncos, Giants and the NFL for alleged discrimination and unfair hiring practices, McCown, Gannon twice, Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell, Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and former Steelers wide receiver and current XFL coach Hines Ward.
The Texans hope for a long-term solution at head coach who can work constructively in tandem with the personnel department and teach and develop young players.
“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Lovie Smith for everything he has contributed to our team over the last two seasons as a coach and a leader,” Caserio said in a statement. “I’m constantly evaluating our football operation and believe this is the best decision for us at this time. It is my responsibility to build a comprehensive and competitive program that can sustain success over a long period of time. We aren’t there right now, however, with the support of the McNair family and the resources available to us, I’m confident in the direction of our football program moving forward.”
WATCH: What’s next for the Texans and who will be the new head coach? Here’s what we know.
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com