HOUSTON – Randy Gregory is talking defense, about the crafty strategies and schemes employed by Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.
The conversation quickly shifts for the veteran pass rusher from the defense Evero runs to his even-keel personality.
And that low-key approach and his ability to relate authentically to players as a former NFL player are among the reasons why Gregory is so enthusiastic about Evero, who interviewed for the second time for the Texans’ head coaching job Wednesday along with New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kakfa.
“I think the biggest thing is being able to command a room and move the team in the direction that you want it to move,” Gregory said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “As far as the qualities it takes, I truly believe he has all of those. The type of coaching style he has is what you want in today’s society, the kind of very relatable coach that’s been in the trenches. He played in the league. He can relate to us. Guys respect that. We trust him.
“He’s been in our shoes. Coach E worked his (butt) off to get a roster spot. A lot of guys can empathize with that. Coach E has done it on the field. The man won a Super Bowl with the Rams. What he’s done here, it speaks for itself. How he is around the players, the connections he can build, that’s the cherry on top. For him to get a head coaching job, I’m not an owner. I’m not a general manager. I just know he’s a good dude and a great coach.”
Evero, 42, has interviewed for all five head coaching jobs, including the Texans twice, once via Zoom on Wednesday and in Houston previously, along with the Indianapolis Colts, Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. The Broncos declined to let him interview for the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator position.
Evero manufactured the NFL’s 14th-ranked offense as the Broncos ranked 10th against the run, 13th against the pass and 14th in scoring defense as they allowed just 21.1 points per game and had 15 interceptions. Cornerback Patrick Surtain II was a first-team All-Pro selection while safety Justin Simmons was a second-team All-Pro.
Evero declined the Broncos’ offer to become interim coach when coach Nathaniel Hackett, his close friend, was fired during the season.
“Coach E elevated our defense, which says a lot about his skill set and his standard that he sets,” Gregory said. “He creates an environment where everyone can feel comfortable and be their best selves. Although our season didn’t go well and coach Hackett got fired, he did a very good job of creating a culture. Coach E controls the room without having to (cuss) you. I’ve been in rooms where guys like Rod Marinelli, they’re going to beat the greatness out of you.
“Coach E reminds me of Dan Quinn. He can demand excellence without having to (cuss) you or talk down to you. He does a great job. Ultimately, it’s what do you want for your team. I don’t want to sound biased. I want to be as truthful as possible. I think coach E would be a great head coach.”
In a quarterback-driven league, disrupting passers, making them truly uncomfortable in the pocket and confusing them with coverage schemes, is absolutely pivotal for defenses.
That’s a central part of the vision and strategy for Evero. The Texans will interview Evero for the second time Wednesday, according to a league source.
Evero is determined to disrupt the quarterback and throw them off their rhythm.
“You’ve got to look at it from the standpoint of the quarterback is the most important position on the field,” Evero said during the season. “If you want to be successful as a defense and you want to be successful in any given game, you’ve got to affect the quarterback. We’re lucky that we have some guys that are blessed and are good players and can rush the quarterback individually, but, at any cost, whatever you have to do to affect the quarterback, because most of the guys in this league, if you don’t get pressure and you give them the time, they’re going to have success. That’s going to be our focal point.”
Evero carried out that initiative during his first season as the Broncos’ defensive boss.
Although the Broncos struggled and finished 5-12 overall, it wasn’t because of the defense. It was largely because of quarterback Russell Wilson not meeting expectations and key injuries. The Broncos had the lowest scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 16.7 points per contest, but had a strong defense despite trading pass rusher Bradley Chubb. Evero made good use of the talents of Surtain and Simmons along with Alex Singleton, Josey Jewell, Kareem Jackson, Dre’Mont Jones, Baron Browning DeShawn Williams and Gregory before he got hurt.
The Broncos were seventh in red-zone touchdown percentage and fourth in three-and-out percentage.
Evero, a former Raiders undrafted free agent safety who has a background with Monte Kiffin, Vic Fangio, Wade Phillips and Raheem Morris, from his tenures with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams, is highly respected by his players.
“Selfishly, I would love to be with Coach ‘E’,” Simmons said. “Whatever that looks like, head coach, back as D-coordinator again. Selfishly, I would love to be with him. He’s helped my game so much this year. You always learn so much more from a new mind and a new set of eyes and the way that he coaches and the way that affects coaches, the assistant coaches around the defensive room. I’m just so thankful for him and his leadership. I’ve learned so much from him, both on and off the field.
“Selflessly, I would really hope he gets that job. Obviously, it would be great if it was here, but for him to get that opportunity somewhere, I think he is more than deserving of it. He is just a tremendous leader. I could be up here for hours just talking about how amazing of a coach and a man he is. I’m just really appreciative of him and he deserves it.”
Evero has coached for 18 years, 15 in the NFL and joined the Broncos after working as the Rams’ secondary coach and pass game coordinator after being promoted from safeties coach. He has coached everyone from Surtain and Simmons to Jalen Ramsey.
A former team captain and Division II All-American, Evero relates well to his players.
“He provides all the qualities you need in a coach,” Surtain said. “He’s a great leader, very outspoken, brings a lot of energy into the room and he’s just a great person in general. A great people person. You can go to him for anything. On the football field, he’s just going to go out there and bring all the energy. He’s going to do what is best for the team.”
The Texans have interviewed Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who was their first interview and withdrew from all head coaching searches to remain in Detroit on an upgraded contract, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who is also expected to get a second interview and is one of their leading candidates after interviewing three times in the past two hiring cycles, former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, whose interview went “extremely well, per a source, Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach and tight ends coach Thomas Brown and Kafka, who interviewed in-person Wednesday for the second time after meeting with them initially Sunday on a Zoom.
“I’m not a general manager,” Gregory said. “I’m not an owner, but you have to have certain qualities to be a head coach, to be able to command a room and move the room. He shares those same type of qualities. I’m used to fiery coaches.
“That’s not to say that coach E isn’t fiery, because I’ve seen that side from him, too, but he’s able to communicate and motivate in a different way without a whole lot of yelling and he makes it easy for guys to understand stuff.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com