Texans hire DeMeco Ryans as new head coach on six-year contract: ‘DeMeco is awesome, he’s going to do great’

Texans making DeMeco Ryans, a former 49ers defensive coordinator, Texans Pro Bowl linebacker, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the sixth head coach in franchise history

HOUSTON – DeMeco Ryans, the homegrown, hard-hitting former Texans defensive team captain and Pro Bowl middle linebacker, has been hired as the sixth head coach in franchise history on an extremely lucrative six-year contract, according to league sources.

Ryans, 38, built his reputation as a cerebral leader as a standout player and applied that deep knowledge of football and coaching acumen to become the architect of the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense.

“Being the head coach of the Houston Texans is my dream job and my family is thrilled to be back in H-Town,” Ryans said. “I have been around the game of football my entire life and I’ve always had a natural ability to lead others. I know what it takes to win and be successful in this league as both a player and coach. We’re going to build a program filled with players who have a special work ethic and relentless mindset. I understand the responsibility I have to this organization and to the fans of Houston to build a winner and I can’t wait to get to work.”

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Ryans emerged as the frontrunner and the leading candidate for the Texans’ job ahead of other suitors, including the Denver Broncos, and the hiring process moved quickly, according to league sources.

Ryans traveled to Houston on Monday night and completed a second interview Tuesday morning with chairman and CEO Cal McNair, general manager Nick Caserio and other team officials.

A former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 38-year-old’s return to Houston drew several endorsements from around the NFL. That includes those who know Ryans well from his time in Houston as a memorable tackler, an intellectual extension of the coaching staff on and off the field, and a “high-character” person in the locker room and in the community.

“We are thrilled to welcome DeMeco Ryans as the new head coach of the Houston Texans,” Cal McNair said. “For so many reasons, DeMeco is everything we are looking for in a leader and coach for our organization. He has a proven track record for developing high-quality players and constantly innovated his defensive scheme over the last six seasons in San Francisco.

" We started this process with the goal of finding someone our fans and city can be proud of and we’ve done just that. While we received a lot of incredible feedback and support for DeMeco from different people, it was our discussions with him and his vision for our football team that made him the right coach to lead us as we continue to evolve as an organization. Congratulations to DeMeco and his family and welcome back to H-Town.”

New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, in a telephone interview, discussed why Ryans has made such a meteoric rise as a former star player into an ultra-professional coach who thrives as a leader of men and a consummate teacher. Saleh was on the Texans’ coaching staff when Ryans was playing in Houston, then worked with him with the 49ers when Ryan was a quality control and linebackers coach before ascending to defensive coordinator when Saleh became a head coach.

“DeMeco is awesome,” Saleh said. “He’s going to do great. This is a really cool opportunity for him. Captain ‘Meco: phenomenal, family man, obviously relatable. As a former player, he has that empathy and relatability. He’s very, very smart. He’s always trying to learn. I think that’s what you appreciate the most out of him.”

Ryans has always had a thirst for knowledge and is never complacent in wanting to improve.

“Former players, most of the time, it’s an adjustment,” Saleh said. “You have to learn a way to teach it. The natural instinct is you want to teach it the way you did it, but not everybody is like you. DeMeco was an All-Pro football player. He remade himself into a teacher and learned all the ways that guys can play the game To implement what he learned to maximize all the guys around him, that’s what makes him special.”

“We know he’s gone,” a 49ers source said of Ryans. “Great coach, great man. Will get done this week.”

Beyond his deep knowledge of the game, leadership skills, strategy and coaching acumen, Ryans could assemble a strong coaching staff. That could include 49ers passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik as an offensive coordinator possibility, 49ers defensive passing game specialist and secondary coach Cory Undlin 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek as a defensive coordinator candidate and New York Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel, who’s also a candidate for the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator position. Another 49ers assistant linked to a possible Ryans staff is safeties coach Daniel Bullocks.

“On behalf of the entire Texans organization, I would like to welcome DeMeco Ryans and his family back to Houston,” Caserio said. “DeMeco is a proven coach with a track record of success who has an innate ability to lead people. He is progressive in his vision, a great communicator, a connector and somebody that values collaboration. We are working to build a sustainable program that has long-term success and DeMeco is the Coach we feel is the best fit to help us achieve our goals. We know how important it is to get results now and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to partner with DeMeco to build our football team together.”

Ryans, the boss of the 49ers’ aggressive defense, drew heavy praise around the league. That includes those who know Ryans well from his time in Houston as a punishing tackler, intellectual extension of the coaching staff on and off the field, and as a high-character individual in the locker room and community.

“Unbelievable coach, very sharp guy, DeMeco is special, I think he’s going to do a hell of a job,” said Richard Smith, the Indianapolis Colts linebackers coach who was the Texans’ defensive coordinator when Ryans was drafted in the second round out of Alabama in 2006. “Smart hire from Cal and that organization. Several people have called me on his behalf. He came in as a rookie as the starter, and he made great adjustments. He would turn to me on the sidelines and say, ‘Hey coach, how about we do this?’ And he would be right about that adjustment.

“No highs and lows with him, he has an even-keel sense of confidence in him. I’m so excited for him. I’m excited for Houston that Cal is looking to bring back someone who’s part of the family and bring some stability to Houston. I think it will happen. I like that Cal has jumped out on it. Bob McNair, his father, would feel the same way. I’m so happy for DeMeco. It’s really exciting.”

Ryans is a popular choice. He interviewed virtually previously during a wide-ranging conversation that included McNair, Caserio and other team officials in an interview that went “extremely well,” that built “strong mutual interest,” per sources.

After delivering punishing tackles and timely defensive audibles on the fly during a highly decorated NFL career spent primarily with the Texans, Ryans will now run the team as the replacement for Lovie Smith who was fired after a 3-13-1 season.

The 49ers ranked first in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense, allowing 300.6 yards per contest and 16.3 points per game.

“I think DeMeco would be great,” former Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He was the captain of the team when I came here and he’s a smart guy. I’m not surprised he’s a really good coach. Some players adapt to it, some don’t. He’s one that did very well.”

Why has Ryans moved up so fast? The former Texans team captain checks a lot of boxes.

“He’s a great teacher,” a 49ers defensive player told KPRC 2. “He’s a great coach, great person. He’s different than your typical coach. He played the game at a very high level and he’s able to relate that to his players. Yes, he’s special. He’s a great leader.”

Ryans agreed to interview with the Texans after contemplating initially whether to grant the request. In 2016, he filed a lawsuit against the Texans and the stadium authority for over $10 million after he tore his Achilles tendon at NRG Stadium. That shortened Ryans’ career, which ended with the Eagles.

“DeMeco thought about everything that went on, and he decided that’s in the past,” a source said. “Life goes on, and it’s a different time now for him and for the Texans.”

Ryans, who finished his decade in the NFL with 970 career tackles, 13 1/2 sacks and seven interceptions in 140 career games, has him poised to potentially run his own team. A year after Mike McDaniel was hired by the Miami Dolphins as head coach off Kyle Shanahan’s staff, Ryans could be next.

“He’s gonna be an unbelievable head coach,” said Bosa, an All-Pro defensive end and NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.. “I think he’s just really figured out how to perfectly push us, but not push us too hard, not give us too much credit. It seems simple, but it’s really not. Just the way he is as a coach and a leader, he’s the best coach I’ve been around.”

Promoted from quality control coach to inside linebackers to his current post running the defense, Ryans has built a defense that reflects his playing style: aggressive, composed and quick-striking.

“He’s the ideal coach,” said retired former Texans and Eagles linebacker N.D. Kalu, Ryans’ former teammate and a radio host on Sports Talk 790. “He’s young enough to relate to the players, but so much of a leader they’re going to follow him. He was the guy you knew would be destined for great things on and off the field. I know I’m a little biased, but he’s been my No. 1 choice for the last two years to be the next head coach. Hopefully, it will be here. It would certainly be popular in Houston.

“It wouldn’t just be popular with fans because he’s a great player and a great person, but you hear how emotional the 49ers players like Nick Bosa are about DeMeco, how he relates to them. That’ the kind of guy you need leading your team. We called him ‘Cap,’ as a rookie because of how he carried himself. From Day One, you knew this guy was a leader.”

As the 49ers’ defensive boss, Ryans has made a meteoric rise to emerge as a top head coaching candidate. One year after withdrawing his name from the Minnesota Vikings’ coaching search before they hired Kevin O’Connell, Ryans is in the thick of this hiring cycle.

The Texans also interviewed Detroit Lions coach Ben Johnson, who withdrew his name from head coaching searchs and remained with his crrent team on a lucrative raise, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Gannon, former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, a candidate for the Broncos and Arizona Cardinals’ jobs, Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach and tight ends coach Thomas Brown an Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.

The 49ers allowed just 18.9 points per game and 305.3 yards per game over the past two seasons.

“DeMeco is so naturally talented and he’s good at everything he’s ever done and he really understands football,” Shanahan said. “He did as a player, he did as a quality control in his first year. He did as a linebacker coach, and he has as a coordinator, and he was good right away. But, anytime you have someone who does have those types of abilities, the more reps they get, like everybody, they get better.

“You go through experiences and you learn from the good and the bad and that’s what’s pretty neat about DeMeco because he was going to be good regardless, but just watching him throughout last year, each game, each quarter, he learned something. And he’s always trying to think and always trying to challenge his players, but always trying to keep it simple, too.”

A former Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Ryans oversees an aggressive defense headlined by Bosa and All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner.

“He’s the best,” Warner said. “And I don’t just say that just because, obviously, he’s my coach. I know what greatness looks like and he shows that every day, not only just as a coach, but as a person. His leadership ability, the teachability that he possesses, and his continuing to want to get better as a coach is shown every day. He wants this group to get better and pushes us and makes sure that he prepares every single day to make sure he gives us his best self.”

Ryans is a licensed minister. He grew up in Bessember, Ala., as his single-parent mother, Martha, worked in a steel mill, cleaned houses and at the local church Ryans was a four-time dean’s list student at Alabama where he was a consensus All-American for the Crimson TIde.

He led the league in solo tackles as a rookie and he provided an example to his teammates for how to approach life in the NFL.

“I think he’s going to be really awesome, if he surrounds himself with the right people,” Smith said. “I think he has a chance to be really successful. We drafted DeMeco, and to bring back someone like him, it’s like family. I think players will gravitate to him as an ex-player.

“He would make adjustments and you would think, ‘Oh my God, he’s really well-coached.’ He was unbelievable from the get-go. I’m so excited. He’s got that even-keel demeanor, very classy, not egotistical. It’s a great choice for the Texans. He’s special.”

Ryans was also KPRC 2 sports director Randy McIlvoy’s pick for the head coaching position.

“I am a huge DeMeco Ryans fan,” McIlvoy said last week.

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