Think about the Houston Texans’ path to this moment. After gutting out a win over the Indianapolis Colts, 23-19, on Saturday, DeMeco Ryans and CJ Stroud locked up a playoff spot in their rookie campaigns. The team that opted out of hiring Josh McCown because it didn’t want to get sued also let the Carolina Panthers make their QB decision for them, while hiring their third Black head coach in three years.
I don’t know what to focus on — the good, or the ugly — so I’ll just go with the barrage of sliding doors moments this franchise has faced in the past three years alone.
After the COVID season, Bill O’Brien’s last year as head coach, David Culley was hired in January 2021. About two months later, the Deshaun Watson allegations started piling up, and before Culley even coached his first game, he was without a franchise quarterback. Watson also requested a trade somewhere along the timeline, but after the 10th accusation, it was clear he couldn’t play in Houston again.
That season was a lost cause before it kicked off, and Culley was unceremoniously let go after one year. Onto 2022, Watson gets traded, and there are rumors that ex-NFL quarterback and then-high school football coach Josh McCown was in line for the head coaching vacancy. However, Houston didn’t follow through because Brian Flores filed the still-pending racial discrimination lawsuit.
That freaked out ownership, who then pivoted to Lovie Smith, the ultimate lame duck head coach. After an unsuccessful stint coaching college football at Illinois, Smith failed upward and into the associate head coach/defensive coordinator title in Houston under Culley. Seeing as Smith’s schedule was open, and he already had a place in town, Cal McNair gave him a placeholder season figuring if anyone can tank, it’s Lovie without a quarterback.
And tank the Texans did, but in the final game of the season, with the No 1 pick on the line, Smith gave the organization a farewell middle finger. Up 10 late in the third against the Colts, Houston blew the lead only to miraculously regain it with 50 seconds remaining to win and give the Chicago Bears the first pick.
The Bears then traded it to Carolina, who I’m still not sure knew which QB they were selecting between Bryce Young and Stroud. Like in fantasy football when there’s no clear No. 1 pick, Houston was able to defer, and the rookie of the year landed in their lap. Stroud threw for 4,108 yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions and all kinds of rookie records in 15 games. Young has the same number of games, tallying 2,783 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 picks on the worst team in the NFL.
As far as Ryans goes, who knows if the job is even available had Houston tapped McCown as the coach? First-timers (unless they’re Black or Nathaniel Hackett) usually get more than one season on the job.
Oh, and in case you’re curious about the coaching what-if, ironically enough, McCown was Young’s quarterback coach in Carolina this season until a month ago when interim head coach Chris Tabor fired him after taking over for Frank Reich.
Depending on your outlook, the Texans’ fortune could be spun many ways, but in all of them they don’t get credit for doing the right thing. The NFL Plinko disc merely fell the right way as it tends to do.
After the disclaimers though, it’s a pretty fun story, and one that’s just getting started despite next week’s outcome.