Lovie Smith

Latest On Texans’ Lovie Smith Firing, HC Candidates

The Texans got a head start on ‘Black Monday’ by firing head coach Lovie Smith last night. The move was expected given the circumstances of his hiring last year and the team’s poor performance, but further details have emerged painting a discouraging picture of the organization’s operations during his tenure.

Not long before Smith was dismissed, it was reported that part of the reason he was on thin ice was his aversion to change and suggestions from others regarding his approach. That included a range from conversations with players, to a stubbornness on the subject of things like analytics and the role of modern approaches to on- and off-field operations.

One Texans player said, via Aaron Wilson of KPRC2“Lovie would meet with players, but he would never use any of our suggestions and ideas… 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.”

With Smith following David Culley as a one-and-done on the sidelines, attention has now turned to the Texans’ list of replacement candidates. To little surprise, Wilson reports that Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon sits atop the list of Houston’s targets. He adds that there is a “mutual interest” between the 39-year-old and the Texans to make him the franchise’s next head coach.

Gannon was one of three finalists during Houston’s HC search last offseason, alongside former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and longtime NFL quarterback Josh McCown. Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and several teams was filed not long before Houston’s ultimate decision to pivot very late in the process to Smith. Circling back to Gannon would come as little surprise considering the interest shown in him previously, and his success this season.

Philadelphia has been stellar on defense this season, ranking seventh in the league in points (20.2) and second in yards (301) allowed per game. They also comfortably led the NFL in sacks with 70 in the regular season, and boasted the best pass defense in the league. That represents a step forward for Gannon’s unit, something which will likely only make him an even more sought-after coach in this year’s cycle. Gannon met with the Broncos and Vikings in addition to the Texans last year.

Wilson also lists Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Broncos DC Ejiro Evero as other names to watch as Houston prepares their latest search. The former has drawn plenty of attention with his role in helping Jared Goff and Detroit’s offense help the team to a 9-8 record and nearly clinch an unlikely postseason berth. Evero, meanwhile, has been commended for his performance with Denver’s defense, a unit which (to a degree) masked the team’s offensive woes. Evero will interview for the full-time HC gig with the Broncos.

On the other hand, one candidate who appears unlikely to be hired is 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans. The former Texans linebacker “is not expected to pursue the job,” per Wilson, in spite of Houston’s interest in him. Ryans is likely to draw significant interest from at least some of the other four teams (the Panthers, Colts, Broncos and Cardinals) in need of a new bench boss given his success in his current role. The Texans will still have plenty of options to consider even if he steers clear of the organization.

Texans Fire HC Lovie Smith

The Texans have followed through with a move which was expected leading up to the conclusion of the 2022 season. Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL Network report that head coach Lovie Smith has been fired (Twitter link). A team announcement has confirmed it.

The decision to part ways makes Smith the second consecutive one-and-done bench boss in Houston. The 64-year-old was tapped as David Culley‘s replacement last year, after he led the team to a 4-13 record. Things were not expected to be much better for the franchise in 2022, and they certainly were not.

Smith represented a highly experienced option compared to Culley in particular, given the former’s two previous HC gigs in the NFL. The first of those, a nine-year stint with the Bears, was highlighted by a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. Overall, he amassed a record of 81-63 in the Windy City, leading him to a brief stay in Tampa Bay. That, however, did not go according to plan as the Buccaneers went 8-24 under Smith.

The veteran coach received a third opportunity to lead a team last season with his promotion from DC of the Texans, a role he held for one season prior. His ascension to the top spot on the sidelines came during a time in which the organization was under fire for their handling of the search for Culley’s replacement. Houston had reportedly narrowed their search to Eagles DC Jonathon Gannon, former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and recently-retired quarterback Josh McCown. The latter’s distinct lack of experience was a main talking point in the wake of Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit.

The Texans pivoted late in the process to Smith, who was unable to turn (generally) consistent effort from one of the league’s least-talented rosters into much in the win-loss column. Houston finished this season with a 3-13-1 record, including a last-minute win earlier today to drop them from first to second overall in the draft order. The AFC South outfit ranked last in the league in total offense, and 30th in total defense.

With the team in need of a long-term answer at quarterback after Davis Mills failed to take a step forward in Year 2 relative to an encouraging rookie season, Houston does have some otherwise attractive qualities. Those include the No. 2 pick which will likely be used to address the QB position, another first-rounder owing to the Deshaun Watson trade, and a favorable cap situation. The recent turnover on the sidelines the franchise has experienced will, on the other hand, likely scare off at least some potential candidates.

One of those could be former Texans linebacker and current 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, who was named recently as a logical replacement in the event Smith were to be fired. The latter had publicly spoken out earlier today against the notion he would be dismissed, but those comments have proven to be fruitless. Attention will now turn to the job security of GM Nick Caserio, something which has become a matter of debate recently.

In a statement, the latter said in part, “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. I’m constantly evaluating our football operation and believe this is the best decision for us at this time… With the support of the McNair family and the resources available to us, I’m confident in the direction of our program moving forward.”

Caserio appears to be safe for the time being, but the Texans remain in a state of flux heading into the 2023 coaching cycle. Given his age and lack of success in Houston, it remains to be seen if Smith will pursue other coaching opportunities down the road, either in the NFL or college ranks.

Texans Could Fire HC Lovie Smith, GM Nick Caserio

9:13pm: When speaking to reporters after the team’s win over the Colts (which, given its effect on the upcoming draft, has not been perceived as such), Smith downplayed the swirling speculation that he is on the way out.

“First off, there are reports,” he said, via Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “I don’t know what the reports are… Do I expect to be back? Yeah, I expect to be back. Absolutely.” He added that his most recent meeting with McNair was simply the latest in regular post-game sit-downs between the two. Depending on what takes place tomorrow, his remarks could prove to be well-founded or wind up being a moot point.

2:44pm: One of the teams generating the most attention around the NFL with respect to potential changes on the sidelines and in the front office is the Texans. Houston has been marked by instability and underwhelming win-loss records in recent years, and their rebuild could soon be headed in a very different direction.

Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reports that one of head coach Lovie Smith, general manager Nick Caserio or both “will be gone” at the conclusion of the regular season, putting them in danger of being fired tomorrow (video link). Given recent reporting on each of them, that would come as little surprise, in spite of the continued turbulence the organization would be undergoing in the event of a third straight coaching change.

KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson corroborates the sense that Smith, 64, will not return in 2023. As his sources explain, the team’s on-field performance – including a 2-13-1 record heading into today’s season finale against the Colts, and struggles in almost every category on both sides of the ball – is only one reason for a likely change. Others include the way he is perceived in the organization with respect to his approach and his stubbornness to alter it.

Smith (whose job status was one the Texans were already reported to be planning to evaluate following the season) has taken steps in recent days to try and avoid receiving a pink slip. The former Coach of the Year has been meeting with owner Cal McNair to “state his case” for being retained for at least one more year, per Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Smith would join David Culley as a one-and-done bench boss in Houston in consecutive seasons should his efforts prove futile.

Notably, Wilson reports that Caserio should actually be considered to be on relatively solid footing, adding that sources would be “extremely surprised” if he is let go. The longtime Patriots exec was, like Smith, reported to be on thin ice in the wake of the Texans’ struggles this year, one in which expectations were tempered. The 2022 season was always likely to include a long list of losses, but a lack of development by quarterback Davis Mills in particular has made the season a disappointing one.

The Texans are slated to pick no worse than second overall in the upcoming draft, however, which will give the franchise an opportunity to add a long-term answer at the position. That – coupled with a notable stock of other picks, cap space and a small group of young, encouraging players – could make the GM job an enticing one, should Caserio be dismissed. As for a potential Smith replacement, both Glazer and the NFLN pair name 49ers defensive coordinator (and former Texans linebacker) DeMeco Ryans as a name to watch when the coaching cycle begins to heat up.

Texans To Evaluate HC Lovie Smith After 2022 Season

The Texans will “evaluate the future” of head coach Lovie Smith at the end of the 2022 campaign, according to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. As we heard last month, there appears to be a real chance that Houston will be conducting an HC search for the third consecutive year.

Given the team’s 2-12-1 record, that should not come as much of a surprise. Still, it’s not as if Houston came into the season with championship aspirations, and it would be difficult to imagine any head coach doing much better with a roster that is generally lacking in impact talent, including at the quarterback position. And after making David Culley a one-and-done HC at the end of the 2021 season, the team would be eating a great deal of dead money for departed coaches if it were to move on from Smith now.

Smith, 64, is in the midst of his third stint as an NFL head coach. He operated as the Bears’ HC from 2004-12, a run that included a Super Bowl appearance, and he also served as the Bucs’ HC from 2014-15. Following his tenure in Tampa, he returned to the collegiate ranks as the University of Illinois’ head coach from 2016-20, and he was a part of Culley’s first (and only) staff last year, when he agreed to become the Texans’ associate head coach and defensive coordinator.

After Culley was fired, it appeared that the Texans had narrowed their search for his successor to Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, and recently-retired quarterback Josh McCown. Smith emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become Houston’s choice to replace Culley, and while GM Nick Caserio predictably denied as much, one wonders if Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL played a role in the team’s decision to go in a different direction.

If Smith is fired, Gannon could again find himself on Houston’s shortlist. McCown, meanwhile, has no NFL or college coaching experience of any kind, but he has now interviewed twice for the Texans’ HC post, and multiple other clubs have reached out to him to discuss a coaching position. Caserio could well consider him again in the event the club parts ways with Smith, but Caserio himself may not be around to spearhead another coaching search.

If the Texans elect to retain Smith, Rapoport and Pelissero indicate that other staffing changes could be on the horizon. Houston presently employs Pep Hamilton as its offensive coordinator and Frank Ross as its special teams coordinator. The team does not have a defensive coordinator, with the defensive-minded Smith holding those duties and calling defensive plays.

The NFL.com duo says the Texans will consider Smith’s entire body of work when making their decision, including the club’s recent stretch of improved play that features narrow losses to the playoff-bound Cowboys and Chiefs and a victory over the Titans.

AFC South Rumors: Gannon, Caserio, Colts

Lovie Smith joins Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett as the first-year coaches on the shakiest ground. The Texans are 1-11-1, on pace to finish with a worse record than they did under Nick Caserio‘s first HC hire (David Culley). Smith following Culley as a one-and-done is on the radar, though the prospect of Caserio being allowed to hire a third coach in three years is also uncertain. If Caserio does fire Smith and is granted permission to stay on and hire another coach, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon will be back on the radar for the job.

Gannon was one of the Texans’ finalists for the Houston HC position this year, and Fowler adds Caserio was impressed by the then-rookie DC. The Texans bringing Gannon back into the finalist discussion might be more difficult in 2023, with Gannon’s Eagles defense making strides. This could well lead to more interested teams; Gannon already interviewed for three jobs (Houston, Denver, Minnesota) this year. The Texans did interview Josh McCown in back-to-back offseasons. Smith was not viewed as a finalist until the end of the process, leaving Gannon in Philly and McCown out of the league.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Jim Irsay said last month he wanted Jeff Saturday to stay on as the Coltsnext full-time HC. Saturday has said he will pursue that position, should Irsay want to interview him. While an interview seems a certainty, Irsay couched his Saturday support by saying there are “great candidates out there.” “I’m looking forward to the interview process,” Irsay said this week. “I think Jeff’s a candidate, but there’s a lot of great candidates out there. I think there’s a lot of great candidates in college. I think the pool needs to be broadened somewhat more. There’s some great college coaches that may be capable. There’s some unknown coaches that may be capable.” Saturday is 1-3 in his start as Indy’s interim coach.
  • In the event the Texans go the other way with Caserio, the Titans could be a landing spot for the longtime Bill Belichick right-hand man. A GM who spoke with the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora indicated Tennessee would be an ideal fit for Caserio, given Vrabel’s Patriots background. Caserio was in New England’s front office during throughout Vrabel’s nine-season Pats tenure. Amy Adams Strunk said Vrabel will be included in the Titans’ next GM search process, and while it might look strange to see an exec who has overseen a woeful two-year stretch (Houston is 5-24-1 under Caserio) in the AFC South be considered for another top front office gig so soon, Vrabel’s presence will be important for how Tennessee proceeds.
  • Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae will hold more responsibility on Saturday’s staff going forward. The Colts‘ assistant offensive line coach will transition to the role of tight ends coach, Saturday said. Mawae will replace Klayton Adams, whom KCRA’s Michelle Dapper notes is leaving to become Stanford’s O-line coach (Twitter link). Adams will join new Cardinal HC Troy Taylor in Palo Alto. Adams, 39, coached at the college level for 14 years prior to joining Frank Reich‘s staff in 2019. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, Mawae is in his second season on the Colts’ staff.

Davis Mills To Remain Texans’ Starting QB

Sunday’s loss to the Giants dropped to the Texans to 1-7-1 on the season, leading to more questions about a potential quarterback change. As head coach Lovie Smith confirmed when speaking to the media, however, a switch will not be taking place.

Davis Mills has operated as the team’s No. 1 throughout the campaign, after he took on the starter’s role partway through his rookie season last year. The Stanford alum’s performance after being inserted into the lineup included 10 interceptions and 31 sacks taken. Still, his 66.8% completion percentage and 88.8 passer rating made it little surprise that he entered the post-Deshaun Watson era at the top of the depth chart.

Mills has seen statistical regression across the board this season, however. The 24-year-old was therefore the subject of scrutiny last month, but he received the backing of his head coach. Since then, the Texans have won just one game and struggled to find production on offense outside of rookie running back Dameon Pierce.

“I just don’t think it’s time, as simple as that,” Smith said, via Aaron Wilson of KPRC2, when asked whether he would replace Mills. “We rotate pretty much at most positions… Quarterback position is a little bit different. We can’t turn the ball over. Acknowledging what we did [on Sunday] is not good enough and anytime we’re turning the ball over especially in the red zone it’s not good enough. But that’s where we are right now.”

Houston’s other options under center are Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel, who is on the team’s practice squad. Mills therefore profiles as the QB with the highest upside in the group, making the Texans’ ongoing commitment to him an understandable one. Given the former third-rounder’s step back in production this year, however, along with the draft position Houston is likely to be in come the spring, it would be equally understandable if they select a franchise signal-caller in time for 2023.

Brandin Cooks To Return To Texans

After a deal sending him out of Houston failed to materialize during this week’s trade deadline, Brandin Cooks voiced his displeasure with the situation. That led to the veteran wideout being absent for the Texans’ loss to the Eagles last night, but the situation is expected to change today.

Cooks is set to return to the team’s facility today, as detailed by KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson. That would mark an end to at least the immediate nature of the disconnect between player and club in this saga. The 29-year-old was a well-known trade candidate leading up to the deadline, with several teams showing interest in adding a vertical element to their passing attacks.

One of those was the Cowboys, who were in negotiations late into Tuesday afternoon regarding a Cooks acquisition. They, like all other potential buyers, were unable to overcome the Texans’ asking price (believed to be include a second-round pick) within the context of his fully-guaranteed $18MM salary next year. Cooks had reportedly been willing to forgo some of his compensation to facilitate a move back to the Rams, where he spent two seasons prior to his Texans tenure. Now, though, he appears destined to remain in Houston for at least the remainder of the 2022 campaign.

“I told you last week he was excused for personal reasons,” head coach Lovie Smith said of the Cooks situation, including his absence last night. “Part of the personal reasons was some of the things that was going on. I made a coach’s decision. I didn’t think he was ready to play. [If] you don’t practice during the week, I don’t think you’re ready to play in the game.”

The 1-6-1 Texans further demonstrated their commitment to the running game on offense last night, albeit in a game without Cooks and fellow starting wideout Nico Collins. With the latter still nursing a groin injury, a Cooks return would be welcomed by Houston, though his production has fallen off this season compared to his previous two with the Texans. Assuming he is back with the team moving forward, both sides could move forward at least for the time being.

Latest On Former Texans Executive Jack Easterby

Jack Easterby‘s stint with the Texans ended earlier this week, with the organization parting ways with their executive vice president of football operations. It sounds like Easterby’s inability to mesh with two of the team’s top decision makers ultimately led to his ousting. According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, Texans head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Nick Caserio “had frozen Easterby out” of decision-making ever since the offseason.

[RELATED: Texans Part Ways With EVP Jack Easterby]

Easterby has seen a number of regime changes since joining the Texans in 2019, with the executive eventually being responsible for some personnel decisions. He ultimately played a major role in recruiting Caserio to Houston, with the two having previously worked together in New England. The GM has naturally taken control of personnel decisions, and it sounds like a reduced role for Easterby ultimately made him superfluous in the front office.

“My short time I worked with Jack was all good,” Smith said (via Aaron Wilson of Click2Houston.com). “He did a great job for us. Sometimes, divorce is a good thing. I’ve said that before, too.”

According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, there were some hints that Easterby’s stint in Houston was coming to an end. According to Florio, there was a “perception” that Easterby was “tapping into old relationships” as he prepared his inevitable job search, with the reporter adding that the executive specifically reached out to people from former gigs “for no apparent reason.”

One team that could end up being a suitor for Easterby is the Panthers, although Florio notes that owner David Tepper may not be willing to tolerate the executive’s baggage. The 39-year-old began his NFL career as a character coach with the Chiefs and Patriots, and it remains to be seen if either organization would welcome him back.

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured Head Coaches

The NFL experienced a busy offseason on the coaching front. A whopping 10 teams changed coaches during the 2022 offseason, with the Buccaneers’ late-March switch pushing the number into double digits.

Fourteen of the league’s 32 head coaches were hired in the past two offseasons, illustrating the increased pressure the NFL’s sideline leaders face in today’s game. Two of the coaches replaced this year left on their own. Sean Payton vacated his spot in second on the longest-tenured HCs list by stepping down from his 16-year Saints post in February, while Bruce Arians has repeatedly insisted his Bucs exit was about giving his defensive coordinator a chance with a strong roster and not a Tom Brady post-retirement power play.

While Bill Belichick has been the league’s longest-tenured HC for many years, Payton’s exit moved Mike Tomlin up to No. 2. Mike Zimmer‘s firing after nine seasons moved Frank Reich into the top 10. Reich’s HC opportunity only came about because Josh McDaniels spurned the Colts in 2018, but Indianapolis’ backup plan has led the team to two playoff brackets and has signed an extension. Reich’s seat is hotter in 2022, however, after a January collapse. Linked to numerous HC jobs over the past several offseasons, McDaniels finally took another swing after his Broncos tenure ended quickly.

As 2022’s training camps approach, here are the NFL’s longest-tenured HCs:

  1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
  2. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 27, 2007; extended through 2024
  3. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008; extended through 2025
  4. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks): January 9, 2010; extended through 2025
  5. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs): January 4, 2013; extended through 2025
  6. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills): January 11, 2017; extended through 2025
  7. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams): January 12, 2017; extended through 2023
  8. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers): February 6, 2017; extended through 2025
  9. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans): January 20, 2018; signed extension in February 2022
  10. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts): February 11, 2018; extended through 2026
  11. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2019; extended through 2027
  12. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers): January 8, 2019
  13. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals): February 4, 2019; extended through 2026
  14. Ron Rivera (Washington Football Team): January 1, 2020
  15. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers): January 7, 2020
  16. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys): January 7, 2020
  17. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns): January 13, 2020
  18. Robert Saleh (New York Jets): January 15, 2021
  19. Arthur Smith (Atlanta Falcons): January 15, 2021
  20. Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers): January 17, 2021
  21. Dan Campbell (Detroit Lions): January 20, 2021
  22. Nick Sirianni (Philadelphia Eagles): January 21, 2021
  23. Nathaniel Hackett (Denver Broncos): January 27, 2022
  24. Matt Eberflus (Chicago Bears): January 27, 2022
  25. Brian Daboll (New York Giants): January 28, 2022
  26. Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  27. Kevin O’Connell (Minnesota Vikings): February 2, 2022
  28. Doug Pederson (Jacksonville Jaguars): February 3, 2022
  29. Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins): February 6, 2022
  30. Dennis Allen (New Orleans Saints): February 7, 2022
  31. Lovie Smith (Houston Texans): February 7, 2022
  32. Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): March 30, 2022

AFC Notes: Jags, Renfrow, Steelers, Smith

Devin Lloyd notched two six-plus-sack seasons at Utah, being effective on blitzes with the Pac-12 team. The standout Ute finished with seven last season. The Jaguars may be planning to take advantage of the No. 27 overall pick’s versatility early. They aligned Lloyd on the edge during parts of their offseason program, Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com notes. New DC Mike Caldwell plans to use a 3-4 base scheme, but he has been intermittently stationing Lloyd at defensive end on third downs. That opens the door to some possibilities for the Jags, who were aggressive at the off-ball linebacker spots this offseason. Jacksonville gave Foyesade Oluokun a top-five ILB contract and drafted Wyoming’s Chad Muma in Round 3. The Jags are set to feature Josh Allen and No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker as their most prominent edge rushers, though DiRocco describes the 272-pound top pick as a work-in-progress as a 3-4 outside ‘backer. Nevertheless, the ex-Georgia defensive lineman has lined up at that position with Jacksonville’s first-team defense this offseason.

Here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Hunter Renfrow‘s two-year, $32MM Raiders extension comes with a $9.18MM signing bonus that will be spread out through five years (two void years, 2025 and ’26) for cap purposes, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Renfrow is due a $4.32MM roster bonus on Day 3 of the 2023 league year, with Breer adding that day also will see the slot talent’s $6.5MM 2023 base salary become fully guaranteed. Renfrow is set to earn a nonguaranteed $11.2MM base in 2024.
  • New Bears GM Ryan Poles did not retain longtime staffer Mark Sadowski this offseason, but the veteran scout will catch on with another rookie GM. Omar Khan hired Sadowski as the Steelers‘ director of player scouting, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic tweets. Sadowski was most recently the Bears’ college scouting director.
  • While Sheldon White replaced longtime Steelers director of pro scouting Brandon Hunt, the team promoted Dave Petett to the assistant pro scouting director post, Kaboly adds (via Twitter). Petett, who has been with the Steelers since 2004, will move from the scouting level to a director gig. The Steelers are also promoting Cole Marcoux to director of football administration, a title Khan held for several years in the 2010s. Marcoux joined Khan in working with the Steelers’ salary cap in recent years.
  • Although Lovie Smith‘s fine did not match the penalties handed out to Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera, the new Texans HC will lose $50K because of an OTA violation, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. This stems from a use of a prohibited drill involving linemen.