Tim Kelly

Texans To Fire David Culley

Despite little being expected of this Texans squad, the franchise is moving on from David Culley after one season. Culley is out in Houston after the team’s 4-13 slate, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets.

This move comes three days after Black Monday and two days after the Giants axed Joe Judge. While this clears out another HC position, it is a tough break for Culley, who took over a team in a bad situation.

In December, Culley was viewed as being safe to stay aboard for a second Houston season. Soon after, however, the winds started to shift a little. GM Nick Caserio may or may not have a successor lined up. Given Caserio’s connection to Josh McDaniels, speculation understandably ensued connecting those dots.

Culley navigated the messy Deshaun Watson situation fairly smoothly, deactivating the embattled Pro Bowler throughout the season. The Texans’ previous regime also saddled the new one without first- or second-round picks in last year’s draft. Caserio signed numerous midlevel veterans to one- or two-year contracts, setting up the 2021 season to be a transition year before the team becomes more aggressive on the rebuilding front. While the Texans improved and notched multiple major upsets late in the season, it was not enough for a placeholder HC to stay on.

The Culley hire came out of nowhere. The Ravens wide receivers coach was not involved in any other team’s interview process and had not called plays for an NFL team previously. The Ravens recouped two third-round picks, the second coming this year, because of this surprising hire. With Culley’s firing coming after Brian Flores‘ surprising ouster, Mike Tomlin is the NFL’s only Black head coach at the moment. Flores figures to have options soon, perhaps in Houston, with he and Caserio working together in New England for over a decade. But he has only been connected to the Bears thus far.

Some murkiness has surfaced regarding Culley’s contract. After Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweeted that just two years on Culley’s five-year deal were guaranteed, the 66-year-old coach indicated (via Berman, on Twitter) his full five-year deal is, in fact, guaranteed. A partially guaranteed deal would indeed be a highly unusual arrangement. Culley will collect $17MM through the life of this deal, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

Culley’s in-game decision-making certainly veered toward questionable often, and it was clear he was not viewed as a long-term leader in Houston. Davis Mills‘ promising performance down the stretch, despite being a third-round pick, does provide some hope for a franchise that has gone 8-25 over the past two seasons. Among rookies, only Mac Jones had a better QBR than Mills — albeit in a smaller sample size — this season.

Mills’ progress notwithstanding, the Texans are also firing offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, Schefter tweets. Kelly was a holdover from the Bill O’Brien regime and had been with the team since O’Brien’s 2014 hire. Kelly, 35, worked his way up from quality control level to become Houston’s OC by the 2019 season. The Texans advanced to the playoffs behind a Watson Pro Bowl campaign that year. While Watson excelled in 2020 as well, the team fell off a cliff.

The Texans ranked 32nd offensively this season, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adds that Culley was asked to make changes to his offensive staff (Twitter link). While it can obviously be argued Culley was set up to fail this season, his refusal to fire Kelly may well have contributed to the one-and-done. Kelly’s ouster will certainly not be the last one, with the Texans pivoting again under Caserio.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Seahawks, Titans, Dolphins

We’ve got another couple of names to pass along for Seattle’s wide-ranging offensive coordinator search. The Seahawks want to interview Bills quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and have already spoken with Rams pass-game coordinator Shane Waldron, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. They’ve been linked to what seems like every offensive coach in the league now, including Adam Gase and other big names. Dorsey was a backup quarterback in the league for a handful of years, and the 39-year-old was the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach from 2013-17.

He joined the Bills last season. Waldron is another young guy who has coached under Rams coach Sean McVay since 2016 since they were both with Washington. He started as McVay’s tight ends coach in Los Angeles before getting promoted to quarterbacks coach and pass-game coordinator. The Seahawks don’t appear to be honing in on anything in particular, and at this point it’s anyone’s guess who they’ll hire.

Here are more coaching notes from around the league:

  • The Texans are the only team still with a head coach opening, but they aren’t letting one key assistant go out the door yet. They recently blocked offensive coordinator Tim Kelly from interviewing for OC openings with two other teams, and those interested teams were the Titans and Lions, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Since it would be a lateral move and he’s still under contract, Houston can block those requests. As Breer points out, there has been buzz that Deshaun Watson likes Kelly, and the team could be looking to keep him in order to curry favor with their disgruntled starting quarterback. Detroit has since filled their vacancy with former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn.
  • Speaking of the Titans’ opening, Tennessee will be interviewing Pep Hamilton for the job in the next few days, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets. Hamilton was the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach this past year, and did a great job helping with the development of Justin Herbert, so he’s been drawing a lot of interest for OC jobs. He was talked about as a candidate in Miami, and is one of the finalists in Pittsburgh as well. The Titans of course are looking to replace Arthur Smith, now the head coach in Atlanta. Hamilton coordinated the Colts’ offense from 2013-15, and had a lot of success with Andrew Luck.
  • The Dolphins are still looking for their OC, but they have made a different key hire on offense. The team has parted ways with quarterbacks coach Robby Brown and replaced him with former NFL passer Charlie Frye, they announced in a tweet. It’s the first NFL coaching gig for Frye, who was Central Michigan’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. It’s interesting that they’d hire the QBs coach before the OC. A third-round pick of the Browns back in 2005, Frye also played with the Seahawks and Raiders until 2009.

Texans Deny Tim Kelly Interview Requests

The Texans have denied interview requests from teams interested in offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tim Kelly (via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle). The Texans have yet to hire their next head coach, but they seem intent on keeping Kelly as a part of their staff.

Kelly, who will turn 35 this offseason, has spent the last two years as the Texans’ offensive coordinator. Bill O’Brien called the plays in Kelly’s first year with Houston. Last year, he ceded the headset to Kelly.

Deshaun Watson, who has lobbied for more control over the team’s hiring decisions, has been one of Kelly’s biggest advocates.

Tim over the past two years has really taken my game to a whole another level as far as just knowledge, reading defenses, understanding run points and run schemes, understanding the way of different concepts and different situations,” said Watson. “His knowledge of just the game of football is very, very bright and he really helped me take my game, especially this year, the best football I’ve played in my career.

With Kelly in command, Watson threw for a league-high 4,823 yards with 33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. It sounds like Kelly will continue to serve as Watson’s guru in 2021.

Texans Notes: Easterby, Kelly, Cobb

While Texans executive VP Jack Easterby will not become the team’s next GM, recent reports suggest that he will have a significant say in determining who the next head coach will be. And in a comprehensive piece detailing Easterby’s unconventional and sometimes controversial rise through the NFL front office ranks, Jenny Vrentas and Greg Bishop of SI.com suggest that might not necessarily be a good thing.

The article is well-worth a read for any NFL observer, but especially Texans fans. Some of the authors’ sources say that Easterby, who was brought in to improve the club’s culture, has only made it worse, and that he has secured his lofty position within the organization thanks largely to the inordinate amount of sway he has over owner Cal McNair. Indeed, one source said McNair is “blinded” by Easterby, who has also been accused of undermining other key figures — like former head coach Bill O’Brien — and who is said to have been a driving force behind the lopsided DeAndre Hopkins trade (for which O’Brien has shouldered most of the blame).

Of course, Easterby — who declined the authors’ invitation to tell his side of the story — has plenty of supporters as well, and it will be fascinating to see how his role will impact Houston’s HC/GM search and the team’s fortunes moving forward.

Now for more from the Texans:

  • If quarterback Deshaun Watson has it his way, the new Texans head coach will retain current offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes. Kelly has been with the organization since 2014 and was elevated to OC last year. Amidst an otherwise difficult 2020 campaign, Watson is enjoying a career year, and he gives his 34-year-old coordinator a great deal of credit for that. We previously heard that McNair would consider Watson’s input with respect to the HC search, so it stands to reason that he would also value his star QB’s opinion on his OC.
  • The Hopkins trade, along with assorted injuries and suspensions, have decimated Watson’s WR corps. Randall Cobb has been on IR since late November with a significant toe injury, and according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, surgery is a possibility. Cobb, 30, has an outside chance of returning this year, but with the Texans well out of the playoff picture, it probably makes more sense for him to start preparing for 2021.
  • The Texans selected cornerback John Reid in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but even after the Bradley Roby suspension and with Houston already looking ahead to next year, Reid is unlikely to see more defensive snaps, per Wilson. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver confirmed as much, saying that while he believes Reid has a great career ahead of him, he is not quite ready for a larger role. Reid has played just 60 defensive snaps on the season, and 32 of those came in Week 1.
  • LB Reggie Gilbert and DL Willie Henry are visiting the Texans, per Wilson. Gilbert and Henry were recently cut by the Jaguars and 49ers, respectively, and Houston will see if they can get anything out of two defenders who at one time showed they might be worthwhile pieces of an NFL roster.

Texans HC Bill O’Brien To Be More Involved In Play-Calling

Texans head coach/GM Bill O’Brien has come under intense scrutiny for his management of his club’s roster, especially after this offseason’s infamous DeAndre Hopkins trade. O’Brien did cede play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, but in the wake of Houston’s 0-3 start to the season, the head coach is renewing his involvement in that side of the operation.

As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, O’Brien will take on an increased role in game-planning and play-calling. Kelly will continue to relay the plays to QB Deshaun Watson, but O’Brien will have significant input into which plays are called. That means that Houston’s offense will run more like it did in 2019, which ended in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Texans’ offense has sputtered without Hopkins, and the team currently ranks near the bottom of the league in terms of total offense and yards per game. Still, the club has more offensive talent than that showing would suggest, and O’Brien apparently believes he can help get more production out of that unit.

Houston has started the season in an 0-3 hole, but since its first three opponents have a combined 8-1 record, no one is panicking just yet. Still, an 0-4 start would put an even bigger damper on the Texans’ playoff aspirations, and O’Brien is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. His club will take on the Vikings this afternoon in a battle of talented but winless outfits.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans’ Bill O’Brien Cedes Play Calling Duties

Bill O’Brien decided that he already wears enough hats for the Texans. This week, the team’s head coach and GM announced that offensive coordinator Tim Kelly will take over play calling in 2020. 

[Kelly is] a really bright guy,” O’Brien said (via ESPN.com’s Mike Wells). “He’s a really good coach. Players really respect him. He just does a great job. Great knowledge of the whole offense from the passing game to the running game.”

O’Brien, who has served as the Texans’ HC since 2014, acted as the OC initially, then later gave those responsibilities to George Godsey. Early on in 2016, he took the headset back from Godsey and parted ways with him after the season.

Last year, the Texans finished 13th in yards per game and 14th in points per contest (23.6, on average). They’ll look to push further with Kelly at the helm.

Kelly and O’Brien go back a long ways, dating to their time together at Penn State. This will be Kelly’s second year as the OC, but his first with full control. O’Brien expressed complete confidence in the soon-to-be 34-year-old and also cited his relationship with Deshaun Watson as a major positive.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Steelers, Brown, Jets, Texans

We first heard earlier this week that Steelers receiver Antonio Brown had been involved in some sort of domestic dispute last month. Shortly after details came out, and Brown was accused of having shoved his daughter’s mother to the ground, with the NFL announcing they would investigate. Brown denied any wrongdoing, and today his attorney pushed back even further. Brown’s lawyer forcefully denied Brown did anything wrong, accusing the mother of being in the wrong in the situation regarding Brown’s daughter, and said Brown did not get violent in any way, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN (Twitter link).

The lawyer also elaborated that Brown is now filing for custody of his daughter in court. It’s yet another dramatic chapter in the saga surrounding the Steelers, and while the situation is still very murky as of right now, we’ll almost certainly have more details soon.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • Speaking of organizational drama, the Jets have found themselves in a mini controversy of their own. It was reported a few days ago that there was already some tension between new head coach Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, as the team objected to Williams bringing his son Blake Williams onboard as a coach. While the team eventually relented and added the younger Williams as a defensive assistant, the drama doesn’t end there. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com has a great breakdown of the situation unfolding, as Gase hired his own father-in-law Joe Vitt as an assistant coach as well. Vitt and Williams have a longstanding beef, as both were members of the Saints’ coaching staff during the infamous bountygate scandal. According to Cimini, Vitt testified against Williams during the league’s hearings on the scandal, and accused him of lying. They’ll now be serving on the same staff together again, and it’ll be very interesting to see if the bad blood has been put to rest.
  • Last week, the Texans promoted Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator. Head coach Bill O’Brien has called plays in the past, but O’Brien left the door open for Kelly to call plays during a recent radio interview, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). “There’s no doubt in my mind that Tim Kelly is ready to call plays”, O’Brien said, before adding that it would be “a collaborative effort.” Kelly was previously the team’s tight ends coach.
  • In case you missed it, suspended Patriots and Raiders receivers Josh Gordon and Martavis Bryant may apply for re-instatement in the next couple of months.

Texans To Promote Tim Kelly To OC

After going two seasons without an offensive coordinator, the Texans look ready to take a more traditional route in 2019.

They are planning to promote tight ends coach Tim Kelly to work as the offensive coordinator next season, Alex Marvez of Sirius XM reports (on Twitter). Will Lawing is expected to take Kelly’s place coaching Houston’s tight ends.

The Texans parted ways with former OC George Godsey after the 2016 season, and Kelly then rose from offensive quality control coach to tight ends instructor. He had spent the first three years of Bill O’Brien‘s Texans tenure in that lower-level role. Prior to that, Kelly worked as a graduate assistant on O’Brien’s Penn State staff.

This points to the Texans viewing Kelly as a rising coaching talent. Godsey, who served in this role for two seasons, has been the only OC during O’Brien’s tenure. Houston’s head coach did not hire an OC during his 2014 debut campaign. It is not known if Kelly or O’Brien will call plays in 2019, but given the promotion, it is certain Kelly’s input will greatly expand.

This will be Kelly’s first coordinator role in nine years. Prior to his time with O’Brien, he, interestingly, served as defensive coordinator at Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead in 2010.

Houston’s staff lost a key member this week, with quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan taking a job as the Lions’ QBs coach. Ryan interviewed for the Browns’ OC job last year but took a lateral move during this hiring period. He would have been the natural choice for this promotion in Houston, but the Texans may have been grooming Kelly.

The Texans’ No. 11-ranked scoring offense represents the highest ranking during the O’Brien era (though, Houston only deployed the No. 21 DVOA offense). This would make sense given Deshaun Watson‘s 16 starts compared to the franchise’s previous difficulties landing a starting quarterback. O’Brien and Kelly will attempt to improve on that. The Texans have not yet hired another quarterbacks coach.

Lawing worked as an offensive assistant, helping with the team’s offensive linemen, the past two years. Lawing also made the move to the NFL after serving as a GA under O’Brien at Penn State.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Ravens, Griffin, Texans, Saints

It’s been a long road for Robert Griffin III. After he was released by the Redskins, Griffin wound up in Cleveland as the Browns’ starting quarterback in 2016. He was immediately injured and ended up playing only a few games, and was released after the year. After that he spent the entire 2017 season out of football, and it looked like his career might be coming to an end. But then Griffin inked a deal with the Ravens out of nowhere this past spring, and made the team. While he’s been the third stringer behind Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson and inactive most of the season, Griffin is just happy to be back in the league, and he described his journey in a recent sit down with Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic.

“It’s been special because I was not guaranteed a roster spot at the beginning of the year. I had a non-guaranteed contract, a minimal signing bonus and I had to earn it every step of the way”, Griffin said. Griffin was projected to be cut by most analysts because John Harbaugh has very rarely kept three quarterbacks on the active roster, but he had an impressive preseason and earned a spot. Zrebiec writes the Ravens first became interested in the former Heisman Trophy winner in the summer of 2017, but Griffin thought the timing wasn’t right. Griffin also reflected on his experience losing his job in Washington to Kirk Cousins while he was out with an injury, and how it relates to what Flacco is going through right now. The whole conversation is definitely worth a read.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Texans have been very impressive this year, but they still have a bunch of holes on the roster as they look to build around Deshaun Watson. The team could use help on the offensive line and in the secondary, and John McClain of the Houston Chronicle “strongly believe[s]” that the team will “get an offensive tackle and a cornerback in the first two rounds” of next year’s draft. McClain is as plugged in as any beat writer in the game, so he certainly has a feel for what the organization is thinking. The Texans have an extra second round pick thanks to the Duane Brown trade, so they’ll have plenty of ammo to acquire top talent.
  • The Texans have been without an offensive coordinator for a while, but that could change soon. Head coach Bill O’brien has been acting as his own offensive coordinator since he fired George Godsey, and McClain thinks their tight ends coach Tim Kelly will be their next offensive coordinator, saying that he’s “highly thought of” within the building.
  • The Saints will be without starting left tackle Terron Armstead for at least another week, according to Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com (Twitter link). Armstead has now missed the last month of the season with a pectoral injury. Drew Brees‘ pass protection has fallen off without Armstead, and Brees has struggled a bit with the additional pressure in recent weeks.