The Houston Texans are taking an unusual path in promoting Lovie Smith as head coach

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HOUSTON – When the Houston Texans fired David Culley, general manager Nick Caserio cited “philosophical differences” with the head coach, with some reports indicating that Culley would keep his coaching staff intact.

But nearly a month after firing Culley, following interviews with six external candidates, Caserio hired a member of Culley’s coaching staff at Lovie Smith. Smith, who will be the fifth head coach in franchise history (excluding interim coaches), was the Texans’ defensive coordinator and associate head coach in 2021. He spent the previous five seasons coaching the University of Illinois, where he collected a 17-39 record before getting fired.

The Texans interviewed three candidates twice: former NFL quarterback Josh McCown, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores. Others the Texans spoke to were Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and former Steelers wide receiver and current Florida Atlantic receiver coach Hines Ward.

Some in the Texans organization have long thought of McCown as a candidate. When Houston signed McCown in November 2020, several sources told ESPN that he could be hired as part of a future Texans coaching staff, perhaps even as the next permanent coach to replace Bill O’Brien. It did not happen even though he interviewed for the opening. To the surprise of many, he was close to being hired to replace Culley.

But late in the process, Houston turned to Smith and interviewed him for Opening Sunday. The Texans hired him on Monday.

Smith, who is Black, joins the Miami Dolphins ‘Mike McDaniel, New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Mike Tomlin and Washington Commanders’ Ron Rivera as the league’s only minority head coaches.

Smith has the experience as head coach that Culley – who spent 43 seasons as an assistant in the NFL and college without ever being an NFL coordinator – lacked. With the Chicago Bears (2004-12) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014-15), he had an overall record of 89-87.

Smith has been to the Super Bowl twice, once as head coach (2006) and once as defensive coordinator for the Rams (2001).

Although Smith might have made sense as hiring instead of Culley a year ago, the process of getting here – firing Culley and then interviewing Smith more than three weeks later after going through the search process with six other candidates – does not.

At his press conference after the firing of Culley, Caserio said that “the organization was in a pretty tough spot” a year ago, but is “in a much better position” now. Whether that will lead to victories and a team taking a step forward after finishing third in the AFC South twice in a row remains to be seen.

By February 2021, the Texans had hired Caserio and Culley, and quarterback Deshaun Watson had asked to be traded. Now the Texans are hoping they will be able to reject Watson, who faces 22 active lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior during massage sessions, before the trade deadline. His ongoing legal issues could be a roadblock, especially if he ends up being charged with criminals. Watson has denied any wrongdoing.

Watson’s legal situation, along with his swap request, led to the quarterback earning $ 10 million last season during the final year of his rookie contract as a healthy scratch for all 17 games.

In 2022, Watson is set to earn $ 35 million, and in March, his $ 20 million 2023 salary and $ 17 million 2023 list bonus will be fully guaranteed.

Even before a potential Watson deal, Caserio and Smith will have improved working capital to work with this year. Houston, which has only had one first-round pick since 2017, has the overall No. 3 in the April draft. If Caserio swaps Watson, the Texans may have a treasure trove of choices to take their rebuilding to the next level.

At Caserio’s end of season press conference, he downplayed any pressure he might feel after firing his first coach after a season. And while the team’s CEO and chairman Cal McNair has made it clear that he believes in Caserio’s vision, after hiring his second coach in 13 months, Caserio must hope that Smith is a long-term solution and a coach he can build this team around.

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