The Houston Texans had a busy Week 18 as they fired head coach Lovie Smith just hours after beating the Indianapolis Colts 32-31. The Texans lost the No. 1 overall pick with their victory, pouring salt into the wound for a fan base that had endured a brutal 3-13-1 season. Smith was fired Sunday evening after completing his first season as head coach of the Texans and second season overall.
The decision to fire Smith was expected after the Texans shockingly promoted him last offseason after a thorough coaching search. He felt like a placeholder considering his defense was one of the worst in the NFL. It’s hard to fully blame Smith for the difficult season considering how weak the Texans’ roster was.
Amidst speculation the franchise could make moves within the front office, Texans CEO Cal McNair issued a statement regarding the team’s decision to fire Smith. It appears as though general manager Nick Caserio will again be in charge of curating a staff and improved roster for the Texans.
We decided to help out by exploring five head coaching candidates the Texans should consider for the job. Each of these candidates would be a first-timer who could energize the franchise. Let’s dive into our top five.
5 Head Coach Candidates the Texans Should Consider
Jonathan Gannon, DC, Philadelphia Eagles
Gannon appeared to be a favorite of last year’s head coaching search for the Texans before the team suddenly announced the decision to promote Smith. The Texans may have thought Gannon was a little green for such a young roster lacking playmakers. The 40-year-old just completed his second season with the Eagles as their defensive coordinator.
It’s been a rapid rise to this position for Gannon but there’s little doubt he’s impressed throughout his coaching journey. With experience as an assistant defensive backs coach in Minnesota and cornerbacks coach in Indianapolis prior to becoming defensive coordinator, Gannon will be a hot commodity once again. He interviewed for three openings last year and is coming off a terrific 2022 campaign.
The Eagles had one of the more loaded defenses in terms of personnel across the NFL, making Gannon’s job easier, but he did well with his array of talent. He’s unafraid of mixing coverages and varying schemes. His adaptability is a plus, as is his ability to get the most out of his defense.
Another positive the Texans should like is his ties to an impressive Eagles staff. Bringing a more modern offense to Houston has to be a priority, and it’s possible one of the Eagles’ assistants is ready for the step up as a play-caller.
DeMeco Ryans, DC, San Francisco 49ers
After completing an excellent NFL career, six of which were with Houston, Ryans has quickly proven to be a difference-making defensive coordinator. I love how Ryans handles the 49ers’ defense, defining what modern NFL schemes aim for. Of course, having a unicorn at middle linebacker in Fred Warner and an edge-rusher in Nick Bosa certainly helps.
Ryans wouldn’t have either of those stars to start out in Houston. The 38-year-old has terrific charisma and is an ace tactician. But he’ll need time to build this defense and must find the right coordinator to mold a young offense that may be led by a rookie quarterback in 2023.
Like Gannon, Ryans could benefit from a highly-respected staff in San Francisco. Or he could potentially tap into his on-field connections and build a unique, player-laden staff as Dan Campbell has in Detroit. Both pathways are exciting pathways for a franchise needing some personality and a jolt of energy.
Brian Callahan, OC, Cincinnati Bengals
If you’re looking for someone who has worked with a number of highly talented quarterbacks and found success early in his career, then Callahan is a name to remember. His father is Bill Callahan, arguably the best offensive line coach in NFL history, and Brian Callahan has continued the family lineage of being an effective positional coach. He’s spent time with Peyton Manning in Denver, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Derek Carr in Oakland, and now Joe Burrow in Cincinnati.
With the Texans needing to add a quarterback to the roster, Callahan can be leaned upon to identify the right player and craft an offense around that individual. The Bengals’ offense is arguably the most talented in the league and Burrow is an extremely good pocket passer who is in charge of it all. However, both Burrow and Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has heaped praise upon Callahan for his ability to gameplan, and Callahan reportedly did well when he interviewed in Denver last offseason.
Because Callahan doesn’t call the plays in Cincinnati, the Texans need to find out if he’s ready for such a big step up in roles. If he is, it’s possible Callahan will use the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to find his franchise quarterback. There’s no better way to reshape a roster than to find a star-level passer, and Callahan has no shortage of experience being in the room with that caliber of an individual.
Mike Kafka, OC, New York Giants
After spending five years under Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs as the quarterback’s coach, Mike Kafka is on the fast track to becoming a head coach sooner than later. Kafka earned praise for his work with quarterback Patrick Mahomes before following Brian Daboll to become the offensive coordinator and play-caller for the New York Giants. Like Daboll, Kafka has proven to be a creative coach who finds ways to work with what’s available.
Despite dealing with a mediocre offensive line, a decimated receiving group, and an average quarterback talent, the Giants finished the regular season 9-7-1 and ended their five-year playoff drought. Kafka was able to get Saquon Barkley back on track as a star and pushed Daniel Jones to a new level of play. It’s exciting to think what the Giants would’ve been with a better set of blockers and receivers.
You want a problem solver as a head coach, and Kafka appears to have that gift. Only 35, hiring Kafka now might a year too early, but a patient franchise can endure some growing pains if they have someone who can be a star. He could also benefit from his ties to Reid’s and Daboll’s coaching trees.
Ben Johnson, OC, Detroit Lions
The list of offenses that were better designed than Ben Johnson’s Lions in 2022 is a short one. The 36-year-old seemingly came out of nowhere to become a head coaching candidate this offseason. He spent time with Campbell in Miami, spending seven years as an assistant positional coach before moving to Detroit.
Johnson started as an offensive quality control coach in 2019 and was promoted to tight ends coach for 2020 and 2021. He suddenly earned the offensive coordinator job and took the job by the horns. The Lions produced the fifth-highest-scoring offense with the fourth-most yards in the league this season.
That sudden ascent can be as promising as it is concerning. Some coordinators are terrific in their role but not as head coaches. It’s a risk to just rely on one-year wonders who excelled in scheming since we haven’t seen how he reacts when defenses are ready for his wrinkles after a full offseason.
However, Johnson must be interviewed. It’s undeniable he built a fantastic offense this year and he may be a wunderkind. The Texans have to be willing to go with their gut if Johnson knocks his interview out of the park.