Each year, I’m more and more convinced that the NFL’s Coach of the Year Award goes to the most improved team without regard to actual coaching ability.
As expected, the Coach of the Year Award came down to Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins and Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, who took over teams with a combined five wins in 2007 and turned out a pair of 11-5 records.
As expected, the man who did the best job in football got absolutely none.
Sparano and Smith’s accomplishments aside, how was Gary Kubiak was not even a candidate? You want to know why? His team did not improve in the standings.
Houston? If it were not for this article, I doubt you’d remember that its season was doomed from the start.
The NFL made the decision to postpone the game, eventually rescheduling it for Week 10, Baltimore’s bye-week. The Texans moved their game against Cincinnati from Week 10 to Week eight, the bye for both teams.
Ike tore through the Houston metropolitan area with winds that were one mile-per-hour shy of being considered a major hurricane. Street lights went down, trees were uprooted across main street, windows were shattered out of almost every major building, houses were destroyed.
One of my friends who stayed had part of her roof dislodged, water pouring in as she lay down every towel and sheet to sop up the water to keep her floors from rotting.
Least of all, the roof of the Reliant Stadium, a retractable-dome stadium, had a few measly panels blown out.
And the players came back to all of this.
Well, sort-of. The team played its next two games on the road, having already lost at Pittsburgh. And those two teams had both made the playoffs in 2007.
Couple that with a collapse in the homecoming on October 5 against the Indianapolis Colts, and the Texans were 0-4 with 30 percent of Houston proper and nearly half of the greater Houston area still without power.
Comparisons were being made to the Saints lost season of 2005. After Hurricane Katrina, the Saints were forced to play home games in three different states, one of which you could barely call a home game. Their Week Two game against the New York Giants was played in Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands.
To further the allusion that the Saints were the home team, one of the end zones was painted Black and Gold while the same colors were put over the blue padding around the same end zone.
The rest of their home games alternated between the Alamodome in San Antonio and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
The Saints collapsed after a 2-2 start, finishing 3-13 and firing Jim Haslett. Their only win during that stretch oddly enough came in their return to the Meadowlands, this time as the road team, against the New York Jets.
While I’m not going to compare Ike to Katrina in terms of its affect on a city, as what Ike did to Houston pales miserably, but in terms of people affected and lives altered, the storms rank side-by-side among the most potent in modern U.S. History. No doubt, comparing the seasons seemed accurate after Week Five.
The team rattled off three consecutive wins, including an improbable win against the Dolphins in which they had to complete two fourth downs, the latter coming with only three seconds remaining, in order to score the season-saving touchdown.
On fourth-and-two on the Dolphins three yard line, Matt Schaub kept it himself on a designed draw to put the Texans ahead and break the resolve of the much-improved Dolphins.
Yet as soon as the three-game winning streak was snapped, the team saw its season come to a crashing halt. In consecutive days, the Texans lost quarterback Matt Schaub and linebacker Zac Diles, the latter for the rest of the season. Diles at the time was leading the team in tackles.
Schaub had torn his medial collateral ligament in his left knee and would miss the next five games.
Diles broke his leg in a freak non-contact drill after apparently accidentally kicking himself while jogging.
The Texans slumped to 3-7 and .500 seemed a pipe-dream away.
But Kubiak kept the team together.
After six seasons of generally awful play, the Texans found an offensive line for the first time in the franchise’s history. For all sixteen games, the team started the same five people, giving a continuity that had been far from present before. In 2006, for instance, the team started eight different combinations over the course of the season. They surrendered only 32 sacks, the second-least in franchise history.
Moreover, the team found a running back, as rookie Steve Slaton stepped in, even as all the other halfbacks around him got hurt, rushing for an NFL rookie-high 1282 yards. In what seems to be a trend, he too failed to register even a single vote for NFL Rookie of the Year, which went to Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan.
By the way, the Coach of the Year award went to Atlanta head coach Mike Smith. I told you, trend.
The defense struggled, surrendering 394 points, sixth-most in the NFL. The offense only scored 366, 17th-best in the league. Of the 21 teams to win at least eight games, only the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos had a worse point differential than the Texans. Two teams with losing records, the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers, were substantially better.
But despite everything: despite not having a defense, despite losing their quarterback for a third of the season, despite losing their leading tackler for half the season, despite getting off to an 0-4 start against tough teams, they overcame it. Most importantly, they survived and overcame Hurricane Ike.
And after the precedent New Orleans set, that last thing is key.
Kubiak kept the team together. He led them down the field against the Dolphins when it looked like the Texans and Lions matchup Week Seven would be both team’s only chance to avoid an 0-16 season. He got them to 8-8, beating Tennessee and knocking Chicago out of playoff contention in the process.
Kubiak beat Hurricane Ike.
Sure, it has been done before.
Don Shula beat Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The Dolphins Week One game against the New England Patriots in Joe Robbie Stadium was moved to Week Seven, costing the Dolphins the benefits of a bye week. Still, they started 6-0 and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
But that team had an established, Hall-of-Fame quarterback, two high end wide receivers, a solid, deep defense with a great secondary, and a very good, very young offensive line.
The 2008 Houston Texans had none of that and still managed to win eight games in the toughest division in football. And you’re telling me Gary Kubiak didn’t even deserve a whisper for Coach of the Year? Pathetic.
You can go on and on about Mike Smith and Tony Sparano until your head hurts, but that’s not all-inclusive. Just because the Texans finished 2008 as it did 2007 should not eliminate Kubiak from the conversation.
After everything they went through, it should only propel him.
It did not, and that’s a joke. A pathetic, insulting joke.