Gary Kubiak is finished as head coach of the Houston Texans.
That's the word from Fox Sports' Jay Glazer the day after an embarrassing 27-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, following a morning punctuated by informed speculation by Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who had reported that the move was imminent, if not immediate.
The Texans then issued an official statement via press release that a new coaching search was underway and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips would serve as interim head coach. More from Texans owner Bob McNair, via Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain's Twitter feed:
We're disappointed and shocked by what's happened. Our fans are disappointed. I want to thank Gary. He brought this team to new level. Gary helped us win 2 division titles. He put everything into it. It's disappointing he's not going to be with us in the future.
We've got to turn this around. We want a winning culture. Our goal is to win last 3 games. We're going to do everything to win. ... We're looking for a coach who's bright, ethical, innovation and is able to make adjustments.
For the rest of the season, Phillips gets to audition for the long-term head coaching position, and quarterback Case Keenum gets to make his case that he can lead this team into the future. In fact, reading the tea leaves from last night to this morning, it seems the decision to reinsert Matt Schaub into the equation may have been what doomed Kubiak.
Mr. Smith Needs to Go to the Unemployment Line Too
Meanwhile, nothing substantial has been said about general manager Rick Smith's future. His presence at the press conference today implied that he was part of this decision-making process and would be for the foreseeable future.
That is a mistake.
This team need to be blown up and rebuilt from the ground up.
On the surface, it may not seem as if Smith has done that poor of a job. The team has talent on the roster, and he's been able to grab talent early (linebacker Brian Cushing, defensive end J.J. Watt) and late (undrafted running back Arian Foster, Keenum).
Yet if Schaub was truly as big a problem for this team as is made out, he is Smith's guy just as much as Kubiak's. Frankly, Keenum probably isn't the guy either. Smith also signed off on the offseason acquisition of safety Ed Reed (now with the New York Jets), which is as bad as a personnel move as you'll see.
On top of that, the defense around Watt has been consistently exposed, especially as Cushing has been injured the past couple of seasons. It's early, but it looks more and more like Smith missed on rush linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed, and the Texans could conceivably be looking for another complement there this offseason.
Don't even get me started on the defensive backfield.
What has Smith done to give anyone the confidence that he really knows what he's doing? He spent some time in the Denver Broncos' personnel department from 2000 to 2005, following some stints coaching, and served alongside Kubiak (yeah, the guy he just fired) and Mike Shanahan.
The Broncos actually won a bunch of games during Smith's time there, but remember what actually happened. Following John Elway's retirement in 1998, the Broncos never really found a quarterback—you'll recognize that as the Texans' current problem. The talent on the team atrophied, and eventually Denver fired Shanahan and the band broke up. Or, more correctly, most of them just moved to Houston.
The failures of the post-Elway Broncos are simply being repeated ad infinitum with the Texans. It is not solely Kubiak's fault that this team is so embarrassingly bad. It isn't just his fault and Schaub's fault either. It isn't as if the two of them went rogue and deep-sixed this squad. No, the roster was inherently flawed and poorly coached, and this season proved that without a shadow of a doubt.
Find A Quarterback, Now...and No, It's Not Case Keenum
Following the loss last night, I broke down what the Texans could do with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, as it is looking more and more like they'll be "awarded" that "honor." Previously, I also included the Texans as one of the worst teams in the league and provided a blueprint to help them on their way back to prominence.
Both times, finding a quarterback was a pretty integral part of the discussion. Earlier in the year, in my blueprint article, I daydreamed about the potential to bring Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel into the NFL together right down the road from their college. With Sumlin locked up at A&M and the Texans looking like they'll be drafting a lot higher than Manziel should go, let's refocus the target.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is the guy.
At the top of the draft, solid and cogent arguments can be made (I know, I made them) for South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA LB Anthony Barr or even Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews, but none of those players would have the immediate and long-term impact that a quarterback the caliber of Bridgewater would have.
Keenum has had some very limited success as a Texan, and backup quarterbacks are usually some of the most popular guys around, but it's important that the team and fanbase don't get hoodwinked into thinking he is more than he is.
Physically, Keenum has developed better arm strength than he had coming out of college, but it's still NFL-average or lower. He's quick enough to move around, but hardly a consistent threat with his athleticism.
Mentally, Keenum is even more problematic, as he's looked gun-shy in recent weeks. Against the Jaguars, I remarked that some of his tendencies under pressure are frighteningly similar to those of failed Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The game slows down for Keenum when he's allowed to run packaged plays straight from his Air Raid college playbook—screens, shallow crosses, mesh routes, etc.—but when it speeds up or he's forced to go off script, he's a detriment to the team.
If the Texans are staring at the No. 1 pick and don't go with Bridgewater, it would be a huge long-term mistake that would doom whoever the new head coach is.
Find Someone Ahead of the Curve Rather Than Behind It for Head Coach
Let's assume, for a moment, that local prospects like Sumlin and Baylor's Art Briles are off the table. Both have recently recommitted to their current positions and have been rewarded handsomely for doing so. Does Bob McNair have a ridiculous amount of money that could possibly change some minds? Sure, crazier things have happened (see: Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino), but odds are they're staying in the college ranks for the time being.
Another Texas native has to at least be on the list—that's former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith. With a career record of 84-66 (playoffs included) and a bunch of divisional titles under his belt, he's got both name cachet and clout to ace an interview. At 55, he's still a relatively young man in NFL coaching circles—just a few years older than Kubiak.
While Smith is from Texas, that doesn't mean he should automatically considered the top choice. Smith's Tampa 2 base defense is anachronistic in today's NFL. Once developed to help stop the pure West Coast offense, there's hardly anyone running strict West Coast principles anymore. Not to mention that the multiple receiver sets used by just about every team these days force most out of the strict Cover 2 almost immediately.
In today's NFL, there's little room for X's and O's orthodoxy. Evolution is the name of the game, and a failure to evolve is one of the big reasons why Smith isn't still the coach of the Bears.
Another coach that the Texans should pass on is Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He's been a top coaching candidate for years, but his brand of 3-4 defense is drastically different from Phillips'. Horton could possibly signal a huge decline for J.J. Watt by making him more of a role player and not allowing him a chance to shine.
Frankly, Phillips has engineered one of the best passing defenses in the NFL this season, and I would argue that any problems on the defense are entirely personnel-based, related to Cushing's injury and missing on defensive picks. It would make a lot of sense to allow Philips to stay on as defensive coordinator.
That means hiring an offensive-minded head coach, and there are many qualified applicants both at the NFL and collegiate levels.
Gus Malzahn is currently leading Auburn to a resurgence after winning a national title there as offensive coordinator alongside quarterback Cam Newton. He's a brilliant, young (48) offensive mind who has shown he can win in the toughest collegiate conference.
There is little about the game that Malzahn doesn't intricately understand and tinker with as he plans and plots, and he would bring a much more innovative approach to Houston than it has seen in recent years.
At 41, he might be one of the youngest coaching candidates out there. Heck, he's only a few years older than Texans punter Shane Lechler! His smashmouth brand of offense isn't going to remind anyone of Chip Kelly, but he's been successful and would be a good groomer of whichever quarterback the Texans bring in.
Let's just say Bridgewater. It needs to be Bridgewater.
Other offensive names making the rounds include ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Each of those names brings some positives, negatives, past successes and failures, but anyone the Texans hire needs to be ready to bring this team into the NFL's future rather than stay stodgily cemented in the past. That likely means a departure from West Coast passing principles and far less rigid use of the zone-blocking scheme.
It's a new era for the Texans, and the choices made by the team over the next few months could either set them up for long-term success or send them back to the drawing board in the years to come.
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