For the first seven years that the Houston Texans organization was in existence, it strove, and even took pride, in having a locker room made up of role models.
A locker room that never publicly complained no matter how many interceptions the quarterback threw.
A locker room that was void of any scandals on or off the field, and to be perfectly honest, that is something to be proud of.
This gave the Texans the most outstanding off-field presence for that period of time, however, between the hashes, they just couldn't perform. This uneventful phenomenon kept the Texans out of the national media for the most part, and hindered them from generating any real interest outside of the city of Houston.
During this seven-year span that included two separate coaching regimes, the Texans earned not even one winning season, and in their two best seasons, they barely squeaked in at 8-8. Over the entire seven years between the 2002 and 2008 seasons, the Texans only won 39 out of the 112 games they played, a sub-par 34 percent win ratio.
The Texans were labeled by media and competition as a “finesse team.” In other words, they were soft.
All the while, Texans owner Bob McNair laid down a precedence of seeking high character acquisitions and additions to the roster.
Now let’s fast-forward to the 2009 offseason.
Suddenly, the Texans current coaching staff, including head coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith, are looking at a make-or-break season ahead of them. They have been publicly called out by fans, media, players, and ownership.
“We expect a winning season, and nothing less than a run at the playoffs,” resounded the mob.
It was no secret that Kubiak's and Smith's jobs were on the line, and the realization hit that what they had been doing up till this point was not working.
Try to imagine those closed door meetings in Reliant Stadium that offseason, the culture started to shift ever so slightly.
A shift to the dark side.
First, the Texans dismiss defensive coordinator Richard Smith, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. Then they replace them with Frank Bush as coordinator to bring in a system spilling over with aggression. Bush's systems elaborate blitz packages, put opposing quarterbacks on their heels, and forced them to respect the Texans' pass rush for the first time in team history.
Next, bring in David Gibbs to develop and agitate the defensive backs. It's like poking a stick at a beehive, and then herding them in the same direction.
Finally, they replace the defensive line coach with the extreme Bill Kohler. This is a man who will stand toe-to-toe and stare down a 6’5”, 300-pound defensive end, and the end will always blink first.
These three men began to lobby for the players they wanted to add to the roster.
Gem No. 1 they sign, and after only one visit, in defensive end Antonio Smith, who was acquired from Arizona fresh off its Super Bowl run, during which Smith stood out as a wrecking ball in the playoffs. Smith is notorious for late hits after the whistle, and cheap shots in the pile.
In the Texans second loss to the Indianapolis Colts last season, Smith amassed two 15-yard personal fouls, giving the Colts two first downs that ended both drives in a score.
This all-out passion without regard caused opposing teams to take Houston's defensive line seriously, and changed the identity of the entire unit to a line that simply would not be pushed around anymore.
Second, they drafted the “workout horse” Brian Cushing in the first round of the 2009 draft. A huge, mean, strong, and oh yeah, did I say, mean, linebacker from USC.
His aggressive behavior on the field catapulted him to become the team’s leading tackler, and the AFC defensive rookie of the year. Even after he was injured to badly to practice, he would show up on Sunday and make crucial plays.
Cushing’s aggressive behavior needs to be regulated when he's not on the field, so he stays in the gym where the only things in fear are the weights, and any fool dumb enough to spar with him.
Cushing’s greatest off the field contribution to the Texans led to the organization's first real scandal. Cushing is suspended for allegedly using a “non steroidal” banned substance by the league.
He will sit out the first four games of the 2010 season after he tested positive to a substance known for masking the effects of steroids, and nobody is surprised. That is, except of course, Cushing himself.
Are thousands of fans disappointed? Yes, but before Cushing there weren’t really that many Texans fans to disappoint.
Third, the Texans signed disenfranchised on the streets strong safety Bernard Pollard.
I know what your asking, isn’t that the guy that ended Tom Brady’s 2008 season. Why yes it is, and he is reunited with defensive backs coach David Gibbs.
When Pollard showed up on the team they were the second-worst team in the league at stopping the run at No. 31. After only three weeks of him being there, they were No. 18, and climbing fast. What was Kansas City thinking when it cut this beast?
Oh yea, he had a lot of “character issues” in Kansas City.
At the end of a four-game losing streak last season, Pollard publically called out the Texans in the media—not something that the previous group of boy scouts would ever do.
In the game against the St. Louis Rams, he defiantly made his point to Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson, by knocking Jackson's helmet off in an offsetting penalty brawl. Jackson also wound up needing attention to his split lip.
In the season finale against the New England Patriots, he scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery, and picked-off Brady, bringing out the offense to take the first lead of the game. His interception opened the door for the Texans to bless their fans with the first winning season in franchise history.
Now fast forward once again to the 2010 offseason, where it seems that the dialogue around the Texans when discussing players is not in the lines of “he’s a good kid” any more.
Now it’s, “he brings a toughness to the team,” is a “mean streak to the defense,” and even “a force to move the pile on the offence”.
Every player chosen in the 2010 NFL Draft was not picked because of their great contributions to the community, or their eloquence in speech. They were picked because they will come up and hit you, or they are a hard one cut downhill runner, or because their aggressiveness intrigued the coaches.
The Texan organization’s priorities have shifted, for better or worse. Winning will do that to a team.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the André Johnson's, and the DeMeco Ryan's of the team could teach these aggressive young men how to be the fierce warriors on the field, and bringers of hope off the field like they themselves have become?
Then, at that moment, the Texans would truly be a winning organization.
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