For years, the Houston Texans have languished in mediocrity. While the 37-43 record that Gary Kubiak has garnered as head coach would seemingly be grounds for removal after five years, owner Bob McNair has remained faithful for two reasons.
One reason is that McNair believes stability like that of the Steelers or Patriots is integral to the success of a franchise. The other reason is because Kubiak has shown he can produce an offense that can win a championship. The defense, however, has been lacking during his entire tenure.
This offseason, recently deposed head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Wade Phillips, was brought in to fix the defense and help the Texans finally reach their potential. At first many Texans fans were reluctant to endorse the hire for a myriad of reasons. Why would we want the Cowboys trash? Also, this hire smacks of the same good ole’ boy network hiring that Bob McNair has been burnt by in the past.
I myself, while hoping to see a more exhaustive search for a coordinator, was happy with the hire. Phillips represents the first defensive coordinator that the Texans have had that has his own defensive philosophy independent of Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith’s wishes. Wade may be an underwhelming head coach, but he has shown genius as a defensive coordinator.
Rather than look at past performance as a reason to endorse Phillips though, just look at what he’s done since taking over calling the shots for the defense and the talent evaluation on that side of the ball. Due to his independence and track record as a defensive specialist, Kubiak and Smith have made it clear that Phillips will not only call his own plays as expected as a coordinator, but will also have final personnel say for the defense.
Already this offseason, the Texans have all but said that strong safety Bernard Pollard will not be returning to the team. This means that the secondary will have a pair of new starting safeties next season after Eugene Wilson was released shortly after the season ended. While the terrible safety play would make these two moves not surprising, the Texans have shown an inability to cut ties with players who are ineffective, and yet the best option currently on the roster.
Another example of this change in defensive personnel management is the apparent impending release of Amobi Okoye, according to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain. Okoye, the tenth overall selection in the 2007 draft, never lived up to his billing as the next great three technique defensive tackle. Rather than taking an under performing defensive tackle geared to play in a 4-3 system and shoehorning him into a 3-4, Phillips is seemingly willing to cut the cord with Amobi and let him walk.
This is significant because many teams, the Texans included, are often unwilling to get rid of high draft picks from the first round because doing so admits a mistake. It is essentially confessing to the world that you were wrong about a pick that is a no brainer, as first round picks are supposed to be.
There is talk of Okoye getting traded, but even if a new CBA is agreed upon in order for player trades to occur before the draft, I doubt that he would fetch anything higher than the 5th round conditional pick that the Texans received for fellow Texans first round pick Travis Johnson last year. Okoye is due over two million dollars for next season which happens to be the last on his contract, and he hasn’t shown the pass rushing ability for team to spend a high to mid round pick just to try him out for one season.
Contrasting the decision to move on without Okoye, Phillips has widely made his intentions clear to make Mario Williams the focal point of the defense. While Phillips has given the occasional jabs at Mario's effort, he has stated that he will do whatever it takes to make Mario successful and has made numerous comparisons between the former first overall pick and Bruce Smith, who excelled under Phillips.
Some Texans fans believe Williams should be traded because of the switch to a 3-4. You never trade elite players, which Mario is, no matter what scheme you run. Rather, you fit the scheme to your elite players and fill in the pieces around them. Phillips has let it be known that this is exactly what he plans to do.
The point is that Phillips has shown that he will be proactive rather than reactive when shaping the defense. Right or wrong, the defense now has a clear direction instead of floating along and hoping to not be bad. Like the old saying goes, “I’ll take a wrong decision over no decision at all.”
Phillips résumé as a defensive coordinator along with the personnel moves he’s made with the Texans in his short stint with the team is cause for hope. I believe that draft picks will be spent early and often this year by Houston on the defense, but that’s not new for Houston.
Instead of seeing the same formula that hasn’t worked and yet keeps being repeated though, I think Phillips will shake up the Texans draft room just as he has their defensive personnel philosophies already. This year’s draft will look different than any other of the Kubiak regime. That isn’t guaranteed to be a good thing, but at least it breaks up the strategy that has been good enough to be mediocre. After all, the Texans previous defensive philosophy was try not to be bad, which is the best way to not be good.