It is well established that the Houston Texans are a lopsided team. Head coach Gary Kubiak has taken a great deal of criticism for the abysmal defenses of his teams as well as his lack of playoff appearances, which one could argue is a cause-and-effect relationship.
Much of the current offseason for the Texans public relations machine has been spent convincing fans that newly hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is the answer. While I happen to buy into the “Wade will fix the defense” hype, that’s not the point of this post.
Before you can decide whether Phillips is an effective solution or not, you have to identify the real problem beyond “the defense is bad.” What exactly is to blame for the poor defense during the entirety of Kubiak’s term as head coach?
This isn’t the first time that Texans fans have been asked to put their faith in a new coordinator being the solution. Just two years ago, then-linebackers coach Frank Bush was promoted to replace Richard Smith.
Blind optimism that the grail of a decent defense was obtainable probably kept the Texans faithful from seeing the startling similarities between the two. Both were coaching colleagues of Kubiak in Denver during the mid-'90s, where both served terms as linebackers coach. In fact, this wasn't the first time that Bush succeeded Smith.
The other glaring similarity is neither had significant experience as a defensive coordinator. Smith had one year calling a defense under Nick Saban in Miami in 2005, and Bush had never been a coordinator.
Some believe that Kubiak picked non-viable head coaching candidates for the purpose of security, but I think it was simple nepotism and misplaced faith in the familiar Denver system that rarely produced good defenses.
Whatever the reason for Kubiak’s choices, the mutual lack of experience among the two kept them from creating an identity for the defense. Both led vanilla defenses that weren’t proactive and tried to be not bad enough to allow Kubiak’s high-powered offenses a chance to carry the team to the playoffs. Neither succeeded.
Perhaps neither coordinator had enough talent to make their schemes work. After all, general manager Rick Smith’s track record of talent selection has been as lopsided in favor of the offense as the team’s performance on the field.
The roster was very quickly purged of players assembled during former GM Charlie Casserly’s term, and within a few years of Kubiak and Smith taking over, only a handful of those players remained. Despite adding starters to every personnel group on the offense, Smith has managed to add only Glover Quin and Brian Cushing as starters taken in the draft even though several high picks have been used on the defense.
It is highly hypothesized, though, that Smith does not have the normal responsibilities that a general manager normally does, namely having the final say on the draft and acquiring free agents. If Kubiak has full control, as many suspect, this would explain why the acquisition of offensive players has been so superior to that of those on the defense.
Kubiak surely deserves a great deal of blame in this circumstance, but how much? A head coach is ultimately responsible for both sides of the ball, and his defenses’ ineptness has cost this team several chances at winning seasons.
Kubiak was hired for his offensive talent as a coordinator, which has translated to his team as a head coach. He is vilified for nepotism and not being bold enough to go outside the organization in order to hire a defensive coordinator who could come close to matching his talent as a play-caller.
There’s another man who deserves some, if not more, of the blame, though: owner Bob McNair. McNair doesn’t share much in the culpability of the bad defenses, but his fingerprints are indirectly all over those incompetent squads.
He hired Kubiak because he fit the mold of the organization, and he wanted to see if the offensive guru could make something of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr. So why give Kubiak all the power that he received?
Not only did he get to pick his initial coordinator, which is common, but he got to pick the successor once the original failed miserably, which is not so common. The logic of this power bestowed on Kubiak is even odder given the similarities between the two choices.
Also, it doesn’t take a genius to see that a brand new head coach would have more say than a soon-to-be ousted general manager, as was the case with the 2006 draft. This set a dangerous precedent though, one which carried over into the new coach-general manager relationship.
I’m not saying Kubiak should be absolved of all the guilt of the terrible Texans defenses that have mired the franchise in mediocrity. I do think it is necessary to question the logic behind giving a first-time head coach with an offensive background carte blanche over what essentially amounted to all day-to-day football operations.
This is why I can still have faith in Kubiak coming around as a head coach despite his failings to this point. Many coaches ask for the kind of power he was given, but with the exception of Bill Belichick, it hasn’t really worked as a model for running a successful franchise.
McNair has force-fed Wade Phillips as the savior of the defense to both Kubiak and the fans, which is a decision I happen to believe in. More than anything, though, I look forward to seeing what Kubiak can do now that someone has taken control over the defense to include personnel decisions.
What is your opinion? Do you think the shortcomings of the defense is all on Kubiak or do you agree that McNair is to blame as well? Let me know either in the comments or on twitter (@JakeBRB).