Lovie Smith Fired After 1 Season as Texans HC; Houston Finished 3-13-1

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 9, 2023

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 11: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans looks on prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on December 11, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)
Sam Hodde/Getty Images

The Houston Texans fired head coach Lovie Smith after just one season, a move that came hours after the team pulled out a 32-31 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

The statement from Chair and CEO Cal McNair: <a href="https://t.co/fPvYnkwaIY">pic.twitter.com/fPvYnkwaIY</a>

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo previously reported the news. Rapoport and Tom Pelissero noted Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans are among the top candidates to replace Smith.

Houston finished with a 3-13-1 record, extending a period of prolonged futility. Since reaching the playoffs in 2019, the Texans have won 11 games.

Though they entered Week 18 in position to own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Sunday's victory bumped the Texans down one spot in the draft order, with the Chicago Bears (3-14) ultimately claiming the top spot.

Their coaching turnover symbolizes their dysfunction and lack of a long-term direction. With Smith out the door, team owner Cal McNair will be hiring his third coach in as many years.

That's not to say Smith's firing came as a surprise.

On Saturday, Rapoport and Pelissero reported his status was undecided and that the team's performance had fallen short of what were already low expectations. In addition, there were concerning signs behind the scenes:

"Sources say frustration has mounted in the locker room and elsewhere in the building over many aspects of Smith's program, including overall operational struggles. It has spilled to their best players, such as receiver Brandin Cooks being stripped of the captaincy after trying and failing to get himself traded before November's deadline."

Smith looked like a stopgap from the moment he was brought in.

The 64-year-old was coming off a nondescript run at Illinois, where the Fighting Illini went 17-39 and reached one bowl game over five seasons. The Texans as a whole were in a holding pattern, too, as they adjusted to life after Deshaun Watson.

A weak quarterback class in the 2022 draft meant Houston had to keep its powder dry before it could identify a true successor to Watson once he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. The uncertainty surrounding the three-time Pro Bowler dating back to 2021 also didn't make the franchise look attractive for prospective coaching candidates.

The question now is how much the perception of the Texans has improved with the stage set for a true rebuild and Jack Easterby out of the picture after he was fired last October.

Easterby, the former executive vice president of football operations, was widely considered to be in over his head and a major source of the chaos plaguing the organization.

Houston could be an intriguing job for the right coach, as the Texans are effectively a blank slate. With a bevy of draft picks and $47.7 million in projected salary-cap space, per Spotrac, they could remake the roster in a big way this offseason.

Most notably, Houston can finally figure out the quarterback position.

General manager Nick Caserio and his new coach could take Ohio State's C.J. Stroud or Alabama's Bryce Young, the consensus top two QBs on the board, with the No. 2 overall pick. Or they could instead choose to select the best player available and target Kentucky's Will Levis, Florida's Anthony Richardson or another signal-caller later on.

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Davis Mills: "Don't worry, we will be better next year." <br><br>The Texans after watching Bryce Young: <a href="https://t.co/q1FaV58TWq">pic.twitter.com/q1FaV58TWq</a>

The Miami Dolphins are a prime example of how NFL rebuilds don't have to take anywhere near as long as they might in other sports.

Miami tore its roster down to the studs in 2019. The following offseason, it spent lavishly in free agency and selected Tua Tagovailoa in the first round of the draft. Even the Dolphins aren't quite where they expected to be by this point, they saw their 2020 win total double from five to 10 and nearly made the playoffs.

The Texans have been a laughing stock of late, but they may not be relegated there for much longer if they can hire the right coach and lay a solid foundation this spring.