MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 07: Houston Texans chairman and chief executive officer Cal McNair looks on during the game between the Houston Texans and the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
It was a year seemingly inspired by mescaline and mushrooms — a script so bizarre it should have been written by Lewis Carroll and directed by Aaron Sorkin.
Today is about Texans CEO Cal McNair searching for normal again, or some semblance of it. But anyone even remotely familiar with the NFL, TMZ and of course OMG probably already knows the gist of the Texans story over the past year-plus. Ted Lasso meets Tammy Faye Bakker meets Dark Lord of the Sith.
Yeah, that wild. To recap:
Unprecedented global virus threatens the planet. Unreasonably ambitious bully of a head coach befriends fraudulent former team chaplain-turned-NFL executive. Fraudulent former team chaplain bamboozles vulnerable still-new team CEO and his wife. Star quarterback sees through the debacle and wants out of the whole shebang.
Meanwhile, star quarterback also is seeing 30 or 40 – give or take — Instagram models/massage therapists. And shebang definitely still is on his mind.
Coach gets fired. Chaplain gets promoted. Quarterback gets sued. Fraudulent former chaplain becomes interim general manager. CEO and wife retreat and try to regroup. Overwhelmed and unqualified lamb of a head coach is hired. New GM and CEO believe friendly lamb-coach actually could salvage the relationship with disgruntled quarterback. Disgruntled quarterback, smelling more and more like musk, body lotion and guilt, speaks in rap lyrics online and expletives to cameras. That would be a no, dawg, on the whole salvaging relationship thing. Lamb-coach thrown to the wolves tells the world he has no intention of playing the disgruntled quarterback, who also happens to still be showing up to practice and earning $10 million to play scout-team safety.
Finally, the cherry-on-top chef’s-kiss final twist to it all is a couple of bombastic celebrity attorneys getting into the mix, flashing $5,000 suits, casting aspersions and saying things like, “happy endings” for effect.
A story as old as time, right?
Or maybe never. Nothing the league ever has seen or ever will see could match the rubber-room silliness of the 2020-2021 Texans. It was nearly impossible to believe. And it was about the most impossible thing from which this proud organization could recover, much less in just a year’s time.
And yet here we are. Here was Cal McNair on the brink of the 2022 Texans season kickoff, sitting in an office conference room overlooking the Houston cityscape, looking comfortable and confident, as if this organization is on the way to owning this city yet again.
“It really was, you know, something you could never prepare for,” McNair said. “You’ve never experienced that or expected to, it just came out of the blue. There’s no blueprint for handling it. So we tried to handle it as best we could. It didn’t make it any less crazy.”
And here was Cal McNair, a year after a season that damaged the Texans so badly and set back the organization so much, somehow answering the question we all asked over the last year-plus.
Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?
Yes. They did. And so far, so good. The reboot seems to be succeeding faster and accomplishing more than anyone possibly could have expected. Cal and Hannah McNair are control-alt-deleting their way back into good graces.
And they are starting over by doing something legal restraints, awkwardness and trepidation prevented them from doing a year ago. They are themselves. They are showing vulnerabilities, humor and personalities that were overshadowed and beaten down by pandemics, incompetents and (alleged) deviants.
Make no mistake, all the initiatives and changes the Texans have undergone since the BOB-Jack-Deshaun Debacle Days begin with Cal and Hannah. From the shadows, they have emerged reinvigorated and recommitted.
They have been more accessible, more transparent, willing to stretch boundaries and available to cameras more than ever before. They changed the way they conduct draft night, making it more open and raucous. They changed the annual team luncheon. They changed a fractured relationship with media and fans at training camp. They are changing game presentation and virtually every other aspect of their brand – all with normal on their minds.
Just this week, Cal sat down for an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and, yes, that really was him answering all the pointed questions from participants.
“I couldn’t wait for the Tommy Boy question,” he joked, alluding to a common silver-spoon criticism he’s heard, after inheriting control from his father Bob, who died late in 2018. “I knew it was coming.”
McNair’s response to that Reddit question: Didn’t Tommy Boy save the company?
One dose of normalcy at a time, Cal and Hannah are trying to do the same. Often forgotten amid the craziness of the recent Texans era, there is in fact at least one fair comparison to the Tommy Boy character. Cal has tried to get back to normal and regain fans, while still learning on the job.
When asked if perhaps in recent months and years he was vulnerable to all the power moves and suggestions crossing his desk, Cal said, “I really tried to honor what dad had in place and his vision, and mom’s vision.”
So when Bill O’Brien asked for wild trades, he approved. When Jack Easterby came into the picture as a right-hand man, he approved. When deals were offered and changes suggested, he tried to just trust the people his father hired.
Because Cal did not want to do anything too crazy, especially amid the pandemic, did the whole thing go off the rails? Because his father believed in his people, did McNair ultimately believe in them too much?
“I don’t think I would argue with you on that too much,” McNair said.
Today, Cal and Hannah are making strides and changing narratives. There finally is a functional, qualified GM in Nick Caserio. There finally is a qualified, know-your-lane head coach in Lovie Smith. There are young promising players. An adept marketing and public relations staff is in place. Scouts who didn’t grovel their way to promotions are in place.
Significant things are happening — not the least of which is the former chaplain, who never deserved such lofty status in the organization, finally being unceremoniously written out of the Texans’ script like Richie Cunningham’s big brother on Happy Days or Ross Geller’s son on Friends. Jack Easterby ultimately will disappear and few around here ever will remember him, or what purpose he even tried to fake.
Things finally are changing. It started, as Bob McNair would have loved, at the top.
“We had a long year,” Cal said. “We talked and met and had honest discussions about where we were and where we wanted to be. And we laid the groundwork for what you’re seeing. We are not afraid to evolve, not afraid to challenge each other. We’re going to rebuild it, brick by brick, and it’s going to take a while to build this house. But we are going to make good decision after good decision. And when we look back and we see it, it’s going to be, ‘hey, that’s a nice house they built.’ They did it.”
Never forget. Tommy Boy was, in fact, a hero to an entire city.