Will fired coach’s vanity cost Texans?

Dec 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith stand on the field during warm ups prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Will fired coach’s vanity cost Texans?

Former Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith was more interested in a meaningless win than the team having the chance to choose whichever quarterback they wished with the first overall pick.

Following the Texans’ 32-31 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis Week 18, Lovie Smith channeled his inner Herm Edwards in his opening statement to the media.

“Whenever you play, it’s pretty simple, you play to win the game. It’s kind of simple as that. That’s all the way down in our organization. You get down to the last game, of course, and there’s a lot of — I understand the outside things that were out there, but as far as our football team, we practiced hard this week to win, and as you see, it’s one thing to give it lip service. It’s one thing to see how we fought right up until the end. There’s a lot of guys that contributed. In the end, we needed to score. We needed to score some points. We needed to score eight points to win.”

Smith could have played for the tie as he did in Week 1 against the Colts when his team completely fell apart in the fourth quarter and overtime of a game they controlled the first three quarters. The late collapse would become symbolic of the Texans’ 2022 season.

Finishing with a winning record in the division is something Smith has spoken about most of the last month. Even though those wins would essentially mean nothing for the team in the standings and would be detrimental to the team in the draft order, he felt they were important for his players.

“Well, we’ve talked. Before this game, we understand what our win total is, and that’s not enough. That wasn’t part of the plan. But that’s how it goes sometimes. Now we came down to this game, one game left to go. We wanted to leave the season with a good taste in our mouth and to do it that way where you’ve got to scratch and claw. We’ve lost a few games right at the end, overtime and all of that, so it was good to see the guys kind of finish this one.”

There was something of a sense of irony that the Texans, losers of so many games this season with fourth-quarter failures, would use a late fourth-quarter score to win the game that would ultimately cost them the top pick in the draft.

Playing to get the top pick in the draft was never part of the plan for Smith.

“All right, this is the option that I had. So, you’re saying, hey, guys, playing this last game, all that you’ve been working for all your life, you play to win, forget that, lose the game on purpose. I think that would be a hard one to get by. They wouldn’t expect me to say that. I didn’t. Each week our game plan to be to win the game. It’s kind of simple as that. That’s what we followed through on today.”

Of course, the Chicago Bears, who beat the Texans earlier this season and were Houston’s primary competition for the top pick in the draft, had no problems playing for the loss. They started their backup quarterback in Week 18 and pulled him at halftime, all but ensuring they would lose their game. They were also quite aware that the Texans had an early lead and that they could capitalize on Houston playing to win.

While Smith has maintained that he doesn’t see a big difference between the first and second pick in the draft, history has shown otherwise. It has particularly shown otherwise when it comes to multiple top-rated quarterbacks at the very top of the draft, as I covered last week in reviewing previous drafts of quarterbacks taken 1-2, 1-2-3, and multiple quarterbacks taken in the top 12.

Most times, only one of that group of quarterbacks is a franchise-level player, and being able to make the choice yourself instead of allowing someone else the first shot and being left to choose from who is left has proven vital to multiple franchises long-term success.

Smith chose to win Week 18 and forfeit that privilege of choice. He was fired later Sunday evening.

We will find out if the team will regret Smith’s decision on April 27.

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