Mandatory Credit: Photo by Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock (12239372e) This is a 2021 photo of Bobby Slowik of the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team. This image reflects the 2021 active roster as of when this image was taken San Francisco 49ers 2021 Football Headshots, Santa Clara, United States – 23 Feb 2021
In 2017 when they were part of Kyle Shanahan’s first staff with the 49ers, DeMeco Ryans and Bobby Slowik were defensive quality control coaches who shared an office the size of a closet. They bonded as coaches and friends and worked their way up Shanahan’s coaching ladder to where they are today – the Texans’ new head coach and offensive coordinator.
Ryans was promoted to inside linebacker coach in 2018 and defensive coordinator in 2021. Shanahan named Slowik an offensive assistant in 2019, offensive passing game specialist in 2021, and passing game coordinator in 2022. Because of Ryans’ close relationship with Slowik, Shanahan knew he was going to lose both of them to the Texans. It wasn’t a case of if but when. As soon as the Texans hired Ryans to come home to Houston as their third head coach in three years, Shanahan knew Slowik would follow him.
Slowik, 35, and Ryans, 38, took different paths to Houston. In Ryans’ case, it was back to Houston. Slowik, son of Bob Slowick, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator with the Bears, Browns, Packers, and Broncos who’s currently coaching with Calgary of the Canadian Football League, got his start in the NFL with Washington coach Mike Shanahan in 2011.
Kyle Shanahan was his father’s offensive coordinator when Slowik was hired as a defensive assistant, a position he kept for three years. When Mike Shanahan was fired, Slowik spent three years watching tape and grading players for Pro Football Focus. When Shanahan was hired by the 49ers in 2017, two of the first coaches he reached out to were Ryans and Slowik.
“I didn’t know him at any level,” Slowik said Wednesday about meeting Ryans for the first time. “We had never had a conversation. I knew who he was as a player. I remember when he was at Alabama, here in Houston, and when he went to Philadelphia. I respected him a great deal as a player. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when we started a conversation.
“We were in the same room together that first year. He was working with (linebackers coach) Johnny Holland at the time, and I was kind of in and out with him and (defensive coordinator) Robert Saleh. We really built a bond going through that whole process, and 2017 was a tough year, 2018 was a little bit of a tough year. When you go through stuff like that, and you’re in a room with somebody, you really get to know each other through the ups and the downs.”
It didn’t take long for Ryans and Slowik to develop a mutual respect that grew during their six years together with the 49ers.
“Immediately, when you start talking to him you feel energy – you feel juice,” Slowik said. “You feel a guy who’s excited to be there, excited to live, excited to a part of something where there’s competition at stake. That really inspires you. As you talk to him more, you start to realize we have very similar values. We have similar football opinions and outlooks as far as how we see that game, how we approach the game, and how we approach teaching. That’s kind of where it started to take off as far as the relationship goes. It was really fun going back and forth.”
As an offensive coordinator and play-caller for the first time, the first thing Slowik needs – and Ryans as well – is a franchise quarterback in the draft. The Texans have the second overall pick and could end up with Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. When asked about his philosophy on quarterbacks, Slowik showed he has down the party line that Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio used at the combine when asked about the same subject.
“It’s not about one position,” Slowik said. “It’s the whole unit and how it all fits together. We kind of take a top-down view. How we see everything working together (and) it’s that we’re an offense built on precision and everybody working together in unison, on time, in rhythm. That’s the starting point. We’ll see how it all fits.”
Slowik was asked about 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who’ll become an unrestricted free agent next week. He said the Texans will evaluate Garoppolo as they will all free agent quarterbacks and prospects available in the draft.
“We have a process in everything we go through, and that’s roster construction as far as free agency, guys we already have here (and) the draft – everything together,” he said. “Jimmy is obviously part of that process. He’s going to be a free agent. We grind through that as a coaching staff. We grind through that in the personnel department. We have conversations. I’ve had conversations with Nick. He has conversations with DeMeco. Then, Nick and DeMeco put their heads together and lay out a plan of what we want to do, and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Because he’s calling plays for the first time, Slowik needs experienced coaches he can rely on for advice. Bill Lazor, a senior offensive assistant, is the only coach on the staff who’s been a coordinator. Shane Day, another offensive assistant, has never been an NFL coordinator but is coaching his 15th season. That’s why Ryans said last week at the combine he still may hire a former NFL head coach who he and the coordinators can work with.
Besides Mike and Kyle Shanahan, in his nine seasons in the NFL, Slowik also has worked on offense with future head coaches Sean McVay, Matt LeFleur, and Mike McDaniel. He believes his time has come as a play-caller.
“Referencing back to working for Kyle, being around a lot of guys that have grown to be coordinators (and) grown to be head coaches,” he said. “I was around those guys all the time. When I went to San Francisco, seeing how they did it, and then getting in a position where a lot of the responsibilities of what I already had to do working with Kyle because as a head coach you get pulled in a million different ways.
“Kyle made sure you were ready when it was your time. He put a lot on you in a good way. He would make sure you were seeing the game he saw. If you weren’t, you would have a conversation, and we’d talk about it, and it really enabled you to grow as a coach (and) I was very fortunate to be in that spot.”
At San Francisco, Shanahan traded for Garoppolo, then traded up in the first round to select Trey Lance, and, because of injuries they suffered last season, he was forced to start rookie Brock Purdy, the last player drafted. At Washington, he watched Mike Shanahan trade up in the first round to draft Robert Griffin III. So Slowik has seen different ways to try to solidify the most important position on the team. He was asked if he thinks he can win with a rookie quarterback – meaning Young or Stroud?
“I would point to the end of last year,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to go through three quarterbacks, but we had Mr. Irrelevant (Purdy), who did one heck of a job by taking us all the way to the NFC Championship Game. I think how you structure the entire thing — offense, defense, special teams — everything plays a hand in how it all goes together.”
Slowik and Ryans are on the same page as to what kind of offense the Texans will implement, including the kind of players they want and what’s expected of them. It’s the offense Shanahan uses, the same one Gary Kubiak employed during his eight years with the Texans. Slowik will add his wrinkles, of course.
“As far as our identity — fast, physical, and tough,” he said. “We always said this when I was at San Francisco, and I believe this to my core, if you get in a room when you’re by yourself, and you turn on our film, our character should show through when you watch our offense. I believe that was true when we were in San Francisco, and that’s going to be true here.
“When you get in a room by yourself, and you turn on what we call the silent tape, you’re going to feel a team that’s very aggressive, fast, decisive, and there’s no hesitation. Everyone knows what we’re doing. Overall, that’s really what we want to do on offense, and that starts scheme-wise, making sure everyone is on the same page, and putting our guys in the best positions to do what they do best by taking advantage of their strengths.”
After Ryans was hired, Kyle Shanahan said he thought this past season was the best offensive season of his career. He said it wasn’t a coincidence that Slowik played a prominent role in that offensive production.
“That means a lot to me,” Slowik said. “Because my dad was a coach, I kind of grew up around the game. I didn’t really get a shot to coach as a career until Mike Shanahan brought me in. Then, (I went) to Kyle. I had been on defense for a long time, and Kyle had always wanted me to come to offense, and eventually, he convinced me to pull the trigger to jump over to the other side of the ball.
“The amount of learning, the growth, how much he helped bring me along, how much he challenged me, it was not easy in the right way. It was not easy to work for him. You grow. You learn a lot. You become a better coach, and you become a better person. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to the Shanahan family.”
Slowik learned a lot from the Shanahans that he’ll utilize with the Texans.
“Kyle has a belief that it’s (offense) always evolving,” he said. “It never stops. That’s through the season and offseason. Once it started rolling, we were able to take our offense and the team in a lot of cool directions that we really hadn’t done before. It was really, really exciting.”
And Texans fans are going to be really, really excited if Caserio, Ryans, and Slowik draft a franchise quarterback who can help take the team in a cool direction for the first time since 2019 when they won the AFC South for the last time.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).