Mar 1, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans coach Demeco Ryans during the NFL Scouting Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
PHOENIX – Like Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers in 2017, DeMeco Ryans goes into his first season as the Texans’ head coach without a former head coach on his staff to help him make a smoother transition into his new role.
Shanahan spent 12 years as an NFL assistant coach, including offensive coordinator with four teams, when San Francisco hired him. If he needed advice from a former head coach, he could pick up the phone and call his father, Mike Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos.
If Ryans needs advice, he can reach out to Gary Kubiak, his first head coach in the NFL. Kubiak was Ryans’ coach during his six years (2006-2011) playing linebacker for the Texans.
“I’ve talked to coach Kubiak, and he’s been outstanding when it comes to anything I need, any questions I have,” Ryans said this week at the NFL meetings. “He’s there with a shoulder for me to lean on. It’s great to have a former head coach who’s done it, won Super Bowls. He’s done it at a high level, so to have him as a guy I can lean on has been very beneficial.”
In 2006, Kubiak was a rookie head coach, and Ryans was a rookie outside linebacker who was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He moved inside the next season and became one of the best players in team history. He watched Kubiak closely and observed how he ran the team.
“The main thing I learned (from) Kubiak is how to create that first-class environment from the top down,” Ryans said. “That’s one thing we’ve been focusing on a lot – just making sure everything we do throughout the building is done in a first-class manner. I thought Kubiak did an excellent job of that, of changing that culture, and I want to create the same thing.”
Shanahan believes Ryans is ready for his on-the-job training, and it won’t be an issue not to have a former head coach on his staff. Shanahan coached four seasons with the Texans when Ryans played and made him part of his first 49ers’ coaching staff. He’s convinced Ryans will do an outstanding job as a head coach, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Even though Ryans has yet to disclose if he’ll make the defensive calls, most expect him to do it because he was so good at it the last two seasons at San Francisco.
“DeMeco deserves to be in this position,” Shanahan said. “Everything he’s done has been at a high level. Even though he did it fast (become a head coach after six years as an assistant), he’s extremely prepared for it. Yes, it’s his first time doing it, but he’s going to be very good at it. You worry about stuff because you haven’t done it yet, but then you do it and gain valuable experience.
“DeMeco knows football so well because he’s been around it for so long as a player and coach. I think sometimes when you’re doing it for the first time, it’s an advantage. You don’t have scars from the past. You have a very clear mind, and when you go at it, you hope you’re prepared to make those important decisions.”
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who also spent six years working with Ryans at San Francisco, will call plays for the first time. Ryans hired two long-time NFL assistants, Bill Lazor and Shane Day, as senior offensive assistants. They have a combined 31 years as NFL assistants, including Lazor as an offensive coordinator with three teams and Day primarily as a quarterback coach.
“I don’t think (hiring Lazor and Day) has anything to do with helping (him) make play calls – that’s just trying to get good coaches on the staff,” Shanahan said. “That’s not trying to help a first-time play-caller.
“Bobby’s gone through everything and prepared for everything, just like Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel did (with the 49ers). When they do get their opportunity to do it (call plays) on their own, they’re not going to have somebody come from another building to tell them how to do it. They already were close to doing it, and they’ve been preparing for it their entire careers.”
Slowik spent nine seasons working with Shanahan – three at Washington and the last six at San Francisco. Shanahan has supreme confidence in Slowik as a play-caller and, ultimately, as a head coach.
It would have been easier for Slowik, San Francisco’s passing game coordinator last season, to become a head coach as a 49ers’ assistant like Robert Saleh (Jets) and McDaniel (Dolphins) rather than move to Houston to participate in the third year of the Texans rebuild. Last season, the 49ers won 13 games – two more than the Texans’ combined total over the last three seasons.
“For Bobby to make the decision to leave shows you what type of guy he is,” Shanahan said. “He was in a very good situation with us. I’ve been working with him for a while, and he helped me a ton. I believe he would have eventually been a head coach if he’d stayed with us. But Bobby wanted that experience. He wanted to call plays and be in some tough situations, which do make you better as a coach.
“When you start out with a new team, and you’re a first-time play-caller, you go through some ups and downs that help make you better. To me, Bobby was on that (head coaching) path, and he’s still on that path, but he wants to get some experience – good or bad. In the end, it’ll all be good because it’ll make him better. He’ll be preparing for that opportunity just like DeMeco did and I did, and when he gets it, he’ll be ready.”
(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).