John McClain: Texans coaching carousel continues with Smith firing. They must get it right this time

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Trask Smith/CSM/Shutterstock (13673070ac) Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith during a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans in Houston, TX NFL Chiefs vs Texans, USA – 18 Dec 2022

John McClain: Texans coaching carousel continues with Smith firing. They must get it right this time

The Texans didn’t wait until Black Monday to fire head coach Lovie Smith.

After the Texans returned from Indianapolis, where they won their last game 32-31 over the Colts, Smith got word from chairman and CEO Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio that he was fired. The Texans finished 3-13-1 in Smith’s one season as head coach and his second overseeing the defense.

Now that the Smith firing is official, let’s look at what kind of candidate the McNair family may pursue as his replacement and how the Texans reached a point of hiring a third head coach in three years.

Like David Culley in 2021, Smith was a one-and-done coach whose record was one-half game worse than what Culley produced before he was fired.

The most alarming regression in Smith’s one season was the performance of the offense under first-year coordinator Pep Hamilton and the failure of second-year quarterback Davis Mills to show substantial improvement.

Caserio and McNair will oversee the interview process. Caserio will make a recommendation to the McNair family, and they’re expected to sign off on hiring the Texans’ fourth coach in four years, including Bill O’Brien, who was fired four games into the 2020 season. If you count interim coach Romeo Crennel, the next hire will be the Texans’ fifth in four years.

Caserio and McNair have to get this one right. After Culley and Smith, who were 63 and 66 when they were hired, it stands to reason the next coach will be younger and probably have an offensive background, although they won’t rule out a second consecutive defensive coordinator.

The new coach is expected to get a five-year contract. Money hasn’t been an issue for McNair. He’s now paying three former head coaches – O’Brien, Culley, and Smith. He’s also paying former general manager Brian Gaine as well as Caserio.

Last year, the Texans interviewed Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon two times last year. 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who played six seasons for the Texans, will be one of the hottest assistant coaches on the market. Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who calls plays, is expected to be pursued by multiple teams and could be an ideal fit. Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi also was interviewed with the Texans last year.

In their last two hiring cycles, the Texans also interviewed former head coach Jim Caldwell, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Brian Flores, and Hines Ward.

The Texans should be an attractive job. They’re expected to use the second overall pick in the draft on a franchise quarterback. They’ll be in the third year of their rebuild. Caserio has stockpiled 11 draft choices this year and 10 in 2024.

Caserio has an extra first-round pick both years because of the Watson trade. They hope to get back receiver John Metchie III, a second-round pick who spent his rookie season getting treatment for Leukemia. Caserio also has fixed a serious salary cap problem, and for the first time since he was hired, he should be able to spend on expensive free agents to fill need positions.

At this early stage, there’s no evidence Sean Payton or Jim Harbaugh will be pursued. Because Caserio has in the six-year contract he signed in January of 2021 that he has final say on personnel decisions, a new coach couldn’t get that kind of authority. After giving O’Brien control of personnel for two seasons, McNair made sure Caserio has control of personnel decisions in writing.

Smith, who was fired from his last three jobs with the Bears, Buccaneers, and the University of Illinois, was a compromise hiring last year. He wasn’t a candidate during the interview process to find a replacement for Culley.

Caserio was in charge of that process, but Jack Easterby was a strong influence. Easterby, who was fired during this season, pushed so hard to get the inexperienced McCown the job that he almost pulled it off.

When Flores, the first coach to be interviewed by Caserio, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the NFL that later included the Texans, they stepped back, revaluated the situation, and pivoted to Smith, their associate head coach/defensive coordinator.

Smith, who hadn’t been interviewed, was asked if he’d be interested. He responded with an enthusiastic yes. He was formally interviewed on Monday and announced as the coach. His introductory news conference was the next day.

Smith had an immediate calming effect on a team that was in turmoil. The Texans were preparing to hire McCown, getting sued by Flores, and dealing with the Watson controversy. It was like Smith took over the controls of a jet experiencing turbulence and brought it back under control.

At least Smith went out with a victory. The Texans won two of their last three games over the Titans and Colts and finished with a 3-2-1 record in the AFC South. After Sunday’s victory, Smith was asked about his job status.

“Do I expect to be back, yeah, I expect to be back – absolutely,” Smith said. “No need for hypotheticals. I can’t get into those. (Do) I expect to? Yes. We understand the totality of the season and what’s going on.”

The totality of the situation is that Smith is gone, and the Texans are hoping to kick off a new era with a new head coach and a franchise quarterback who’ll create a buzz in Houston. The new coach and quarterback are expected to help them escape the abyss they fell into after the 2019 season when they won their last AFC South title, beat Buffalo in a wild-card game, and came apart in the divisional round at Kansas City.

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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