John McClain: This Texans coaching search will be much different than the last two

Nov 7, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

John McClain: This Texans coaching search will be much different than the last two

If the Texans are going to make a serious run at Sean Payton as their new head coach, it’s going to cost them dearly. Every team with an opening, including the Texans, is checking out Payton, an outstanding coach who will require compensation for New Orleans, where he won a Super Bowl.

Hiring Payton would mean big-time changes in the Texans’ organization. First would be the cost for hiring Payton. It’s been widely reported the Saints want a first-round draft choice for Payton, but that seems embarrassingly low for a coach of his stature.

To get Jon Gruden from the Raiders, the Buccaneers gave up two first-round draft choices, two second-round picks, and $8 million. Why would the Saints settle for a mere first-round selection for a great coach like Payton? That would make no sense.

The Texans have more draft capital available than any team with a coaching vacancy. General manager Nick Caserio has stockpiled 11 draft choices this year, including the second and 12th overall picks. He has 10 selections in 2024, including two in the first round.

Hiring Payton would mean bypassing Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with their first pick. Payton told Colin Cowherd recently, “Let’s not draft small players in the first 15 picks anymore. Let’s not get away from prototype. Those early picks have to be prototype players.”

Alabama lists Young at 6-0, 195. When he’s weighed and measured at the combine, scouts predict he’ll be smaller.

Money won’t be an issue for the McNair family. Does chairman and CEO Cal McNair, knowing how desperate the Texans are to add young talent to the roster, sacrifice a couple of first-round picks for Payton? McNair said he’s going to take a more active role in the current coaching search. The McNair family – Janice, Hannah, and Cal – never let money stand in the way of making important decisions. And they’re going to be making important decisions before the search ends.

There’s also the Caserio question to consider. He’s beginning the third year of a six-year, $30 million contract that says he has final say on all personnel decisions. He runs the personnel department, no questions asked.

Payton wants the kind of control he had with the Saints. In other words, full control. General manager Mickey Loomis, a salary cap expert and contract negotiator, worked well with Payton because he knew who was boss.

Caserio had a couple of interesting and befuddling comments in the Texans’ Monday news conference to address the firing of coach Lovie Smith and the pursuit of his replacement. As of now, seven candidates have been identified – Payton, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

“If there’s candidates, if they feel that whether or not in my position that I’m worthwhile to be in my position, if ultimately the best thing for the organization is for me not to be in that position, then I have to respect that and acknowledge that,” Caserio said. “I’m certainly not above and beyond anything else.

“What I’ve tried to do is be consistent on a year-to-year basis, try to do what I believe is in the best interest of our team on a year-to-year basis. Eventually, at some point, if somebody feels that’s not the direction we need to go, I’ll respect that and acknowledge that. The only thing I can do is do the best job that I can, try to make the decisions that I feel make the most sense, and that’s what I’m committed to doing.”

On the surface, that sounded like Caserio might be willing to surrender control of personnel if a candidate like Payton insisted on it to become the next coach or that he would understand getting fired by the McNair family if they wanted to hire a coach like Payton.

Now, let’s be clear about something: Caserio has power over personnel. If he gave it up, he’d be a glorified personnel director with a general manager title. He spent his last 13 years in New England as Bill Belichick’s personnel director. Caserio came to the Texans to run a personnel department for the first time.

If Caserio didn’t have control of personnel, why would he be worth $5 million a year? He wouldn’t. And there’s no way he’d redo his contract for less money and authority. Only a nincompoop would believe that. So, if Payton told the Texans he’d come to Houston for about $10 to $15 million a year, would require control of personnel, insist Caserio be fired, and he would select the new general manager, would McNair do it?

Fans and media would want Payton at almost any price because he’d be at NRG Stadium for the long term. But would he? He left the Saints to do television for a year or two before returning to coaching with another team. Turning around the Texans after three wretched years is going to be a painstaking process.

It could be a moot point, of course. Payton is going to have lots of options. Arizona has openings for a head coach and general manager and owns the third overall pick in the draft. The Cardinals have a quarterback, Kyler Murray, who Payton likes a lot even though he’s coming off knee surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of next season.

If the Cowboys lose Monday night’s wild-card game at Tampa Bay, will Payton be reunited with his good friend Jerry Jones? Jones said this week Mike McCarthy won’t get fired if the Cowboys are eliminated in the first round, but you know how that goes.

Denver has Walmart money for Payton but is strapped for draft choices and stuck with Russell Wilson at quarterback. It’s hard to imagine the Saints allowing Payton to go to Carolina, an NFC South rival. Indianapolis doesn’t seem to be a likely destination for Payton because owner Jim Irsay is so heavily involved in personnel decisions, and general manager Chris Ballard is still on the job.

This is the first legitimate coaching search the Texans have employed since Bill O’Brien was hired in 2014. There are no strings attached to this search, unlike in 2021 when David Culley was hired and last year when Smith was elevated from associate head coach/defensive coordinator.

There’s no fiasco like last year when Culley was fired after one season, Jack Easterby was pushing Josh McCown, Brian Flores was including the Texans in a discrimination lawsuit, and the Deshaun Watson cloud hovered over the organization. What the Texans have now is an old-fashioned coaching search.

Caserio was asked about the hiring process, and he said, “It’s going to be my recommendation to ownership. Cal and Hannah own the team. I’m going to be respectful of their wishes. The owner has the trump card.

“I think we’re going to be respectful of each other’s perspective and wishes, and, ultimately, we’re going to do what we feel is in the best interest of the organization. I’m certainly appreciative of the support from Cal and Hannah and their willingness to provide the resources available.”

If Caserio doesn’t make the right recommendation, it’ll be three strikes and he’s out as general manager.

“We’re committed to getting this one right,” Cal McNair said. “I have full confidence in Nick. He has led our operations through a difficult stretch and continues to prove he is an elite talent evaluator. We talk constantly and have a plan for this process that we’ll execute together.”

Will the Texans go for the grand slam with Payton or just a home run with one of the talented coordinators? First, they have to convince the candidates this is the right job. That’s going to take a lot of convincing, considering the new coach will be their fourth in four years, and the last two were one-and-done.

Money talks, of course. It shouldn’t be an issue. The Texans are loaded with draft choices, have some talented young players, plan to select a franchise quarterback with their first pick, and will have enough room under the salary cap to sign a couple of big-name free agents. But, like a husband and wife, a marriage between a head coach and an NFL team is a two-way street. And we’re not talking Borbon Street.

(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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