John P. Lopez: Cal’s Quandary. And what he can learn from Jim Crane

Aug 19, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Houston Texans chief executive officer D. Cal McNair attends the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

John P. Lopez: Cal’s Quandary. And what he can learn from Jim Crane

It’s been a good year for Cal McNair – easily his best since becoming CEO of Houston’s vexing, infuriating, love-hate Houston Texans.

He’s grown into the job. He’s been a more public, accessible, dare we say even likable face of the franchise.

Cal even has managed to move past the most dysfunctional, darkest era of Texans football ever, with only a few public relations scars and unseen emotional wounds to show for it.

Deshaun Watson is someone else’s headache now. Jack Easterby has moved on to play the long con and dismantle someone else’s organization. And all those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad moves and decisions made by Bill O’Brien and others are mere bad memories and silent regrets now.

Sure, there must be some quiet moments when Cal feels like staring off into the distance, lost and numb, wondering what happened, like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, clicking a lamp on and off to Madame Butterfly. But even if Cal McNair doesn’t recognize or admit it, things have taken a better turn for him. When it comes to real, gritty football things, how Cal is perceived and how this organization is set up to actually build a squad, the Texans are trending toward becoming a real NFL franchise.

One problem.

Somewhere between empty-suit former coach David Culley’s goofiness, GM Nick Caserio’s verbal dodge ball and fascination with systems and processes — not to mention the 2-13-1 abomination on the field and Lovie Smith’s unearned entitlement and surliness — it stopped being about football. Or, more precisely, just football.

Cal McNair needs to pull a page from Astros owner Jim Crane’s playbook and handle this one himself.

The Texans have reached the point where many fans, perhaps even the majority of this once supremely loyal fan base, are the worst thing fans can be — apathetic.

Tell Caserio to do the right thing, Cal, don’t just trust him to do it. Don’t rubber-stamp his decisions. You did that with Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby, and look what that got you. Also … Caserio sucked from the same teet as O’Brien and Easterby, who knows if his best interest really is that much different from theirs.

Don’t think for a second that football is the only thing this is about anymore. It’s not. This is about becoming interesting again.

Draft a quarterback. Tell your GM to do it, don’t ask. Do what Astros Jim Crane has done to the tune of two World Series championships. Trust your people, but only to a point. When it comes to the paradigm-shifting decisions, make the call yourself. Don’t waver. Don’t be soft. Don’t trust anyone but yourself and the sad attendance and Q-rating numbers you surely have seen.

Draft a face of the franchise. Give this city and these fans something to feel good about, some energy, some buzz, and hope, no matter if it’s a home run or it flops. Houston football fans need this.

Caserio will tell you about the best interest of the team. He’ll tell you about how things were done in New England. He’ll tell you about step by step and block by block. He may even talk about building in the trenches and defense. Surely there will be some fancy terms and logic from Caserio, too.

Pssssshhh on that.

While there may be a place for that, that place is not here. Not now. Besides, Nick Caserio’s best interest is Nick Caserio – just like every GM in the league. Don’t fall for it, Cal.

This offseason is about the business of football, not football. Don’t fall for Caserio’s self-preservation doublespeak and football-isms, because somewhere amidst it all, fans checked out.

NRG Park became a desolate, bleak place on Sunday afternoons. Walk the parking lot, Cal. This is a drab, sad, and unexciting franchise. It’s the saddest in the history of Houston sports, frankly.

Where else in Texas, where football is king, could you land a plane in the parking lot on game day? Where else in the NFL do opposing fans dominate attendance like they do at NRG? Where else has a franchise gone from selling out every game for two decades to, why can’t I give my tickets away?

There’s no juice. There’s no buzz. There’s no energy, and the Texans are on the verge of becoming the worst thing in sports – irrelevant in their own city.

The one admirable trait Cal inherited or learned from his father, Texans founder Bob McNair, was hiring the right people and then trusting them to do their job. That trait served Bob McNair well. But it bit Cal McNair during the Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby days when he trusted them too much, and many of the best people in the organization were pushed out. It was a debacle.

But Cal and wife Hannah McNair seem to be onto something now. They’ve evolved. They’ve put themselves out there, challenged people in the organization to come up with out-there ideas, and the organization – from marketing to football, to operations – appears to be on solid ground again.

The next step is to put your personal mark on it, Cal. Ask your father’s friend, Jerry Jones, who he ultimately trusts the most. Himself.

That’s not to say don’t trust Caserio with second-round draft picks and beyond; just don’t let Caserio or anyone overthink this.

Forget data. Forget building a foundation. Forget best interests of the team. Forget the trenches, the NFL Combine, 40-yard dash times, nuance, and Caserio’s favorite crutches — systems, processes, and global views.

Cal needs to have a long conversation with Jim Crane and understand that the only way to weather the storm and come out of it with fans excited to return is to give them some kind of hope on which to cling.

This isn’t Nick Caserio’s team, Cal. It’s yours.

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  • Jim Crane would tell him to build a foundation, draft well, get rid of bad contracts. Crane didn’t sign a big name, high money player (Verlander) until the team was already solid. Putting a rookie QB on this team is fine, but skip the franchise-saver tag. He’s more likely to be Davis Mills 2.0 than a franchise QB with the lack of overall talent on the team. None of the QB’s in the upcoming draft are “can’t miss” so use the #1 pick for the best player, whoever that is.

  • Great job John. Love the read. You are way closer to hearing all the Caserio doublespeak than I am. I hope Cal is a fan and reads this article and listens to In The Loop. There are lots of voices and hopefully he knows which ones to listen too.

  • The last person Cal should listen to anyone from sports radio……

  • One problem, John. Tommy Boy isn’t a football guy. Sure, he can put his 2 cents in and make changes. But what plan of success does he have to change the culture on Kirby? Also you forgot to state a simple question. What does success mean to the McNairs? As of September 2022, according to Forbes the Texans are the 11th most valuable NFL team and 17th most valuable sports team in the world. So, does success mean winning Super Bowls or does success mean doing just enough to win a paltry AFC South championship to guarantee PSLs and merchandise sales to justify those Forbes ratings? At least those boys on Kirby are consistently inconsistent and the presence of mediocrity is present at the cathedral on Kirby.

  • Good Article!! Really Enjoyed The read!!

  • to be honest, forgot to add that to DW, Cal lied to him about GM/ coaching search, culture change in including all the staff, too, for my understanding as for Cal, he has no football knowledgeable and also need him to stay off a video game crap, focusing on his father legacy of how to built the teams, we as the fans cares about winning and glory

  • What exactly has Cal done to earn this degree of trust you are giving him John? What has Cal EVER done to show you that he knows best when it comes to football decisions? WHAT?!?!?! Nick Caserio is coming from an organization that has been to NINE Super Bowls! Cal leads an organization that has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Now you want to trust Cal with making first round selections? Ridiculous! Cal cooking burgers, and Cal wheeling John Weeks mother into a press conference doesn’t show that Cal knows a damn thing about making football decisions! Cal aforementioned “evolution” this year is nothing more than the machinations of a new PR team. Trust Nick to do the job he was hired to do.

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