John P. Lopez: How Cal and Hannah might just save football here: More Sean Payton, less Nick Caserio

Oct 23, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Houston Texans chief executive officer D. Cal McNair (left) and wife Hannah McNair react during the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

John P. Lopez: How Cal and Hannah might just save football here: More Sean Payton, less Nick Caserio

The biggest reason Texans fans should be optimistic and excited today is not the most obvious one.

The obvious: The Texans received permission to interview Super Bowl-winning coach and NFL icon Sean Payton for their vacant head coaching position.

When news of the Texans’ interest in Payton broke and circulated Wednesday, the league and likely many Texans fans collectively gasped, “wait, what?”

The Texans? They did that? The team that has redefined dysfunction and incompetence, to say nothing of underachievement, ineptitude, and wretchedness?

Yeah, those Texans.

Even the most beaten-down and indifferent of Texans fans had to have taken notice. And maybe, they even raised an approving eyebrow.

This is Sean Payton we’re talking about here. Even just the pipe dream of shooting your shot with Payton carries the Texans’ coaching search away from the Island Of Misfit toys, where they’ve been living the past couple years.

No more retreads. No more unqualified puppets. No more Patriots South nepotism and John Carroll University cultists.

And that’s what we all should be most excited to witness. Cal and Hannah McNair are doing this. They’re taking the reins of this search, trusting Nick Caserio less and whistling giddy-up with their hair blowing in the wind. They are leaving preconceived notions about this organization in their dust.

And the timing could not be better, with the Texans legitimately are at a crossroads when it comes to popularity and relevance. No one knows this more than Cal and Hannah. They see the empty stadium. They feel the indifference in their hearts and in their spreadsheets. They’ve lived the public relations and on-field nightmares of the past three seasons.

Most significantly, they’ve felt the sting of being played. They were played by Bill O’Brien when he convinced them he could be both coach and general manager. They were played by Jack Easterby, who convinced them he was qualified to do things he had no clue about and nearly broke the franchise. They were played by Deshaun Watson. They even were played this season by Brandin Cooks, who lied about being all-in, and Lovie Smith, who smugly and successfully tried to take a parting shot by hijacking and ultimately sacrificing the No. 1 overall draft pick.

With this run at Sean Payton, and to a lesser-degree DeMeco Ryans, who the Texans have also requested to interview, Cal and Hannah McNair are saying, without directly saying: No more.

No more clown shows. No more insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. No more settling.

While they may have confidence in certain things general manager Nick Caserio brings to the organization and his leadership skills, this moment is too important. While they may believe Caserio can be trusted with a lot, he cannot nor should not be trusted with the most important hire in Houston Texans’ history. After all, he’s ruined the last two, even if his intentions and goals were pure.

This is their legacy, not Caserio’s. This is founder Bob McNair’s legacy. This is a moment unlike any other in the organization’s history – a future that is the proverbial blank canvas. The Texans have 11 draft picks in 2023. Two of them are first-round picks. They also have 10 draft picks, so far, in 2024. Two of those are first-round picks. They have an opening at head coach, an abundance of NFL salary cap riches to spend, and an array of talented quarterbacks from which to choose.

The old Cal and Hannah, the gullible McNairs, the trusting McNairs, might have allowed Caserio to come to them with candidates. And he certainly would have obliged – undoubtedly with subservient coaches just happy to have the chance, and by the way indebted to Caserio. Thus, Caserio always would run the show. The controlling old coach in him would dictate the coaching staff. The style of offense and defense. The messaging. The everything.

Nothing about Caserio’s tenure with the Texans indicates he had anything to do with requesting the interview with Payton. Because everything about Sean Payton’s personality clashes with Caserio’s approach. If you’re a Texans fan, this is a good thing. Nick has had his chance. He’s proved valuable, but not anything close to irreplaceable. Let it be Sean Payton’s show now.

During his tenure in New Orleans, the running joke in the Saints’ offices was that Payton controlled everything from the play-calling to the color of the binders in the business office. He is Type A personified, which explains Caserio’s bizarre hat-in-hand admission this week that if the next coach saw him as a threat, he’d be happy to take a lesser role. Perhaps he knew something.

Sure. Do it, Cal. Do it, Hannah. That’s how important this moment is for the Texans.

Thank Caserio for a job well done navigating the rough waters of the past two years, accumulating draft picks, handling the Deshaun debacle, and indulging David Culley and Lovie Smith.

But if the Texans somehow could pull off hiring Payton, well, everything changes. This team will be viewed differently in Houston and around the NFL. Fans will begin to flock back to NRG, especially with Payton handpicking his franchise quarterback. Players will be energized. Merchandise will fly off shelves. Houston will be the hub of NFL interest. Relevance will return. And the draft will be Payton’s — the next face-of-the-franchise tutored by one of the best offensive minds the game has seen.

And if that means Caserio’s role is reduced to glorified scout, well, as he’s often said: Whatever is in the best interest of the team. Cal and Hannah might just save football in Houston.

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  • Good to see good writing back in Houston. While I agree with all of this, it remains to be seen why or where a coach with a lot of power has been successful.

    I am game to trade a draft pick to get a good coach but why not a coach who is on the come up as opposed to a coach who really hasn’t been great the last 10 years.

  • I’m glad to see Cal and Hannah McNair getting into the fire. They need to assure the fans that the time for nonsense is over. I have faith in them after hearing them interviewed on local sports show. Ms. McNair especially sounded very impressive and gave me hope

  • Glad to see Cal stepping up and I think he will get it right with next hire. Hopefully this get done before the draft so they can have time to evaluate the talent in the coming draft.

  • Will Cal work with Koran Ferry on this coaching search?

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