Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Zalubowski/AP/Shutterstock (13400510hk) Houston Texans head coach Lovie Smith before an NFL football game, in Denver Texans Broncos Football, Denver, United States – 18 Sep 2022
The brilliance is in the believability.
Most everyone is buying it — Nick Caserio’s story, that is. And they are, because the Texans GM is showing the kind of aplomb and salesmanship not seen at NRG Park since Judge Roy Hofheinz.
The Eighth Wonder Of The World these days would be believing this Texans season really, truly, pinky-swear-promise is all about finding a quarterback and winning football games.
It is not.
But fans do believe it. NFL observers do. Local media types do. And most significantly, Texans players and coaches do. Such is the greatness of this Caserio Gambit, which thus far could not have gone more perfectly had it been choreographed by Tommy Tune.
The Texans are winless and largely hapless. They are consistently gashed defensively and wildly lost offensively. Yet sprinkled among the assortment of last-leg veterans and overmatched journeymen is just enough hope and hype that tickets are being sold and promise is glimmering on the horizon.
The Texans will tell you this has been a disappointing winless start to the 2022 season. In fact, they have said exactly that, often, as they forge ahead toward Sunday’s match against the Los Angeles Chargers. Head coach Lovie Smith has mentioned things like being close, cleaning up technique and finishing games. Quarterback Davis Mills has said he thinks the offense has been “good” and close to clicking. On and on it has gone, like the opening scenes of a made-for-TV underdog story destined to have a sappy happy ending.
But this has not been a disappointing start. It has been a perfect start. And it’s one even the most ardent of Texans fans should hope only continues, week after week after week.
The Texans have been in all three games this season, yet lost two and tied one. There have been flashes of the nouveau riche — players like Jalen Pitre, Derek Stingley and Dameon Pierce making impressive plays. But it hasn’t been enough to sway things too far away from the grand plan of losing enough games to get a high draft pick and be done with the Davis Mills as a franchise quarterback nonsense.
All the right things have been said. All the coaches are busting their tails. All the players are trying their best to get this franchise right again.
Yet they are winless, which is, in Caserio’s plan, perfect. Even he is not overtly trying to tank. No one is trying to lose. But the beauty of Caserio’s grand plan is no one has to, it’ll just happen.
That’s what happens when a general manager who negotiated a lengthy contract is in place. Caserio has time to go Extreme Makeover on a franchise that never needed it more. When he took this job after much cajoling, recruiting and even a bit of tampering from Texans brass, he knew the breadth and depth of the problems. He also knew the Texans were desperate, so he had leverage and, hence, a six-year contract.
Two people Caserio knew well – Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby – devastated every level of the team. With job security and competence on his side, Caserio embarked on that makeover with a heavy sledgehammer, but a delicate touch.
He started the rebuild, but never actually said the word rebuild. He cast away dead weight in every department and on the roster, but framed it all nicely. He nudged Easterby to the background and thrust himself to the forefront as the face of the franchise, so he could control the narrative. He made himself available, talked about wanting to win and made things better, but diverted attention from the still-lacking roster.
Most significantly, Caserio navigated the organization away from a messy Deshaun Watson Chapter, ridding the club of the controversial, league-suspended quarterback and stockpiling draft picks when Watson was traded.
Then, he got to work on making it all look like this is a team getting back on its feet.
Mills, the third-round quarterback with limited skills, quickly was given the reigns to the team and propped up as a great hope. Young players came in. Happy-go-lucky if overmatched coach David Culley was sent packing after one season because he could hardly function in the job. Then in came Lovie Smith, looking competent and possessing an actual resume.
And thus here we are, so many of us buying into the Texans, thinking the turnaround is in our midst and it’s actually happening.
It is not. But be glad.
Caserio magnificently managed to rekindle interest in the team, while convincing those on the roster that they indeed are worthy to compete with the league’s best. The first three weeks of the season has showed the Texans in fact are nowhere near the league’s best. And the remainder of the season will continue to show it.
The reality is Caserio always knew he would have to palm a few playing cards from view to pull off the kind of rebuild this club needed. In order to build a roster the right way and bring back estranged fans, he had to play this game. He had to tell stories, exaggerate potential and convince professional athletes and coaches they deserved roles they won’t be in for long.
The reality is when or if this club does legitimately enter the NFL fray, Lovie Smith won’t be the head coach. Davis Mills won’t be the starting quarterback. Pep Hamilton, whose last stint calling plays was in the XFL, won’t be the offensive coordinator. Rex Burkhead, who has all of two 100-yard rushing games in 10 NFL seasons, won’t be the heavily relied-upon back-up running back. And there won’t be 14 players on the roster 29 or older, clinging to NFL life with their best years behind them.
Bravo, Nick. The perfect season is off to the perfect start.