Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Amis/AP/Shutterstock (12660673g) San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans works the sideline during an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, in Nashville, Tenn 49ers Titans Football, Nashville, United States – 23 Dec 2021
John P. Lopez – Just imagine: DeMeco’s hire – and hires – could change everything
By John P. Lopez
It would be a kind of staff infection.
It would be, to put it in slang terms, sick. As in, gnarly. As in, really, really good for everything that has been bad when it comes to the Houston Texans.
Perception. Buzz. Optimism. Engagement.
All of it.
If DeMeco Ryans does, in fact, become the Texans’ next head coach, it won’t just be the former Texans great that will be welcomed home with open arms. It could be an array of gifted and respected assistant coaches whose immediate impact would be felt off the field as much as on.
If NFL relationships and connections are any indication – and they always are when a new coach is hired – Ryans’ coaching staff would be a delicious assortment of familiar names and proven winners. All have a connection to Ryans. Some would be legendary Houston names.
Certainly, a number of things have to fall the Texans’ way, most notably the highly sought-after DeMeco deciding he wants this job. Ryans currently is a target for the Broncos, Colts, Cardinals, and Panthers, along with the Texans. The Broncos reportedly have Ryans as one of two finalists for the job, along with former Stanford coach David Shaw. Broncos defensive lineman D.J. Jones, who played for Ryans at San Francisco in 2021, went so far as to post on his Instagram page Wednesday, “I want ‘Meco.”
Suffice it to say Ryans has options.
Still, the Texans and specifically Texans CEO Cal McNair are running out of options in the effort to reignite and reengage six million mostly apathetic Houston football fans.
Cal and wife Hannah McNair should interview Ryans a second time next week. That interview should go something like this: What do you want?
After money, Ryans certainly would want a good amount of autonomy in hiring his coaching staff and building a roster. While that has been general manager Nick Caserio’s domain the last two years, Caserio has expressed a willingness to cede some power for the sake of the best hire for the Texans. If he’s true to his word, Caserio would continue talent evaluation and impacting the draft, but the days of Caserio making all the calls would be over.
And on that front, the assistant coaching possibilities would only add to the excitement Ryans would bring a win-starved city.
So, let’s imagine. Let’s look at Ryans’ connections and what some of those possibilities might be.
At offensive coordinator, the name Boby Slowik may not be familiar, but the Gary Kubiak/Kyle Shanahan connections most certainly are. Ryans could charge the current Niners’ passing game coordinator to lead the offense and development of the Texans’ next hope to become the franchise quarterback.
Slowik has rocketed up the coaching ranks under Shanahan and is widely credited for the development of Niners quarterback Brock Purdy. The Chargers and Ravens also reportedly are targeting Slowik as a potential OC, and despite being just 35 years old, Slowik already has 10 years of NFL experience.
It was Slowik who stumped for the Niners to draft Purdy with the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, after poring over film, having numerous interviews with Purdy and his Iowa State coaches, and watching him work out. Purdy impressed in training camp, and when Shanahan decided to cut Nate Sudfeld before the season in favor of Purdy — despite guaranteeing Sudfeld $2 million — it became clear Slowik was a rising star.
As for defensive coordinator, Ryans certainly would continue to call the shots after building a monster in San Francisco. But Johnny Holland, 57, a former Texas A&M great and longtime NFL player and coach from Hempstead, may well have the title and be Ryans’ sage, experienced sounding board.
Ryans played for Holland with the Texans when both were in Houston and considers Holland a father figure. The two are practically inseparable on the field and off. With a young linebacker like Christian Harris on the Texans’ roster, along with other young players and others on the way, Holland’s penchant for developing defensive players could be key.
The special teams coordinator figures to remain Frank Ross. Many new coaches keep at least one assistant from the previous staff, so why mess with a good thing?
Then come the most important hires. That’s where Ryans’ long association in the league and the most successful offensive philosophy in the game could pay the biggest dividends.
At quarterbacks coach, Klay Kubiak – Gary’s son – should be in the mix. Not only does Kubiak, 35, work with Slowik already, he obviously has the pipeline.
When it comes to the offensive line, the home run hire would be another longtime Ryans acquaintance, Oilers Hall Of Famer Mike Munchak. Considered one of the best offensive line coaches in history, Munchak is a former head coach who has coached nearly 20 offensive linemen to Pro Bowl accolades. Munchak, 62, also could help DeMeco with NFL head coaching life and is easily gettable – he sat out 2022 while still getting paid from previous stops with the Steelers and Broncos. But just a month ago, Munchak told a Pittsburgh radio station the offers have come in, and he wants to return to coaching in the right situation.
As for the defensive line or linebackers, former Texan Connor Barwin, a former teammate of DeMeco’s in Houston and Philadelphia, Barwin has risen through the ranks in Philadelphia. He helped as a defensive assistant during the COVID season and is currently in the personnel department.
Finally, there are the ever-important special assistants and advisors Ryans certainly will want. The names would energize everyone. Perhaps Texan great Andre Johnson. Perhaps Gary Kubiak. Perhaps the occasional pop-in from J.J. Watt, who publicly endorsed DeMeco. None likely would want a full-time role, and J.J. probably wouldn’t have a title, but all certainly would want to do anything they could to make DeMeco’s return triumphant.
So here the Texans sit, mulling opportunities and possibilities.
Sean Payton may be the most proven coaching candidate and certainly would create a huge buzz. But it seems the Texans’ shot at landing him is dwindling. Broncos assistant Ejiro Evero and Giants assistant Mike Kafka, who also have earned second interviews, clearly are potential head coaching stars.
Don’t be surprised if ultimately the Texans land on Kafka, who seemed to greatly impress in his interview — especially with all the Walmart money in Denver seemingly ready to break the bank for DeMeco. Others like Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon could be destined for greatness, too.
But if it’s about six million fans as much as the 53-man roster, DeMeco could bring so much more. He could even bring Houston back to the future.
DeMeco Ryan appears to be a good guy. I constantly hear it would be great to have him as a new head coach. Why? No one says why other than he is a former Texan and very competent linebacker. It seems he’s doing a good job as defensive coordinator for the 49ers. I view him as unproven as a head coach; he only has potential just like all of the other coaches the Texans are interviewing.