Richard Justice: Hiring DeMeco Ryans may be the smartest thing the Texans have ever done

Aug 02, 2011; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans (59) talks on the phone during training camp at Methodist Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: Hiring DeMeco Ryans may be the smartest thing the Texans have ever done

   This may be remembered as the best day the Texans have ever had. To know DeMeco Ryans is to believe he has a chance to be a great head coach. Here’s hoping.

   Here’s also hoping that this spring’s NFL Draft produces the second-best day with the arrival of a franchise quarterback, either Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.

   If the Texans get these two decisions right, this franchise will be positioned to improve, and quickly.

   First things first.

   You may be thinking that some of us have forgotten how many times the Texans have burned us.

   That’s fair.

   On the other hand, DeMeco Ryans is special. Texans coaches saw it in his very first training camp in 2007.

“He came in and ran that defense from day one as a rookie and that always stuck out to me,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, a former Texans assistant. “DeMeco is so naturally talented, and he’s good at everything he’s ever done, and he really understands football. He’s always trying to think and always trying to challenge his players, but always trying to keep it simple, too. And it’s where it at least seems simple, and that’s why he gets better every game that he goes.”

   As a player, Ryans was a cornerstone of the Texans team that made the playoffs for the first time in 2011. He bought some of those same gifts to his coaching career. He’s smart and creative, exudes positive energy and has the gift of making a player believe he’s capable of accomplishing almost anything he sets out to accomplish.

   That the Texans just hired one of the NFL’s great defensive minds is obvious. What’s less obvious, what only those that know him best will say, is they also hired one of the NFL’s great human beings.

   This is no small thing. The best coaches are both psychologists and tacticians, and Ryan is excellent at both.

   “As rookie in Houston, I bought my first house across the street from DeMeco because if Meco thought it was the right place to live, it was the right place to live for me,” JJ Watt tweeted on Friday. “Captain, leader, smart, tough, personable, crushed it as (a coordinator) … He will be a great head coach.”

   Inside the 49ers locker room, there’s story after story of players recounting things Ryans did or said to help them. Some of safety Talanoa Hufanga’s previous coaches apparently found his habit of asking questions annoying. It’s a teensy bit of insight into Ryans that he welcomed those questions.

   “Yeah, he asks questions and I’m like, bring them on, so I don’t know what’s wrong with those other coaches, but I’m always like bring it on,” Ryans said. “When the player is asking questions, I think as a coach, like you want guys who are, man, they want to know the why. Like why are we doing this? Or coach, how exactly do you want me, where you want me to be on this? I love that in Huf. I love that in all players. If you’re asking those questions that lets me know as a coach that you’re into it and you want to know the why. You want to know why. Not just, oh, I’m just doing something just because the coach told me to do it.

   “And that’s what separates Huf and that’s why he’s sticking out amongst everybody is because he asks those questions, he’s processing everything throughout the week so when you see him on Sunday, he can cut it loose and that’s what everybody’s seen and that’s why he’s been exciting to watch these first three weeks just because of those questions.”

   “Some guys can see something, but it’s also, oh, I have to stick to my rules and just be a robot. Huf is not a robot on the field. That’s what allows him to stick out. That’s what allows him to make the plays he’s made. That’s what allowed him to be like one of the best safeties in the league right now, because of his instincts. And he’s not scared to go make a play when it calls for him to go make a play.”

   Ryans finest hour might have been in a 13-10 divisional victory over the Packers last season in which Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and did not throw a touchdown pass. His 19.3 quarterback rating was the worst of his playoff career.

   That prompted longtime Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese to tweet of Ryans, a former Eagle: “He’s exceptionally bright, tough, and the very definition of a leader. DeMeco Ryans deserves to be a head coach!”

   Ryan had a superstar pass-rusher in Nick Bosa and helped Fred Warner develop into one of the NFL’s best linebacker. But under-the-radar players like safety Hufanga and pass rushers Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu became dominant under Ryans.

   “(DeMeco’s) the best, he’s the best,” Warner said. “And I don’t just say that just because obviously he’s my coach. I know what greatness looks like and he (shows) that every day, not only just as a coach, but as a person.

   “The leadership ability, the teachability that he possesses, and continuing to want to get better as a coach (is shown every day). (He wants) this group to get better and (pushes) us and (makes) sure that he prepares every single day to make sure he gives us his best self.”

   Ryans played on a Texans team that had a handful of future NFL head coaches, including Shanahan (49ers) and Robert Saleh (Jets). Saleh’s departure from San Francisco after the 2020 season opened the door for Shanahan to promote Ryans to defensive coordinator.

   Ryans logged 10 seasons as a player and seven as an assistant coach before getting his first head coaching gig. While he knows plenty about building rosters, drafting players, hiring a staff and drawing up game plans, he probably could not know everything that goes into being a head coach.

   Those doing it for the first time speak of the media responsibilities that require a major investment in time and patience. But some of us remember his rookie season with the Texans in which he was always accountable and quickly learned the names of the reporters and columnists that covered the team.

   That may seem like an insignificant thing, but it’s not for the Texans head coach. With ownership seldom speaking publicly and general manager Nick Caserio saying virtually nothing of substance, Ryans will be forced to be the de facto spokesman for an entire franchise.

   That will not be fair to him, but anyone that has studied his career at Alabama and in the NFL as both a player and coach have no doubt he’ll pass with flying colors.

   “Just the way he is as a coach and a leader, he’s the best coach I’ve been around,” Bosa said.

   Ryans was the people’s choice among the fans that still care about this franchise. There won’t be a better football city in this country if the Texans start to win. Hiring DeMeco Ryans is a smart step in that direction.

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1 Comment

  • Great article RJ. He’s going to be a great HC.

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