Richard Justice: “We want to build this team with guys who have the character of J.J. Watt.”

Feb 2, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans head coach Demeco Ryans (right) speaks to the media during his introductory press conference as owner Cal McNair looks on at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: “We want to build this team with guys who have the character of J.J. Watt.”

    Six years ago, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York’s first question to Kyle Shanahan was: “How are you going to build our culture?”

   Legit question, right?

   Throughout sports, culture has become a catchphrase for confidence, resilience, team work and a dozen other things.

   In the end, it’s that certain something that really good teams have. To put it simply, they take care of business.

   They’re at their best when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter. They show up big-time for the best teams and take care of business against the worst. They respect every opponent.

   And that’s what the Texans believe DeMeco Ryans will build. His last boss, Shanahan, didn’t think culture was the right word.

   “Everyone is going to talk to you about culture, and everyone is going give you PowerPoints,” Shanahan told York at the beginning of their first interview, according to Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post.

   Here’s what he said next, the part of his answer that should be underlined:

   “But culture is based on people. If the people we bring in and the people you’re hiring are good people with good intentions, the culture will be set.”

   Ryans was one of Shanahan’s first hires in San Francisco, joining the staff first as a quality control assistant and working his way up the ladder to, finally, defensive coordinator the last two seasons.

   The Texans introduced Ryans as their new head coach on Friday, and if you listened closely to the things that got him the job, it was a commitment to loading his coaching staff and his roster with people that resemble, well, DeMeco Ryans. 

     “Football is a people business,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “That’s the reality of it, right? We’re going to win with people, and what better person to lead this organization, to lead this team, to lead these players, than DeMeco Ryans.”

   The Texans had their first interview with Ryans via Zoom after a practice session a couple of days before a playoff game against the Cowboys. Caserio said he was blown away that Ryans could walk right off the practice field and articulate a vision for everything he believed in.

   “DeMeco is who he is,” Caserio said. “He is sincere. He is real. By the end of the call, we kind of had some parting words. Do you have anything else you want to leave with us? He said, basically, `I want to come home. This is my dream job. Let’s make it happen.’

   “We all kind of looked at each other like, holy cow, let’s go play football tomorrow. But it wasn’t a facade. It was just that’s who DeMeco is as a person and a man. I think that resonated with us.

   “We had to kind of wait our turn (until the 49ers season was over), but in the end, all signs led back to DeMeco.”

   Here’s more from Caserio: “So many things go into being a great head coach. Part of it’s going to be learning along the way, but when we talk about leadership, you talk about strategy, you talk about tactician, you talk about the ability to connect and lead people, you start to put all those things together, and we got off the call.”

   Texans CEO Cal McNair noted the 49ers was peppered with undrafted players and that stars like safety Talanoa Hufanga and linebacker Fred Warner became dominant players under Ryans.

   “As a leader, it showed up in Alabama,” McNair said. “He was a leader of their defense, the captain of the team, and they called him Coach. This has been in him a long time.

   “When we drafted him in ’06, he took over the defense, stepped into the middle, called the plays. He was captain, and they called him Cap. He has been a leader for a long, long time, and you see it here tonight, and we saw it on our calls. It was very evident.”

   Ryans said he’d taken something from every head coach he played and worked from. Of his first, Gary Kubiak, he said: “He taught us what a first-class organization looked like. Gary Kubiak taught us you treat players as men first. I learned that from Gary.”

   Andy Reid (Eagles)? “I learned from Andy Reid how to be a great teacher. Andy was an awesome teacher, but he is also a protector of his players. You’ll never see me throwing a player under the bus. It will always be about protecting our players first.”

   Chip Kelly (Eagles)? “He was a master motivator, but he was also an innovator. Chip Kelly, he was always on the cutting edge, always looking for ways to get better with sports science, technology. 

   “I take things that I learned from all these men, and that’s how I feel like you build an organization. You build a first-class organization, you protect your players, be a great teacher, motivate them and do everything to be adaptable, to change and make sure we have the best things for our players when it comes to sports science and technology.”

   Ryan said he was proud of the role as a teammate that had helped players get better, specifically mentioning Brian Cushing of the Texans and Jordan Hicks of the Eagles.

   “The reason I got into coaching was to help players,” he said. “That’s what I want to do here with our guys… just developing our young men, developing the players to be the best players they can be on the field, but also I want to develop men to be the best men off the field. Develop great husbands, great fathers, great community men. That’s what coaching is to me. It’s about the development and delivery of men.”

    Finally, there’s J.J. Watt. He will be the model for everything Ryans attempts to build with the Texans. He may never have a player as great as Watt, but the way Watt carried himself, the things he said and did, the role of good teammate as well as good citizen of the community, will be the standard for this new generation of Texans football.

   “We want to build this team with guys who have the character of J.J. Watt, who have that athletic ability, that dominance as a player as J.J. Watt,” Ryans said. “That’s the type of men we want in our organization.”

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