John McClain: Texans finally have some stability at the top with Caserio, Smith

HOUSTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 11: General manager Nick Caserio of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

John McClain: Texans finally have some stability at the top with Caserio, Smith

The Texans initiate Phase 2 of their multiyear rebuilding program Sunday at NRG Stadium, where they play AFC South rival Indianapolis, a team that pulverized them twice last season by a combined score of 62-3.

If the Texans are going to avoid another humiliation against the Colts and improve on last season’s 4-13 record, it must start at the top of the football side of the organization with general manager Nick Caserio and coach Lovie Smith.

Janice, Hannah and Cal McNair have invested a few hundred million in the personnel and coaching sides of the current regime, and they have faith in Caserio and Smith to develop and maintain the kind of positive working relationship essential for a front office to build a successful team.

No more slipping on banana peels with Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby making personnel and contractual decisions that helped flush the organization down the toilet after the 2019 AFC South title and wild-card victory over Buffalo.

The McNairs need stability at the top. They had enough infighting with O’Brien and Rick Smith and O’Brien and Brian Gaine. By giving Caserio a six-year contract to leave New England for Houston, the McNair family entrusted him to oversee the rebuild, and he’s driven a bulldozer through the roster for a second consecutive year. Only 10 players on the 53-man roster arrived before Caserio.

After the fiasco of making David Culley a one-and-done head coach, Caserio did a full-body slam on Easterby, who was pushing hard to hire the inexperienced Josh McCown as the fifth head coach in franchise history.

Caserio and the McNair family came to their senses and elevated Smith. Now they need for Caserio and Smith to navigate the team through the pitfalls that can sink an organization.

The McNairs hope Caserio and Smith can provide the kind of GM/head coach continuity that’s helped make the Chiefs, Ravens, Rams, Steelers, Bills, 49ers, Seahawks, Titans and Colts stable teams that compete for the playoffs and Super Bowls almost every season.

The McNairs know it takes time, and they’re willing to show patience that they have the correct people at the top with Caserio and Smith, who have a combined 42 years of NFL experience.

“Honest, consistent, open communication,” Caserio said recently about what it takes for a general manager and head coach to have a solid working relationship. “If you can establish that from the beginning, that’s important because you’re going to have to make decisions collectively, and you try not to make them individually because there’s a lot of people involved.”

This is the 20th month Caserio has worked with Smith, first as associate head coach/defensive coordinator last year and now as head coach/defensive coordinator.

“Any time you have experience with somebody it’s going to be beneficial,” Caserio said. “We had an opportunity to work together in a different role last year, so we’ve been able to build on some of the things we started last season. Lovie has been great to work with since Day One. He’s well-respected. He has the attention of the team. He demands a lot from the team, and they’ve responded in favor.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some things we’re going to have to deal with between now and the end of the season. The only way you do that is you have that honest and open communication, (be) respectful of one another, and, ultimately, we’ll have to make decisions we feel make the most sense for our team.”

Caserio and Smith worked closely together last week when teams made moves to reach a 53-man roster and 16-player practice squad.

“It was awesome,” Caserio said. “He’s very open-minded.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to each other (and) it’s reciprocal. We try to take in all the information from the staff, as well, because from a coach’s perspective, you invest a lot of time and energy on a professional and personal level with (players). Their viewpoint, their opinion and interaction with (players) matters to us.”

As a head coach, Caserio is the fourth general manager Smith has worked with, including Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery with the Bears and Jason Licht with the Buccaneers. Smith knows from experience what it takes for a general manager and head coach to build a relationship based on mutual respect.

“It starts with two good guys that know what it means to be a part of a team,” Smith said. “I’m a football coach, but I’m not a rookie coach. Nick’s a football guy. He grinds, and he’s informed. There’s give and take and understanding what a marriage is all about.

“I probably spend more time with Nick than I do my wife. We’re constantly talking ball, not always agreeing on everything but respecting each other’s opinion and going from there. Everything we do, there’s a reason for it. I have great respect for Nick. Cal and Hannah have been great about giving us what we need. Coming to work every day is a lot of fun.”

A week from today, if the Texans can shock the NFL by upsetting the Colts, going to work will be a lot more fun.

(John McClain can be heard three times a week on Sports Radio 610 and twice a week on Texans Radio. He also can be read on SportsRadio610.com).

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