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Zapruder Analysis of Bob McNair's Press Conference to Address the Firing of Gary Kubiak

The definitive press conference Zapruder.
The definitive press conference Zapruder.
Photo by Groovehouse

We all knew that Gary Kubiak's firing was coming eventually, but very clearly we didn't all know when it was coming, because the assumption was that Texans owner Bob McNair would wait until after the season to drop the news on Kubiak that his services would no longer be required.

Instead, on the heels of a 14-penalty performance that perfectly embodied the charred remains of a once above average team that Kubiak had now led into the NFL abyss, McNair had seen enough.

Enough stupid penalties, enough junior high special teams, enough Matt Schaub. Enough, enough, enough.

So on Friday morning, Gary Kubiak's Jacksonville loss postmortem turned into Bob McNair's Gary Kubiak postmortem, as a hastily called press conference took place at around 11:15 a.m. Nineteen minutes later, Gary Kubiak was done.

Around 72 hours later, a few names have popped up on the Texans' radar, a few have been immediately eliminated, and with three remaining regular season games now essentially rendered to background noise status, the search is on for the Texans' third head coach.

The only thing at this point we have to parse out from McNair is that 19-minute session with the media (along with whatever nuggets the regulars on the Texans' media circuit dole out based on leaks and hearsay), so it's probably not a bad idea to try and level set this whole thing using the Zapruder method on Friday's powwow.

(My apologies on a lack of embedded video. If anyone has an embeddable version of the press conference, hit me up. Otherwise, open the link to the press conference's page in a separate window and follow along.)

Here we go... (and unless otherwise noted, the quotes are from Bob McNair, my comments preceded by "SP")

 

0:07 -- "Good morning. This has been a very disappointing year for the Texans organization."

SP: So far, we agree on everything, Bob...

0:12 -- "We started out with such high hopes."

SP: Well, I had you under 10 1/2 wins, but I did have you winning the division, so "high hopes" may be a reach, but okay...

0:16 -- "We felt like that we had the best roster that we've ever started the year with and we really, really anticipated a very favorable outcome. To have this string of losses that we sustained is just totally unacceptable and it's not what this organization is about."

SP: Hmmmm, maybe not 11 losses in a row, but the organization has hardly been covering the walls at Reliant in championship decor. Continue, kind sir....

0:39 -- "We're about winning and accountability."

SP: Okay, now stop right there. You're about winning, in that we ("we" being society) are all about winning, in that we all love to win. (Whether we all hate losing is a separate argument, for another time. Loving to win and hating to lose are not the same thing.) But throwing around the a-word. It's actually the complete lack of accountability that's gotten your organization into this mess. Eight years of below .500 performance, a special teams coach who's allowed to stay while his units rot to the core, a quarterback who gets a $62 million extension with exactly zero playoff wins and a year still left on his deal...these things are the opposite of accountability. If accountability is going to be the deal going forward, then I speak for Houston when I say "FANTASTIC!" But your using the word on Friday like it's been the standard is just not correct. Eight years of Kubiak. Checkmate, me.

1:02 -- "As a result of that, we felt that a change was needed in the head coach position. So Gary Kubiak is no longer the head coach and Wade Phillips will serve as the interim head coach. We'll evaluate the rest of the coaching staff."

SP: Not gonna lie, even though we all knew it was coming, it was still weird to finally hear these words come from Bob McNair's mouth. Continuing....

1:25 -- "We decided that one of the advantages of going ahead and taking action now rather than waiting is it allows us to start the process of finding a new head coach. And that process is under way and those prospects that are not under contract in the NFL are people that we can visit with. So we'll start this process immediately."

SP: This is neither here nor there, but one of the rhetorical questions that got repeated while the Texans' season slid into the toilet was "Why fire Gary Kubiak now? Let him finish out the year, right?" McNair's point on one of the benefits of doing it with three weeks still to go in the season actually puts the burden of proof on people defending keeping a coach through the remainder of the season if you know he's gone. Once December hits, you know which way the wind is blowing on a guy, especially one who's had as many chances as Kubiak. Get the process started, get a jump on candidates who you can speak to without tampering, move forward. Also, my guess is everyone else is sitting up a little straighter around the building today than they were on Friday morning. The unfocused will stick out like a sore thumb, football Darwinism is under way on Kirby, and while it's stressful for those involved, it's necessary for McNair and the decision makers.

2:55 -- "I want to thank Gary Kubiak. Gary, he has brought this team to a new level."

SP: Actually, he brought them to a new level (a barely upper middle class neighborhood in the city that is the NFL) and drove them right back to where they were before. Inherited a 2-14 team, leaves them a 2-11 team. In between, two playoff wins. Hardly soaring to new heights. Semantics, and I know the purpose of this press session is not to pile on Kubiak, but the "new level" he brought them to would be the basement for elite franchises.

3:04 -- "We've had two division championships. We've had some outstanding performance."

SP: I'm picturing the owners of teams who have actually accomplished significant milestones since 2002 -- Super Bowl wins, perennial playoff appearances -- lounging in a luxury home theater in leather recliners, sipping scotch, smoking cigars, and watching this press conference and cackling out loud at this quote.

3:10 -- "It's been a job that he has totally committed and he's put everything, his whole being into it. We couldn't ask for more out of anyone and it's very disappointing that he's not going to be with us in the future...."

SP: Yes, Kubiak worked hard. Every coach works hard. I personally hate when the whole "grinder/work ethic" thing gets brought up as a line of defense for Kubiak when that's a baseline requirement for the job. It's like lauding an attorney for having a college degree.

"I truly felt that he would be with us until it was time for him to retire."

SP: John Granato and I discussed "What's next for Gary Kubiak?" on our show last Friday, and Granato boldly predicted that Gary Kubiak actually was done coaching, that he would settle down on his ranch, live off the interest and that's that. I bring that up because if that's the case, then Kubiak did wind up with the Texans until it was time for him to retire. (For the record, if Kubiak's health issues are legit, Granato may be right.)

 

3:49 -- "We're here to have a winning culture and this year does not contribute to that."

SP: No, indeed, it does not...now come the questions from the media....

4:43 -- What kind of coach he'll be looking for as far as personality, character, etc.: "Well, if you look at the record, defensive coordinators have been more successful than offensive coordinators, but not by a large percentage...."

SP: I would love to sit down and see what data was used to arrive at this conclusion, not because I disagree, but because I would like to know what an owner who sees two division championships as a "new level" sees as "successful." I'd love to know who compiled the data and what names are in the sample for this analysis. I'd love to know a lot of things.

"It's going to be based more on the individual. We're looking for a coach that is bright, ethical, whose culture fits in with the culture of our organization, innovative, flexible, able to make adjustments, works with great energy and enthusiasm and very positive in his approach. Surely that person is out there and we'll find that person."

SP: Typically, when organizations hire the next head coach, it's a guy who in many ways is the opposite of whoever was just let go. If you're looking for the "money" adjectives in McNair's description of his next head coach that perhaps hit the touch points of what ultimately did Kubiak in, I'd hone in on "innovative," "flexible" and "able to make adjustments" as the big three. Also, if you're looking for a quote that should wake you up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, it's the part where McNair says the Texans want someone who fits in with the culture. This team needs a culture change (football-wise, at least). That quote is depressing, quite frankly.

5:44 -- Process of coming to this decision: "We've been evaluating it every game and asking the question, 'What's in the best interest of the organization?' We have a young quarterback, Case Keenum, and we need to find out whether Case is capable of being a starter or whether he's capable of being a backup and the way you find that out is by playing him. We have waited to see how that was developing and to see how much progress we could make in the development of him as a player. We're at the point now where we needed to go ahead and make some changes because losing like this is just unacceptable and something that we just can't tolerate."

SP: Here was my first "Holy shit!" moment of the press conference, McNair unsolicitedly bringing up Kubiak's handling of Case Keenum. He wasn't asked the question "What do you think of the handling of Case Keenum?" (He would be eventually, stay tuned.) He was asked about the process of coming to the decision to fire Kubiak, and within a dozen or so words, he proactively brings up Keenum. DAMNING, in my opinion, and the next in a subtle line of indicators that McNair had grown increasingly frustrated with the decision of Kubiak and Smith (probably Kubiak) to hitch his organization's wagon to Matt Schaub's star. Remember in the offseason when McNair was asked about Schaub and his answer was a sheepish diatribe about how Schaub was "more than adequate"? A guy as business savvy as McNair doesn't pay $62 million for "more than adequate." I believe McNair knew then that Kubiak had put the team in a spot where they had to, figuratively, pitch a perfect game everywhere else on the roster. McNair had realized he was spending tens of millions of dollars on this generation's homeless man's Brian Sipe, and now he's pissed.

6:50 -- If Wade Phillips is a candidate for the permanent job: "Yeah, we'll interview Wade and give him an opportunity to interview for the position. He's got an outstanding record and he's a fine coach. We'll be interviewing him and we'll be interviewing a number of other people."

SP: Okay, first, Wade has no chance. That said, I'd like to see Wade show up for the interview and reenact the scene in Good Will Hunting where Ben Affleck (standing in for Matt Damon's "Will" character) goes in for that panel interview and asks for a retainer...
Bonus points if Wade wore Docksiders. Make it happen, Wade...

7:11 -- What was the final straw to make him decide to make a change: "I think the last straw was losing. We've got a lot better talent than Jacksonville and to have them beat us twice, that's to their credit. They played harder. They played smarter. That's not acceptable to us, to have some team beat us on that basis. If they're better than we are, if they have better ability than we do, then fine. We expect to go out and play hard and play smart and we didn't play smart."

SP: As if Jacksonville hasn't already been a big enough thorn for the Texans, McNair just gave Gus Bradley, Jacksonville's fiery first year head coach (a really good coach, in my opinion), some bulletin board material. I'm assuming this quote about "better talent" will be hanging in their lockers next season before the first Jacksonville-Houston game.

7:49 -- The meeting with Kubiak: "It was difficult for me because I think so much of Gary. It's something that I didn't want to do, but you do what's best for the organization. Gary accepted it and understands the situation and was thankful for the opportunity that he's had. We're thankful for the job that he's done for us."

SP: Hopefully, McNair did a more succinct job of firing Gary Kubiak than Joe Philbin did of firing Chad Ochocinco...
That scene still cracks me up. Ocho was a horrible player who had just assaulted his wife, and Philbin is walking on eggshells like Ocho was going to pop him in the mouth. Just weird.

8:18 -- (RICK SMITH) How his conversation with Gary Kubiak went since they have a long history: "Yeah, we do and I obviously want to echo Mr. McNair's comments in thanking Gary for his commitment to the organization. We've been together for almost 18 years. That's obviously a lot of history and I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him. It was a difficult decision, but what's taking place is not acceptable for our organization. When you have a setback of this magnitude, it requires extensive introspection and we've got three more weeks of a season to continue the evaluation process that has been ongoing. We've got to right the ship and that's what this decision unfortunately is about, but we've got to move forward as an organization. I'm confident that Wade (Phillips) will have our team prepared and we'll continue to evaluate every player, every coach, every process. You've got to really be honest and look at what you're doing and why you're doing what you're doing to assess whether or not it's been productive. Clearly, right now, we have not been productive over the last 11 weeks and we have to figure out why."

SP: If the "defensive coordinator vs offensive coordinator" analysis is the first sit-down I'd love to have with the Texans, the second one would be a thorough evaluation with McNair and Smith in the room of just how talented the roster is. Rick Smith's teflon place in the Texans' universe was totally affirmed on Friday, especially because nobody asked the question "Was the general manager's job security evaluated along with the head coach, given the dire state of a 2-11 franchise?" Notice the the things Smith says they have to look at:

"...what you're doing." "...why you're doing what you're doing."

No mention of "with whom we are doing it." No mention of personnel deficiencies. Smith has the McNairs sold on the "team is talented" argument. He may even have some prominent media members sold on it. I don't know if Rick Smith sold Peter King on this vision on Friday or not. I just know that at 10:36 a.m. came this tweet:

Then, that afternoon came this quote: "If you fix the quarterback and the offensive line, this is a walk-in playoff job, in my opinions," which was captured in this segment on Comcast Sports Net:

So Peter King, noted Texans' talent level endorser, knew about Kubiak's firing within an hour before. As an unrelated aside, did you all read Rick Smith's article he wrote for King's MMQB column a couple years ago? Good stuff!

9:34 -- If a college coach is a possibility or if he prefers to stick with someone who is currently in the NFL: "We would like someone who has had head coaching experience but has also had NFL experience. It's a combination of those two things would be the ideal situation and there are people who meet those conditions."

SP: At first listen, this sounded like a quote where McNair was publicly pigeonholing himself into a certain résumé and sample space of candidates, but I guess after re-reading and re-hearing it, calling that background "ideal" leaves him some wiggle room if he's blown away by a candidate (Kevin Sumlin?) who doesn't fit that mold.

10:04 -- If he thought about making a coaching change following the first loss to Jacksonville this season: "Well, I've thought about it continually in terms of, 'Are we making progress?' If we're making progress, then fine. Let's continue along the line that we're going. We've sort of had our ups and downs, and the game against New England, we were in a very good position to win that game. Case (Keenum) was matching (Tom) Brady, in terms of possessions, going up and down the field scoring. That was very encouraging. It's just the inconsistency and the mental errors and the lack of discipline from time to time. Just didn't see that we were progressing and showing improvement in those areas where we needed to show improvement. And still, it's a performance-related business and when you lose, a loss is a loss and we just can't tolerate that."

SP: Second unsolicited "Case" mention in the interview, if you're counting, which if you're trying to find things to be nervous about (as if you don't have enough already) it could be that McNair seems to like Case Keenum. Could we be looking at a Mario Williams situation again with the first pick, this time with Jadeveon Clowney?

11:14 -- If Wade Phillips will decide who the starting quarterback will be or if he already knows: "Case (Keenum) is going to be the quarterback. We're going to give him a chance to see how he can perform. I think the jury is still out. He's got a lot of ability. He's shown some flashes of brilliance and then he's shown some rookie mistakes. We've got to see if we can improve, eliminate those mistakes, minimize those mistakes and continue some of the outstanding play that (we've) seen and see whether we think that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. At this point, we really don't know."

SP: Emphatic Case Keenum mention! This is the reinforcement shot that, to me, shows without a doubt that if Gary Kubiak's insistence on making Matt Schaub a relevant part of the reminder of the Texans' 2013 season wasn't the primary reason he got fired, it was most certainly the straw that broke the camel's back. Schaub undoubtedly became the Toni Braxton to McNair's and Kubiak's "Jimmy Jackson/Jason Kidd."

11:50 -- Why it is important for him now to get a head coach who has head-coaching experience: "Well, experience shows that those people who were selected to be a head coach in the NFL met with more success if they had had head-coaching experience. And if you take someone who has been a coordinator, you're basically moving them from a lower level of management, let's say, to a higher level of management that they've never been in before. So, there's a question mark as to whether they can elevate their performance to be able to handle those additional responsibilities, and some people can't....

SP: McNair unwittingly just described the Peter Principle that has been a staple of the team's hiring foibles on the football side of things and eventually has crippled his franchise on the field the last seven years.

"...some people who have been players always have a player mentality and you can't have a player mentality and be the manager, be the coach, be the guy that's got to make tough decisions. I mean, you've got to think about the organization and not just think about the players' viewpoint because the players' viewpoint isn't necessarily the organization's viewpoint in all cases."

SP: Translated: "Gary, we get it that you like Matt, you empathize with Matt, and the two of you are both hard workers. But dammit, think like a business person sometimes, please." By the way, I shed no tears for any frustration McNair has with Kubiak's coaching and management style. Dude, you kept him for EIGHT DAMN YEARS....

13:12 -- What it's been like personally to go through 11 straight losses: "It's been horrible, it's been a nightmare....We don't have to do a lot to get us back on track. We're going to do everything we can to do that and we expect to be right back in playoff contention next year. This is not a long-term rebuilding process. I want to make that clear. We've got core players who are outstanding players and we still need to fill a few holes. We had some injuries that hurt us in key positions, in terms of leadership on the field. We have some things that we need to do but we've still got a good core group of players that can make for an outstanding team."

SP: Translated: "Whatever Peter King just said in that video up above..."

14:50 -- If not sticking with QB Case Keenum being one of the key contributors to this decision: "No, the whole key is what is in the best interest of the organization. And, Case has had his ups and downs and we think that he needs to be given the opportunity and he will be given the opportunity now, but there were a lot of other things that happened. 14 penalties - that is not the difference between Case and Matt playing or making a change. Things like that are just totally unacceptable."

SP: I'll use the part of this answer that doesn't show up in the transcript as McNair's actual answer -- the part where he stumbles and stutters like Porky Pig at the very beginning -- and say that it directly contributed to Kubiak's ouster.

15:45 -- When he made the decision to relieve Gary Kubiak of his duties: "Actually, I guess flying back last night I had time to think about it and thought it was the right time to make this move. We've got a little time between now and our next game so we have a little bit more time to prepare. It makes sense to do it now."

SP: If I had to guess an exact instant where McNair's decision to fire Kubiak went from "We need to inevitably do this after the season" to "MOTHER F**KER, we need to do this in the morning!" it'd be D.J. Swearinger's back to back penalties with zero consequences attached, the ultimate lack of accountability. Reinserting Schaub later in the game was just a reaffirmation that Kubiak had to go Friday.

16:08 -- If he regrets not making this move earlier in the season based on the talent on the roster: "One of the questions when your starting QB has had four games where you've had losses, or you've had one game or two games, when you take a person like Matt (Schaub) who has had success with us for six or seven years, because he has one bad game, you don't remove him. And so the question is how long a period do you review the situation and experience it before you make a move and that was a coaching decision, but you can second-guess someone about that, but I think most coaches would have gone with a proven commodity who has shown he can get the job done for all these years and I think they wanted to make sure they gave him an adequate chance to do that...."

SP: Translation: "I regret not doing this three years ago."

18:00 -- (RICK SMITH) How you will tackle the draft and the depth of the roster: "I will say this: At this point it is premature to have any of those types of discussions. I think what we need to do now is we have three weeks to evaluate what is happening in our building and, as Bob indicated, to get a head start on our search and that is what the objectives are at this point."

SP: "Three weeks to cement the narrative that it was all coaching issues that led to 2-11, not talent issues" is what that means.

(By the way, easily the most underrated comedic moment of the press conference occurred when David Nuno from Channel 13 posed this question to McNair, and McNair initially turned to his son Cal to see if he wanted to answer it. Cal looked like "Damn, I was supposed to talk at this thing?")

18:36 -- If Lovie Smith is someone the team is interested in: "There are some people who are not coaching now that will be considered and Lovie is a good example. He's a good coach and one of several. It will be best for the whole process to keep it confidential as to who we actually decide to visit with as we go forward."

SP: And with that, in the age of the Internet, because McNair was asked directly about Lovie Smith, we were off and running! Smith immediately became the favorite because McNair "mentioned him" in the press conference.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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