You see, Culley is a 65 year old coaching lifer, who's never been a coordinator in his NFL career, let alone a head coach. That's the confusing, possibly very native part of the David Culley story. The nice part is that he seems like a genuinely good human being and swell guy. The only problem is that being a swell guy doesn't mean you'll be good at your job. (See: Mercilus, Whitney)
However, this is the path that Cal McNair, Nick Caserio, and (mostly, methinks) Jack Easterby have chosen. It is the David Culley Show, and Deshaun Watson or no Deshaun Watson, there is work to be done. So let's advise Culley on what his early to-do list should look like:
4. Establish boundaries on Jack Easterby
There were a lot of people inside the building, and millions of Houstonians, hoping that Cal McNair would arrive at a mutual parting of the ways with EVP of Football Operations (and former chaplain, and all-time meddler and blame dodger) Jack Easterby. That has not happened. We will get to what Easterby's presence means to Deshaun Watson in a minute, but if Easterby is going to be around, Culley has to establish boundaries that keep him away from the team on game day and during "football things," like practice and the team hotel. Reports were that Easterby would sometimes give weird, meandering, awkward pep talks to the team the night before games. That has to stop. I'm concerned, though, part of the selection of Culley is that he may be a guy who welcomes this type of stuff. We shall see.
3. Start digging in on the defense with new DC Love Smith
Let's get this out of the way — without Watson, this team might go 0-16, so to prioritize one problem over others is to assume that, for now, they aren't trading Deshaun Watson. So, if that's the case, it is very clear that the defensive side of the ball is where attention needs to be devoted. Culley has spent his career coaching on the offensive side of the ball — most notably, many years as a wide receivers coach in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Baltimore — but if he is going to be the CEO of this team, the CEO at least needs to familiarize himself and begin strategizing on how to fix the weakest part of the team. Sadly, he will likely be doing so with a trade of J.J. Watt looming in the background.
2. Hire a great offensive line coach
Of all the position coach hires that Culley MUST get right (assuming he is the one making these hires, because it does feel like half the staff had already been hired or agreed to before Culley became the head coach), finding a successful offensive line coach is imperative. Other than quarterback, it's the one area where (a) they have the most draft capital and cap dollars invested (multiple first round picks, multiple top of market contracts), and (b) if Watson IS on the team, developing the talent in-house on the offensive line is the quickest path back to respectability without having to shopping for expensive free agents. They HAVE to get the offensive line coach hire right, if the goal is to get back to the playoffs in 2021.
1. Repair the Deshaun Watson relationship
This looms over everything. The latest on Watson from a national writer in the know comes from Peter King of NBCSports.com, the Hall of Fame NFL scribes nd it was this in his Monday column:
When the team chose to keep EVP Jack Easterby (a major bone of contention with players, who do not trust him), that further soured the players, including Watson.Lovely. I don't know how impactful Culley is going to be, in the short term at least, in convincing Watson (or his agent, David Mulugheta) of moving off his stance, when my guess is Watson didn't even know he existed until week ago. Culley is going to have an uphill climb convincing Watson to return, and he will be fired after two seasons if Deshaun is traded. That's where we are right now.
Close observers think there will be no real forward progress with Watson as long as Easterby is in the picture. Obviously, the question is whether Watson has the guts.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.