Sean Pendergast

Houston Swerve: Texans Now Leaning Toward Lovie Smith for Next Head Coach

Out of nowhere, Lovie Smith may wind up with the Texans head coaching job.
Out of nowhere, Lovie Smith may wind up with the Texans head coaching job. Photo by Eric Sauseda
If you haven't come to the realization yet that the Houston Texans don't do anything like a normal NFL team, then I would say "Welcome to Houston!" You must have just arrived here within the past few weeks, and if you didn't know it before you went to bed last night, then you realized it once you woke up this morning.

At about 7 p.m. on Sunday, I wrote a post analyzing the news that was making the rounds all day Sunday — the Houston Texans were down to two finalists, Josh McCown and Brian Flores, to be their next head coach. As outlined in the piece, there was no scenario involving either candidate that wouldn't involve a TON of attention from the national media, sports or otherwise.

On the one hand, you had Brian Flores, a minority coach who is the plaintiff in a racial discrimination suit against the NFL (which, last I checked, included the Houston Texans) for its hiring practices. On the other hand, you had Josh McCown, a woefully inexperienced (i.e. never coached a day in his life) candidate, who happens to be white.

There was no hire from that pool that wouldn't bring the Texans all sorts of attention and extra window dressing. So, in the end, the Texans did what they seem to do with every major decision since Jack Easterby arrived as an Executive VP in 2019 — they did something that nobody saw coming, something that has the entire world scratching its collective head. They made a move to hire defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, an admittedly accomplished head coach, who was nowhere on the radar at the outset of this process:
Holy. Smokes.

Yeah, you read that timestamp correctly. Less than 90 minutes after intense analysis on the two presumed finalists, the Texans swerve everybody. So let's try to unpack this wild turn of events. As usual, this post comes with a warning that you might need some Dramamine to calm the motion sickness.

What the hell just happened?
Until Lovie Smith is hired officially, and the team conducts a press conference, which would presumably include GM Nick Caserio along with Smith, we don't know what exactly led to this. john McClain of the Houston Chronicle said on my radio show Monday morning that the Flores lawsuit made the Texans hit pause on a process that was leading toward a McCown hire. In the end, it would appear the Texans, in a moment of rare self awareness, decided the optics of that hire were too much for the franchise to endure. Additionally, hiring Flores with the open lawsuit was not an option. So in a strange way, if the hire of Smith comes to fruition on Monday, as expected, Brian Flores, one Texans head coach finalist, inadvertently pulled a chess move on the other finalist. Josh McCown, which ended with NEITHER of them getting the job. Utterly fascinating.

Is this hire of Smith a popular move?
As of lunchtime on Monday, the poll below had seen approximately 54 percent of the over 2,500 voters say that they APPROVE of hiring Smith:
If you're wondering, here is where that approval rating places Smith among the seven candidates for the Texans head coaching job:

BRIAN FLORES — 84.2%
LOVIE SMITH — 53.9%
KEVIN O’CONNELL – 53.8%
JONATHAN GANNON — 39.6%
JOE LOMBARDI — 32.3%
JOSH McCOWN – 11.2%
HINES WARD — 10.3%

So this is, intuitively not an UNPOPULAR move, but you have to wonder how much of Lovie Smith's approval rating has a disdain for Josh McCown baked into it. In other words, people might be voting on their approval of Lovie on a Sunday night where it appeared the highly UNPOPULAR Josh McCown was going to get the job, and feel good about Lovie Smith merely because he is NOT Josh McCown. Lovie's resume is impressive — a coordinator and head coach for two Super Bowl teams, being his main accomplishment — but this is an uninspiring hire that has a bit of a "Culley, placeholder" feel to it.

So what happens now with Josh McCown?
As for McCown, he will go down as one fo the most fascinating rejects in a head coaching search in recent memory, and the fact that he made it this far with no coaching experience would seem to indicate that, if he got some seasoning as an assistant somewhere, perhaps he would be right back in the running for the Texans head coaching job, if it were to come open again. For what it's worth, according to Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, it was the Texans saying "NO" to McCown, not vice versa:
However, it appears as though the door has not been completely closed on McCown working for the Texans in some capacity this season:
If McCown is on Smith's staff (assuming Smith is the choice), and he hasn't officially been tabbed as a "head coach in waiting," the dynamic around camp will be delightfully awkward, to say the least.

Why do the Texans make things so difficult on themselves?
It's a great question, because I am racking my brain to find one thing they've done (that matters) conventionally since Jack Easterby arrived in April 2019. Two months after arriving, the team sought to replace GM Brian Gaine with Nick Caserio. Easterby was accused of tampering by the Patriots. After Caserio was rendered "not hirable" at that time, the team went with a Bill O'Brien-led committee in lieu of a GM. That worked out horrifically.

When it came time to name a new GM in 2021, the team ignored the advice of its very own search firm, and Cal McNair and Jack Easterby hopped a private plane to scoop up Caserio in January of 2021. Now, thirteen months into Caserio's tenure as GM, we have his second "out of left field" head coaching hire. Oh, by the way, the team is eventually going to trade a 26 year old quarterback in his prime, something else that NEVER happens. The abnormal is being normalized over at NRG Stadium, and ultimately, that's not good for business.

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.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast