Coach Kubiak Let Go
The 2013 season has been a disappointment for the Houston Texans. After building a playoff-caliber team, the franchise expected to be Super Bowl contenders. Not to get off track into another conversation, but unfortunately the regression of quarterback Matt Schaub was predictable and they should have addressed the position in the offseason. Instead, the Texans have dropped eleven straight games with sights on the top pick in the draft, parting ways with head coach Gary Kubiak in the process. Eight and a half seasons in, the head coach gets the boot as the scapegoat for a dismal outcome in what has been the norm in professional sports. Losing to the rival Jaguars twice in three weeks didn’t help his case either.
Houston has been flexing atop the AFC South the past few seasons but have quickly fallen into the cellar. Bottom line in this situation, of course everyone deserves some play, however you can draw comparisons to the Kansas City Chiefs. A couple seasons ago the Chiefs won the AFC West division with a playoff appearance, then last year they fell off the map. The notable addition has been head coach Andy Reid and his staff, but everything starts at the top so Kansas City brought in a new General Manager, John Dorsey. That regime inherited the first pick in the draft, an offensive coach with playoff success, and a defense that sent four players to the Pro Bowl in a 2-14 season.
Right now the Texans are in full-evaluation mode, so letting go of the head coach removes the elephant in the room. Whether they end up with the top pick, second, they will select a player with at least a top five pick and their position is similar to the Chiefs last season. Even better, quarterback Peyton Manning departed the AFC South for the AFC West. Just like Kansas City (and Atlanta for that matter), Houston has a playoff-ready roster. Getting such a high pick will only add standout talent to a team with an identity, on both sides of the ball. They have a couple running backs that can carry the load, a solid offensive line, with their star player being Andre Johnson at receiver.
What the Future Holds
Wade Phillips is the defensive coordinator that will take over as interim coach again, a role he stepped into when Kubiak collapsed and had health concerns. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for Kubiak, who now gets to focus on his health and most likely signing with a team to be an offensive coordinator. Maybe the role adjustment prolongs a healthier lifestyle, which is absolutely bigger than any game. Phillips has been around this league a long time, he has had his opportunities to head coach while he thrives as a coordinator. The Texans could decide to play it safe by keeping the front office in tact and the defensive side of the staff, and simply name Phillips the next head coach. He is an older coach at age 66 that probably doesn’t need the stress and challenges of being the guy, just keep in mind that is is from Texas. From a bird’s eye view, there is nothing wrong with settling into your career Dick Labeau-style. This is Labeau’s 40th season as a coach in the NFL, the 76-year-old has been the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers for nine years now.
So this could be a quick turnaround for Houston that has every intention of getting back into the playoff picture. Their decisions to stand pat at certain positions have left them exposed, as opponents have figured them out and caught up to speed. This is a learning lesson for the front office if they are all retained beyond this season, they did build a great product before but you know there are other executives that would love to step into this situation. When it comes to external coaching candidates you have to keep in mind that you have Phillips, still one of the better defensive coordinators in the game today. That is something to consider when interviewing candidates, in which they would target offensive-oriented coaches. Or in fact, say they do decide to appoint Phillips, there’s a possibility to keep the offensive staff in tact but when one major move is made, more usually follow. This presents the task of finding an offensive coordinator externally, as a head coach in-waiting.
An immediate candidate comes to mind, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith. Another Texas native, Smith is primarily a defensive coach and that would directly affect the status of Phillips in Houston. When a team is 2-11 and the front office is preparing for the draft already, anything goes. All players and coaches find themselves under the magnifying glass, but the bottom line is that I don’t see Smith joining the Texans.
Hot Seat, Domino Effect
Anytime waves are made in football it creates a domino effect, especially in the ladder part of the season as teams get eliminated from playoff contention. Looking around the league trying to sort out which teams might move on from their current head coach, there are a few that stand out. Starting with the obvious, the Minnesota Vikings. Current coach, Leslie Frazier, is a defensive coach with a specialty in the secondary. Another team that has gone through the Texans and Chiefs situations, Minnesota bounced back and forth between making the playoffs and having a top three draft pick. This year the Vikings are 3-8-1, remember they tied with the Packers, so they return to the drawing board this offseason.
Speaking of turning things around, Washington did just that by trading a few picks for a top-five pick, translating to Robert Griffin III. The Redskins may have their starting quarterback but the verdict is still out on that decision. In year one they surged into the playoffs after starting 3-6, this time around they are eliminated. On paper the defense looks formidable but they rank as one of the worst. The offense needs another receiver to make an impact, so maybe the front office there needs to infuse the roster. Maybe they stand pat and add players in a winnable division, but the personality of head coach Mike Shanahan has kept him in the midst of drama and speculation. He had his moments with former quarterback Donovan McNabb, former defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, and now franchise quarterback, RGIII. If the coach was let go, it seems logical that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Mike’s son, would also move on from Washington. Kyle has been a head coach in waiting, maybe Houston dials his number since he was their offensive coordinator in their competitive years.
Everyone wants to write off Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay, it’s a dire situation to release the starting quarterback and lose the franchise running back for the season (although the formula for running the ball works with the next man up motto). Despite the MRSA infections, the Josh Freeman saga, and blitzing a quarterback kneeling down in victory formation, the Buccaneers have won three of the last four games since losing to Seattle by a field goal. That tells me the players are going all out for their coach, Schiano being in his second season seems to be learning how to adapt from the collegiate level. I wouldn’t count him out, that is a playoff-ready roster that just might have a franchise quarterback in Mike Glennon. By season’s end, they will have a large enough sample size to make the call on Glennon, and to bring in competition in the upcoming, quarterback-heavy draft.
The biggest question mark this offseason, or until someone comes out and addresses New York Jets football, will be Rex Ryan. They are 5-7, it isn’t pretty but they are in the thick of the wildcard hunt. With that said, I don’t think Ryan goes anywhere quite yet. The following season, definitely if the Jets don’t make the playoffs, so that will be an ongoing situation.
Oakland has a decision to make on coach Dennis Allen, a defensive-minded coach in his second season. The Raiders have improved some on defense, moreso against the run, and the guy is trying to develop the quarterbacks on the roster. The guy he is looking for might not be Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin, and in all fairness this is a physical team moving away from the worst and towards the pack. With that said, his leash is short.
Of course there’s the Cowboys, Jason Garrett will always be on the hot seat in Dallas. Actually, it might be the media feeding off of America’s team because Jerry Jones is a dictator. Great businessman, perhaps misunderstood. Jones has strongly supported Garrett over the years and it was difficult to hide his plans for him when he was offensive coordinator. I’ll go as far to say that next year is the make-or-break season for Garrett and the Cowboys as a whole.
Mike Smith is a good coach and should be back in Atlanta. The front office didn’t get him the players to stop anyone defensively, and we all know he lost his skill position players on offense to injury.
St. Louis is improving, Jeff Fisher is putting his imprint on the team and maybe be a couple offensive players away from making any real noise. The Rams put a beat down on the Colts and Bears this year, the defense is taking strides to the next level, they could use more luck as far as injuries are concerned.
Jacksonville has been playing better football since their bye week, winning four of the last five games including three straight division game W’s. Gus Bradley is in his first season as a head coach, doing everything he can to bring energy and a defensive formula to the Jaguars.
Some of the same can be said for Cleveland and Buffalo. The Browns have a first-year regime from the top down, they should stick around for awhile considering their improved play and high draft picks forthcoming. The Bills also have a first-year coach from the college ranks, all the team might need is time and experience on both sides of the ball. These are all teams going in the right direction, or in Atlanta’s case, not so far from the playoff expectations they usually have.