Mike Tomlin still hasn’t had a losing season. Kevin Stefanski’s squad endured five different starting quarterbacks. Dan Campbell has the Detroit Lions hosting a playoff game and they’re the favorite. But, they all fail in comparison to what DeMeco Ryans has done in Houston. A rookie head coach has the former laughingstock of the league in the postseason. Conversation over.
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“To our fans back home, lots of ups and downs, I know our fans are partying,” Ryans said after the Texans defeated the Colts 23-19 in Indianapolis on Saturday night. “They deserve it.”
Ryans was being kind when he said, “lots of ups and downs,” as Houston has been the symbol of everything that’s wrong with the NFL over the last decade. This is the team that enabled Deshaun Watson. This is a franchise that is best known for spitting in the face of Black coaches and Black players in a majority-Black league. As former Texans owner Bob McNair once infamously said, “We can’t have inmates running the prison.”
To understand why Ryans should be the runaway favorite for this award, we need to take a look at what he inherited. Because as impressive as the other candidates may be, Ryans was able to win in a place that’s been set up for people like him to lose in.
Before Ryans showed up in Houston, Bill O’Brien was the man in charge making life hell for his roster. He was a joke that made terrible decisions and trades, pissed off J.J. Watt, and “allegedly” made racial insensitive comments about DeAndre Hopkins that foreshadowed what he’d go on to tell Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe.
Once O’Brien was fired, interim (Black) head coach Romeo Crennel wasn’t kept on, despite winning the only four games that Houston won in 2020. After him, David Culley was hired in a head-scratching decision. It was speculated that Culley was just a diversity hire for some good PR, as Josh McCown is who the franchised envisioned as their future head coach. Culley, one of the few Black coaches in NFL history, was fired after one season. It was expected that McCown was up next, until Brian Flores dropped his class-action lawsuit against the NFL for its alleged racist hiring practices for head coaches. And out of nowhere, the Texans landed on Lovie Smith — a Black coach who they also fired after one season.
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However, Smith might have saved the day. In his last game, Smith went for the win instead of tanking. It meant that the Texans would have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 Draft, not No. 1. Houston wound up with C.J. Stroud instead of Bryce Young. The combination of Stroud and Ryans has made history, as Houston is the first team to make the playoffs since 2012 that’s been led by a rookie coach and quarterback.
“DeMeco is a proven coach with a track record of success who has an innate ability to lead people,” Texans GM Nick Caserio said in a statement when Ryans — who once sued the Texans as a player — was hired. “We are working to build a sustainable program that has long-term success and DeMeco is the coach we feel is the best fit to help us achieve our goals. We know how important it is to get results now and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to partner with DeMeco to build our football team together.”
For once, the Houston Texans got it right. But it’s not because the front office “did their homework.” It’s all because a Black coach and a Black quarterback exceeded expectations for a franchise that’s done nothing but mistreat people who look like them. DeMeco Ryans overcame obstacles on the field and showed he could win despite being the McNair family’s latest example of “how much they’re devoted to the Rooney Rule.” And if voters still aren’t convinced, tell them to go look up what happened to Josh McCown when he finally got a coaching job.