On Sunday, the Houston Texans blew it up. At four and twenty from the Indianapolis Colts’ 28-yard line, seven points behind with less than a minute to play, quarterback Davis Mills stepped back, scanned the field, and found receiver Jordan Akins in the end zone for a touchdown. Lovi Smith, the freshman head coach, saw an opportunity to end the season on a high note and turned down overtime—instead, he recorded a two-point conversion that saw Mills and Akins reconnect to put the Texans ahead. . All that remained was to watch as former University of Texas signalman Sam Elinger, now the Colt, failed to get his team within field goal range and Houston won, 32–31. The victory means that instead of claiming the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Texans will be selected second behind the Chicago Bears. Thanks to Smith’s decision to win the football game, Houston conceded the opportunity to control which of this year’s best quarterback prospects would wear Battle Red next year.
A few hours later, Smith was fried. Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair released a statement saying that he and general manager Nick Caserio “spoke to Lovi Smith tonight and let him know that we as an organization will be moving in a different direction.”
It’s not unusual for the head coach of a team that went 3-13-1 to lose his job, but this is unusual to do this to a freshman coach who was hired instead of Other freshman coach who finished 4–13 the previous season. Before that coach, David Calley, was hired, he replaced Romeo Krennel, the interim head coach who replaced Bill O’Brien after the first four games of the 2020 season. Krennel went 4–8 with a team that started the season 0–4.
An NFL club that loses thirteen games year after year doesn’t do well, but it’s hard to determine how much of the Texans’ failures should be blamed on Smith, Callie, or Krennel. Most organizations expect a freshman coach to have growth issues unless the new leader inherits a franchise quarterback roster. (This even applies to a coach like Smith, who arrived in Houston with eleven previous seasons as an NFL head coach.) And Smith didn’t inherit Houston’s juggernaut. Not Krennel, not Callie, for that matter. All three coaches took on the mess that made up the Texans’ roster, did as much as anyone in their situation could hope for, and then found themselves out of a job when their respective seasons ended.
Smith could have delayed if he had done what the Texans fans were desperately wishing for and crashed the final pass on Sunday, thereby ensuring that a college star quarterback like C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young would be in Houston next year. ? It’s impossible to know, but it’s also impossible to imagine Smith, a Big Sandy native who has coached the Bears, Bucs and Fighting Illini for the past two decades, deliberately losing so his bosses have a little more chance to improve the lineup. After all, Smith wasn’t among the first franchise managers to want to replace Callie after last season, so he likely figured the reward for losing Sunday’s game would benefit his inevitable successor. Instead of playing for the future, he decided to play for pride.
Smith’s tenure as head coach of the Texans was rocky from the start. The team’s first choice for the job was reportedly Josh McKeown, an East Texas native who impressed the team’s management during his tenure as a backup quarterback for Houston, but whose coaching experience is limited to some volunteer work at local high schools. (He currently works as an assistant at Rusk High School near his hometown of Jacksonville, where his son Aiden plays quarterback.) Before the Texans hired Smith, they announced McCown as a finalist back in February, but a lawsuit filed by former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores , arguing that the NFL’s racist franchise-hiring practices limit opportunities for black head coaches, thwarted an attempt to elevate McCown above several more experienced black coaches. Smith was already in the Texans’ organization, serving as Callie’s defense coordinator, and amid poor publicity from the Flores trial, Smith took charge.
If Smith expected to have a long game with the Texans, he was probably deceiving himself. In all likelihood, he probably suspected from the start that his time at the top would be limited. (Why would anyone volunteer for such a doomed job? We can think of a few reasons!) But the vacancy poses a real challenge—not for Smith, 64, who left on his own terms, but for Texans. who will need to convince their next target to take on a team with huge roster holes and a track record of blaming coaches for organizational failures, not to mention the franchise’s utterly incomprehensible power structure.
Of course, someone will take the job, but for prospective NFL coaching candidates, the prospect of a job in Houston may not be very attractive. The Texans should eventually rebound, but their poor record this season isn’t just Lovi Smith’s fault. It’s also the fault of the CEO signing checks to the coach and this guy isn’t going anywhere. The Texans can fire their head coach every season if they want (and they seem determined to do just that), but it won’t make them any better. Until the franchise demonstrates that it has a working leadership, it might as well be looking for volunteer high school coaches that will please the boss, because the type of coach that could ultimately improve the results of Smith, Callie and Krennel, will be expelled. until something changes at the top, no matter which college star Houston chooses in April.