With head coach Gary Kubiak out of the picture after his firing this week, the Houston Texans have already assembled and reached out to an interesting list of potential head coaches. Several reports have indicated that the Texans will talk with former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, and owner Bob McNair has expressed interest in Smith before.
“Well, if you look at the record, defensive coordinators have been more successful than offensive coordinators, but not by a large percentage," McNair said at the Friday press conference announcing Kubiak's departure. "It’s going to be based more on the individual. We’re looking for a coach that is bright, ethical, who’s culture fits in with the culture of our organization, innovative, flexible, able to make adjustments, works with great energy and enthusiasm and [is] very positive in his approach. Surely that person is out there and we’ll find that person.”
If McNair is looking for a defensive-minded head coach with a positive approach, Smith would certainly fit the bill.
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He assembled a number of great defenses in Chicago as the Bears' head coach from 2004 through '12, and amassed an 81-63 record and a Super Bowl appearance in his time in the Windy City. Smith was fired after the Bears went 10-6 in 2012, a move seen as curious by some, and the fact that he wasn't heavily pursued to fill one of the eight head coach openings last offseason was seen as even more curious.
"Yes, I am -- I definitely am surprised," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman told me in June when I asked him about Smith's free-agent status. "But looking at how things are going, a lot of teams were hiring offensive-minded head coaches. That's not to say he shouldn't have a job, but I just think that's how the league is going."
Smith's seeming tendency to ignore offense in favor of defense (a criticism that Tony Dungy also had to deal with before he inherited Peyton Manning) could have the Texans pausing, or at least insuring that Smith has a great offensive mind on board as well.
Beyond Smith, perhaps the most interesting name on the list, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, is current Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. Shanahan's son Kyle, who is the Redskins' offensive coordinator, served in that same role for the Texans in 2008 and '09. In addition, the offense Kubiak put on the field for Houston from 2006 through this season was a direct descendant of what he learned as a Mike Shanahan assistant for a number of years with the Denver Broncos. And if the reports are true that Shanahan cleaned out his desk near the end of the 2012 season because he was tired of owner Dan Snyder's interference, the veteran coach would be a hot commodity. Texans general manager Rick Smith worked with Shanahan in Denver.
Another name to watch is Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, who will be courted by NFL teams despite the fact that he signed a six-year contract extension with the Aggies last week. Sumlin has become one of the most highly-regarded coaches in the nation, regardless of level, and he would be a great get for the Texans as they are almost certainly looking to move into the future with a different starting quarterback than Matt Schaub or Case Keenum. Sumlin has proven that he can develop college quarterbacks, and as Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll have shown in recent years, one of the major advantages college coaches bring to the NFL these days is a comprehensive knowledge of draft prospects. According to La Canfora, current San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator and former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is also on the Texans' list. Highly-regarded headhunter Jed Hughes, vice chairman of Korn/Ferry International, is in charge of assembling information in the search. La Canfora reported that Hughes reached out to a number of prominent former head coaches over the weekend, but his overtures were rebuffed. Hughes was in charge of the New York Jets' decision to hire current general manager John Idzik.