HOUSTON - The Houston Texans are expected to conduct a thorough evaluation of first-year head coach David Culley and the coaching staff to determine their respective statuses following the AFC South franchise's season finale Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The detailed review is expected to take into account everything about Culley and the coaches' performance and how they operated in a difficult rebuilding situation with an overhauled roster.
According to a league source, if Houston fires Culley then New England Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could emerge as a top potential candidate to be the team's next head coach. McDaniels, if he decides to leave New England, could be a strong head coaching candidate for multiple potential vacancies based on his track record and his success developing Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
The Texans are 4-12 with one game remaining in the season in Culley's first year as a head coach at any level. They finished with an identical record last year under former coach and general manager Bill O'Brien, who was fired after an 0-4 start in 2020. He is now the Alabama offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and set to interview for the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coaching position. Romeo Crennel, who finished 4-8 last season as the interim coach, is now the Texans' senior advisor of football performance.
A career assistant who previously worked for Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh as assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and receivers coach and an assistant coach under Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, Culley, 66, has earned respect for his leadership. He has acknowledged some growing pains with game management, referencing decisions he wishes he could have back in a narrow loss to the Patriots.
"I've learned to be ahead of those things," Culley said this month. "I just feel more comfortable doing those kinds of things, and we’re growing as we go."
The Texans have won two of their past three games, including an impressive upset victory over the heavily favored Los Angeles Chargers and Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert. The Texans rank 30th in scoring offense (averaging just 15.9 points per game) and have the NFL's worst rushing offense and 29th-ranked defense.
Rookie quarterback Davis Mills has shown potential, especially in recent weeks when he's improved his accuracy and ability to orchestrate a run-first offense while consistently connecting with standout wide receiver Brandin Cooks. When asked Friday morning if he expected offensive coordinator Tim Kelly to return, Culley replied: "100 percent."
The defense, under associate head coach and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, has excelled at creating turnovers with a plus-three differential and 17 interceptions.
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The Texans' up-and-down season has been overshadowed by embattled three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson's trade request that preceded Culley and general manager Nick Caserio, a former Patriots executive and top lieutenant to New England coach Bill Belichick. Watson remains on the Texans' roster and is facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and 10 active criminal complaints with no charges filed at this time. The Texans are expected to attempt to trade him in the offseason after nearly dealing him to the Miami Dolphins at the NFL trade deadline.
Culley has displayed no hesitation to impose discipline, including deactivating veterans for disciplinary reasons: safety Justin Reid, former linebacker Zach Cunningham and cornerback Desmond King.
The Texans released Cunningham after he showed up late for a mandatory COVID-19 test.
"We have standards and I didn’t feel like those standards have been met consistently,” Culley said. “I felt like I made a decision that was best for the team. This is about the team. This isn’t about any individuals. It wasn’t tough at all. It’s about the team. It’s not about any individual player. The one thing we always talk about is that it’s not necessarily trying to be the best player on the team but being the best player for the team. That’s our motto.
"Well, I got a locker room full of players in there that understand what our standard is. We preach it all the time. When guys aren’t going to those standards, they are looking at me cross-eyed when I am not practicing what I preach. He didn’t follow what we needed to get done and I made the move.”
Culley addressed some of the adjustments he's had to make in dealing with players' issues as well as the big picture involved in being a head coach after being a career assistant.
“Probably the big thing is just the psyche of the players," Culley said Friday. "Some of the things you’re having to deal with with the players that’s not in that manual that you get when you first get this job. But for the most part, it’s just about the stuff that you deal with that’s really not directly football-related but may have something to do with a player off the field or with a player personally.
"Those kinds of things have been some things that I’ve dealt with. Now, I’ve dealt with those things as an assistant coach but at a smaller scale. But here, it’s a bigger scale. Plus, it’s more of it.”