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Texans' Coaching Search: Pros, Cons of Jonathan Gannon

Jonathan Gannon's turnaround of Eagles' defense could land him a job

HOUSTON -- Most general managers are lucky enough to make only one head coaching hire in their tenure. Not even 13 months into being named the GM of the Houston Texans and Nick Caserio is on his second. 

The Texans fired David Culley after a 4-13 first season as head coach. Culley was never viewed as the long-term staple to fix the Texans, but he was able to pinpoint which direction the team must trend toward if they hope to rebound in the near future. 

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Caserio was asked as his end of the season press conference on when the next hire could be made. He promptly responded that the timetable does not have a set date, meaning whenever the right name appears, they will seal that deal.

“We’ll be patient, and however long it takes, it takes,” Caserio said. “When we have a solution that we feel comfortable about, then we’ll go ahead.”

Currently, Houston has interviewed five candidates, one of which is Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Gannon interviewed with the Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos last week and impressed with all three franchises. 

Is this the sign Houston needs to pull the trigger on its new head coach? 

PROS

Gannon, 39, is another young coach, but one who has a vast knowledge of the game from a defensive side. Spending the last 15 seasons in the NFL as a scout and coordinator, he has both on-field and front-office perspective to help any team improve in both free agency and the NFL draft. 

A first-year coordinator under Eagles head coach Nick Sirrani, Gannon improved the defensive culture of Philadelphia in 2021. It finished in the top half of every defensive category, including ninth in run defense (107.8 yards per game) and 10th in total defense (328.8 yards per game). 

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As an assistant for three seasons under fellow rising head-coaching candidate Matt Eberflus, Gannon also helped make the Indianapolis Colts' secondary one of the league's best. Indianapolis ranked 11th (2018), 16th (2019) and eighth (2020) in defense, respectively while Gannon served as the team's defensive back coach. The Colts also recorded 15 interceptions in all three seasons under Gannon's tenure. 

Highly respected amongst his peers, Gannon also has learned from some the best defensive minds in the league today. Before working with Eberflus in Indianapolis, he was on staff with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota (2014-17) and Steve Spagnuolo in 2009 as a member of the then-St. Louis Rams. 

Perhaps the biggest selling point to Gannon is the defensive scheme. The Texans saw massive improvements in young playmakers such as defensive end Jonathan Greenard, defensive tackle Roy Lopez and Ross Blacklock in the new 4-3 scheme under coordinator Lovie Smith. Other players, such as linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, took great strides in their career under the new formation. 

Should re-signing names like Hill, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, cornerback Desmond King and safety Justin Reid be a priority, perhaps playing in a similar front that forced 25 takeaways last fall is the final piece of the puzzle. 

CONS

Houston was highly criticized for naming Culley head coach due to his lack of experience as a coordinator. Gannon has been a coordinator, but is one season enough? 

The Eagles improved throughout the season, but they also fell apart in critical games. Granted it was with limited starters, but Philadelphia allowed the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott to run up 475 yards of offense in the 51-26 regular-season finale. A week later in the NFC Wild Card Round, they allowed Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense to put up 349 yards in a 31-15 loss. 

Houston's biggest concerns also seems to lean on the more offensive side. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills did enough to prove he's capable of starting in 2022, but the run game was once again a concern. The Texans finished dead last in both rushing (83.3 yards per game) and yards per carry (3.4) despite Culley's emphasis on fixing the issue.   

Gannon would certainly be able to fix the 23rd-ranked pass defense, but none of that will matter if the offense can't produce points. Perhaps Caserio is content with stabilizing the defense to have a long-term feel of how to fix the offense. 

After all, the Texans GM did say he was looking for the "next Mike Tomlin" this offseason. Prior to becoming a staple with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tomlin served one season as the Vikings defensive coordinator in 2006.