Culture / Sporting Life

In Josh McCown’s Shadow — Lovie Smith is Easy to Root For, But It’s Almost Impossible to See This Texans Mess Working

A Bungled Search Leads to a Coach Who's More Than Earned This Shot — and Some Unfortunate Baggage

BY // 02.08.22

Lovie Smith commanded the room, even sitting in the high chair, small table setup that would fit right into an Applebee’s. The Houston Texans’ new coach — their last minute shift after a bungling “process” that would have embarrassed even The Righteous Gemstones family — spoke with conviction and a sense of purpose. Smith seemed much surer about what he was saying than the much more powerful general manager sitting at the other side of the little table did.

But what does it mean?

Smith, a 63-year-old coaching lifer from little Gladewater, Texas who may have thought he’d never get another head coaching chance, still comes into the job much like David Culley did. He’ll be perceived as a coach waiting to be fired by many, another stopgap until Nick Caserio finally hires a coach he truly wants. And yes, the notion that Caserio is already all but guaranteed to get three head coaching hires before he starts to really be evaluated himself is absurd. But it’s also very much looms as reality in this Bob McNair-less Texans world of today.

Despite his largely successful, longtime track record — outside of his still hard to explain 17-39 five year run at Illinois — Smith still finds himself almost unbelievably in the shadow of Josh McCown. Yes, the same McCown who’s never coached above the high school level — and never been a head coach anywhere.

The 42-year-old McCown emerged as the maverick choice that the Texans leadership team seemingly wanted. Until Brian Flores sued the NFL for alleged racist hiring practices, shaking a league that needed to be shaken to its core. At Lovie Smith’s introductory press conference, Caserio insists that the lawsuit has nothing to do with the Texans’ sudden pivot to the Black defensive coordinator who’d been in their building all along.

Coincidences sure have a way of working overtime in the National Football League. If Flores’ lawsuit did help get Smith hired, it’s already doing good. For there is no doubt Lovie Smith’s earned this type of day, a chance to celebrate getting to helm his third NFL team, with his wife of 42 years proudly looking on.

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“It’s not often you get a chance to lead three professional football teams,” Smith says. “I don’t know if there’s a guy that looks like me who’s had an opportunity to do that. So that’s pretty special.”

Smith knows what it means to face off against discrimination and doubts. He led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl as the lowest paid head coach in the NFL and had to push for his own pay raise. And he only got the Bears job after Nick Saban turned it down after a very public Chicago pursuit.

Now, Smith will coach the Texans under the perception that Caserio and the ever-influential Jack Easterby want McCown to have that job someday soon. Amazingly, the Texans may even put McCown on Lovie Smith’s staff, which would ratchet up the head coach in wait drama to a level fitting for the most over-the-top Aaron Sorkin production.

Forget Friday Night Lights, which new Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has been binge watching. This Lovie Smith staff needs to start streaming Succession and work on their own Tom moves.

The Roy empire has nothing on what’s going on at Kirby Drive.

Yet, Lovie Smith is publicly embracing McCown.

“Would I want Josh McCown on my staff?” Smith says in an interview on 610 AM. “Absolutely. Because I know every building Josh McCown is in is going to be a better building.”

Maybe Lovie Smith knows that McCown is part of the deal. Maybe he really believes it.

Lovie Smith Knows Impossible Missions

This is a coach who did make the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as his quarterback. Lovie Smith knows something about making the best of circumstances. He also embraced return man game changer Devin Hester in a way that other coaches might have missed. He can coach. But what are the Texans of Caserio and Easterby going to let him do?

That’s the big question. Caserio will have heavy input (and likely final say) on much of Lovie Smith’s staff just like he did with David Culley’s staff. Caserio still will be the NFL general manager on the coaching headset during games just like he was when Culley walked the Texans sideline.

No matter how much players respect Lovie Smith — and it’s hard not to respect Lovie Smith — that kind of big brother oversight is ripe for creating doubts.

Lovie Smith will coach the Texans under the perception that Caserio and the ever-influential Jack Easterby want McCown to have that job someday soon. Amazingly, the Texans may even put McCown on Lovie Smith’s staff.

The Texans want to think they’re ahead of the game. Texans CEO Cal McNair raved about the “thorough, inclusive and in-depth process” behind the often-ridiculed coaching search in his brief remarks. But this is a franchise that’s already tested its fans’ patience to an almost unfathomable degree. Nick Caserio and Jack Easterby aren’t reminding anyone of a rebuilding Jeff Luhnow yet. Far from it.

More importantly, there’s clearly no Jim Crane-like presence in NRG Stadium.

The Texans have been in the shadow of Deshaun Watson’s legal troubles and allegedly predatory behavior for more than a year. Now, they’re under the shadow of Josh McCown too.

That’s progress?

Deshaun Watson
The specter of Deshaun Watson still hovers over everything the Houston Texans do.

Lovie Smith deserves better than being put in Josh McCown’s shadow.

You can be sure this coaching lifer will do his best to rise above all the noise. Smith won a press conference for the Texans on Tuesday. Yes, the fire alarm going off in the middle of the Texans’ coaching announcement provided endless Twitter jokes — and heavy handed attempts at symbolism — but it was largely overblown. Texans director of communications Omar Majzoub handled the blaring alarm with deftness and a little humor that played well in the online streams and radio broadcasts, which is how most Texans fans experienced the day.

Winning a press conference probably shouldn’t be dismissed in this age of Cal McNair and Nick Caserio. It’s a start. But if you think the Texans are really any closer to having a real winning organizational plan you’re just fooling yourself.

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