David Culley lasted one season on Kirby Drive.
The specter of Deshaun Watson still hovers over everything the Houston Texans do.
New Houston Texans coach David Culley inherits an absolute mess — and his first task must be trying to extend Deshaun Watson's time in Houston.
Desahun Watson somehow avoided this would be sack and another on the overtime play that won the Houston Texans a playoff game.
The 65-year-old David Culley faced real questions over whether he was simply a figurehead for the Houston Texans or really in charge. Of course, Culley never was in charge. Will Lovie Smith be?
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson smiles as he watches a video tribute with teammates during a public celebration of life for Houston Texans owner Robert C. McNair at NRG Stadium. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, POOL)
Trading Deshaun Watson would instantly become the worst Houston sports loss ever. It would make the Oilers squandering that 35-3 lead to the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs look like a minor setback. It would turn The Stockton Shot, those flailing swings by The Killer B’s in October, Chris Paul’s hamstring, Lorenzo Charles’ airball slam, the 1986 NLCS and 24-0 on the Chiefs into mere footnotes to the real, overwhelming misery.
Deshaun Watson — the franchise quarterback the Houston Texans waited forever for — having at least one foot out the door overrides everything else. This is what David Culley finds himself dropping into. And it is the only thing that will define his unexpected head coaching tenure.
The Ted Lasso level enthusiasm at his introductory press conference may be entertaining. But the only thing that matters is whether Culley can somehow do something to help keep Watson in Houston.
It’s not a fair situation for a first-time head coach. But no one said anything would be close to fair for a 65-year-old thrown into the most dysfunctional franchise in professional sports today.
“He’s the quarterback of the Houston Texans,” Culley says over Zoom of Watson. “That’s all that I was concerned about, and that’s all I knew (when interviewing). And whatever has been said about what was —what he wanted to do or he didn’t want to do — all I knew is this, having been in this business this long, he is a Houston Texan and I want him to be a Houston Texan.
“And the reason I’m in this position today is because I knew he’s going to be a Houston Texan.”
That’s a strong enough statement. But it means little if Culley cannot help convince both Watson and perhaps everyone’s favorite Darth Sith villain Jack Easterby that the best quarterback Houston has ever had should remain with the Texans. Watson started demanding a trade long before the Texans finally got around to hiring Culley.
Culley’s Deshaun Watson Play
To his credit, Culley seems committed to making a Hail Mary run at keeping Watson. If it does not work, this energetic football lifer’s long awaited first head job will undoubtably be a short time run. If Watson stays, Texans fans will be forever grateful to Culley. If not, Culley will be on his way to becoming just another victim of the chaos on Kirby Drive. Soon to be forever immortalized as a remember when.
Remember when the Texans hired a 65-year-old first time head coach who’d never been a coordinator when Chiefs difference maker Eric Bieniemy was available?
Good professional sports owners get that they are stewards for a community’s hopes. They understand that they’ve been given a great gift — no matter how many billions it cost them. Jim Crane clearly has displayed that during this run controlling the Astros. New Mets owner Steve Cohen already seems to get this (dumb non-sports GameStop comments aside). Despite that infamous inmates comment (made when he was older and sick with cancer), Bob McNair largely faithfully followed this ethos too.
Bob McNair was a good steward more often than not.
But somewhere in this last chaotic year, Cal and Janice McNair seem to have lost touch with this truth. There is little other way to explain them seemingly choosing Easterby and their personal preferences over Deshaun Watson, a transcendent franchise player. Deshaun Watson will always be more important than any individual owner. Just like LeBron James means more to a franchise than its owner.
If Culley and first-time GM Nick Caserio, a widely respected NFL personnel figure, can bring some of that sense back to NRG Stadium, they will have a chance to be a success. If not. . . well, Culley is clearly setup to be the first to go. But Caserio is kidding himself if he thinks his runway also won’t be relatively short without Watson.
“I can assure you that right now with me being here, with what’s in place with this (McNair) family and Nick and everybody involved in this organization, we are going to do everything possible every day I walk in this building,” Culley says. “Every day you walk out of this building, it’s going to be about and it’s going to be for the Houston Texans.
“And if you can’t get excited about that and you don’t believe that right there, we will show you.”
In truth, little can be shown in Culley’s too short introductory press conference on this Friday. The Texans organization is taking a lot of grief for including something of a softball question from a season ticket holder in the press conference. But that little gimmick could have gone over much differently if the press conference simply had been allowed to play out over a reasonable time period rather than getting cut off after little more than 30 minutes.
It’s hard to imagine any professional sports PR expert advocating for this keep-it-short approach. That screams out as an override dictate from up high. (Care to maybe, guess who?) The issue really is not the fan question as much as the fact 14 media members had their hands still raised in the Zoom when the fan question was thrown in and the media session abruptly closed.
Dusty Baker and the Astros spend more time answering questions than this after some Tuesday night games in June.
“When you listen to people talk about David Culley, there are themes that continually repeat themselves,” Caserio says. “Themes such as what a special person he is. How much positive energy he emanates. A prime example of an individual that believes in servant leadership.
“Someone who conducts himself in a way that brings out the best in others, and an outstanding communicator and teacher.”
Again, Culley’s enthusiasm is admirable. As is his pioneering background and connection to coaches as varied as Bill Parcells and Andy Reid. But the new coach needs to understand that there is only one thing to show. Deshaun Watson is either still the Texans’ quarterback next season or he’s not.
Forever grateful. Or forever doomed. There is no in-between, no alternate choice. That is what it means to take a job with the Texans in 2021.
Welcome. . . go ahead and jump right into the boiling pot!