(SportsRadio 610) - As soon as Lovie Smith was fired after the last game of regular season – a 32-31 victory at Indianapolis – speculation began about 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans being a candidate to become the sixth head coach in Texans’ history.
The fan-fueled passion for Ryans was elevated off the charts when it was disclosed that general manager Nick Caserio had asked to interview him. One of the first former Texans to tout Ryans was J.J. Watt, who had retired after two seasons with the Cardinals.
Once Watt provided his endorsement for Ryans, the groundswell increased to bring Ryans home to where his NFL career started in 2006 as the Texans’ second-round draft choice who would become NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and earn All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition.
Watt was among Ryans’ former teammates he thanked at his introductory news conference on Thursday. Twenty-five came to NRG Stadium to show their support for Ryans. He spoke the most passionately about Watt, the first-round pick in 2011 that was Ryans’ last season with the Texans.
In the last game of Watt’s career against the 49ers at Levi Stadium, he went out with a bang, recording two sacks and receiving a standing ovation from San Francisco fans who chanted his name. Ryans stood on the sideline and witnessed the show of respect and appreciation by 49ers’ fans.
“J.J. is the Texans,” Ryans said. “I was blessed to be able to see J.J. play in his last game. He dominated. It was an awesome moment when J.J. walked off the field for the last time. For me to be standing on the sideline across from J.J. knowing I was with him for his first and last NFL games and see the applause and respect he received on the road with everybody on their feet chanting his name because of the man he is – that’s the type of team we want. We want to build this team with guys who have the character of J.J. Watt, who have that athletic ability, that dominance as a player.
“Everyone knows what J.J. has meant to the city of Houston. Not just the football J.J. Watt. It's the charitable work J.J. has done. J.J. represents the Texans. For J.J. Watt to support me means everything to me.”
Watt showed more support Thursday when he weighed in on Cal and Hannah McNair and general manager Nick Caserio hiring Ryans – a decision that resonated with Texans’ fans across the area, creating excitement and generating renewed interest in the team.
“The Houston fanbase is incredible, and they deserve a team and coach they can throw the full weight of their passion and energy behind,” Watt said. “DeMeco is that coach. There’s no doubt there’s still work to be done to get the organization to where it ultimately wants to be, but this is a hell of a start.
“Players and fans alike should be thrilled by this hire. I think you can tell by the energy and enthusiasm of all us former players the Texans got it right with this one, and we’re all here to support DeMeco in any way we can.”
Among the coaches Ryans thanked was Gary Kubiak. They arrived at NRG Stadium in 2006. Ryans played six seasons for Kubiak before he was traded to the Eagles after the 2011 season in which the Texans won their first AFC South title and playoff game. Ryans provided some insight into his coaching philosophy by disclosing what he learned from Kubiak with the Texans and Andy Reid and Chip Kelly with the Eagles before Kyle Shanahan hired him for the 49ers in 2017.
“I’ve been around a lot of different coaches, and I’ve learned from each place I’ve been,” Ryans said. “When I first started with coach Kubiak, he taught us what a first-class organization looked like. He taught us how you treat players as men first.
“Moving on to Philadelphia, I learned from Andy Reid how to be a great teacher. Andy was an awesome teacher, but he’s also a protector of his players. You'll never see me throwing a player under the bus. With coach Kelly, he was a master motivator, but he was also an innovator. He was always on the cutting edge, always looking for ways to get better with sports science (and) technology.
“I take things I learned from all these men, and that's how I feel like you build a first-class organization. You protect your players, be a great teacher, motivate them and do everything to be adaptable, to change and make sure we have the best things for our players when it comes to sports science and technology.”
Ryans is staying busy hiring assistant coaches and deciding if he wants to retain any of the previous staff. He knows what kind of coaches he wants working with him.
“We want a very diverse coaching staff, and that's not only diversity in race but diversity in experience,” he said. “We want coaches who are great teachers, bring positive energy, do it in a fun way and can connect with players. If you can connect with players, then you can lead players. If you can't connect, there’s no way you can coach those guys. We want guys who’re committed to working together. No egos allowed. We want a positive culture. We're going to work together to make sure we're giving the players everything they need.”
And about that offense that was awful last season, a big reason Smith and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were fired.
“We have one quarterback (Davis Mills) on our roster, and we have to add more,” Ryans said. “The quarterback is just one piece of a team. Yes, we want a great quarterback, but we also need a great offensive line to protect the quarterback. We need great running backs, great tight ends, great receivers. We need a great defense (and) special teams.”
Ryans made it clear what kind of offense he wants.
“How I envision the offense looking, we want to play with precision,” he said. “We want to play with effort. We want to play with physicality. We want to own the line of scrimmage. We want to establish the run game first, but we want to be balanced. We want to be able to operate with play-action passes.
“We want to have explosive playmakers we can get the ball to. If it's not down the field, we want to be able to throw a checkdown and put it in the hands of an explosive playmaker and see him create. Everything about our offense, we want to make sure that we're adaptable to the players we have, make sure we're playing to their strengths, getting the ball in our playmakers' hands and letting them make plays.”
After he hires a staff, Ryans can join Caserio and focus on free agency in March and the draft in April. They’ve got room under the salary cap to fill needs. They’re flush with 11 draft choices, including two first-round picks.
“It’s a dream job because I’m home in H-Town,” Ryans said. “I get to work with Nick and with Cal to build this team the right way. We're excited to add even more talent to the team. The excitement is real, and I can’t wait to get coaching. We can win here, and we're going to win here by collaborating and building it the right way with the right people. We want to deliver a championship to the city of Houston.”
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He write three times a week and does two Houtopia Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com. He also can be read four times a week on GallerySports.com.