Bijani: Finding best fit in Houston Texans coaching search

Shaun Bijani takes a look at which candidate is best fit to become Texans' next head coach

(SportsRadio 610) - The Houston Texans have interviewed a total of nine candidates for their head coaching vacancy.

They most recently spoke with New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka following the Giants' 38-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL divisional round. The Texans, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, are bringing Kafka in for a second interview.

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Let's take a closer look at the candidates (except Lions OC Ben Johnson, who has decided to remain in Detroit) who have already interviewed with the team and who may be the best fit to become the Texans next head coach.

Sean Payton 

Currently working as an analyst for FOX, Payton is also still under contract with the New Orleans Saints. His Saints contract, which he signed in 2019, will not expire until after the 2024 season.

Payton‘s credentials speak for themselves, as the 59 year-old is the most experienced and accomplished head coach on the market. He has taken his team to the playoffs nine times in 15 seasons, winning a Super Bowl in 2009, and won 63% of his games as head coach of the Saints.

It’s going to cost a team a pretty penny for his services. Reports suggest Payton is looking in the neighborhood of $20-$25 million per year as compensation, never mind what it would take to land him in a trade with the Saints.

Payton said on the Colin Cowherd show recently that after speaking with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, he figures it would take a mid or late first round pick. Other reports suggested it could look similarly to what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers leveraged in 2002 for John Gruden’s services, which was two first round picks as well as two second round selections.

The fit: Kind of like squeezing into some really nice dress shoes. They match the suit, but all you can think about is how much they cost and you probably won’t ever go anywhere that nice to make you feel good about paying what you did for them.

Jonathan Gannon 

The 40-year-old has been the Eagles defensive coordinator for the past two seasons and his second isn’t over yet.

Coming off an impressive showing against the New York Giants in their biggest game of the season, Gannon’s defense held quarterback Daniel Jones and the Giants to just 4.4 yards per play and sacked Jones five times in the game.

Gannon has worked for six different organizations, beginning as a defensive quality control coach in 2007. His ascension through the ranks has been impressive and the impact he’s made on the Eagles' defense since GM Howie Roseman hired head coach Nick Sirianni has been hard to match.

The Eagles were surrendering 31 points per game before Gannon was hired. Since his unit has trimmed that by 11-points, allowing teams to score just 20.2 points per game in 2022.

Gannon interviewed twice with the Texans last year and once so far this hiring cycle.

The fit: Gannon would be a solid hire, but is the second-best coordinator on the market and the staff he could put together may not be the best of the bunch either.

Shane Steichen

The Eagles offensive coordinator has done wonders with the offense led by quarterback Jalen Hurts in 2022. Finishing ninth in passing, fifth in rushing and averaging 28 points per game, the Eagles boasted the second best offense in the league.

Steichen, 37, in just his second year as a coordinator, helped make Hurts a viable MVP candidate. If not for a guy named Patrick Mahomes and missing a couple of games to injury, Hurts might’ve very well given Mahomes more of a run for his money - though the race isn’t over yet.

Steichen’s run heavy scheme fits with what the Texans have built with young players, led by Dameon Pierce thus far and could bring another up and coming young coach with him in Brian Johnson, who coaches the quarterbacks with him in Philadelphia. Steichen also has a long line of coaches he worked with while with the Chargers organization (2011-2012/2014-2020) he could bring with him, particularly on defense.

The fit: Steichen would be an exciting hire, as most young offensive-minded coordinators are, especially given the prospect of the Texans drafting a quarterback with the second overall pick in April.

Best offensive fit not named Payton and he won’t cost you draft capital.

Thomas Brown

The current tight ends coach and assistant head coach for the Los Angeles Rams, Brown is highly respected among NFL players, coaches and front office executives.

He’s the youngest candidate at 36 years old and has also not been a coordinator at the NFL yet. He did help the Rams win a Super Bowl in 2021, working as their running back coach.

Brown was the offensive coordinator for the University of Miami from 2016-2018 and is spoken highly of by Rams head coach Sean McVay.

The fit: Not one. Brown is going to get his shot someday, but the Texans aren’t in a position to gamble with an unproven coach. Too many other more proven candidates out there.

Ejiro Evero

The Broncos defensive coordinator is highly thought of in Denver. In fact, he was pegged to be the interim head coach when Nathaniel Hackett was fired after Denver fell to 4-11 with an embarrassing 51-14 loss on Christmas Day to the Los Angeles Rams.

He reportedly didn’t accept the job due to his close relationship with Hackett. He stayed on to coach the defense and helped develop a couple of All-Pros in second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain (first team) and safety Justin Simmons (second team).

It was reported Tuesday morning Evero is scheduled for a second interview with the Texans on Wednesday.

Evero, 42, is another impressive young coach who has ascended quickly through the ranks and like fellow candidate Thomas Brown, won a Super Bowl with the Rams coaching their secondary last season.

The fit: He’s not the best defensive mind on the market. He’s only been a coordinator for one season and as well respected as he is in league circles, like Brown, isn’t ready to lead a team in such disarray as the Texans at this point.

DeMeco Ryans 

The former Texans linebacker has ascended through the ranks more quickly than any aforementioned candidate and is coaching in the NFC championship game against the Eagles and two other top candidates for the job.

Beginning his coaching career as a defensive quality control coach in 2017, Ryans' defensive unit boasted the league's top defense in 2022, allowing just 16.3 points per game.

Ryans is young at just 38 years-old but easily has the most impressive resume amongst coaching candidates with defensive backgrounds. He’s a leader, always has been as it comes natural with him. He’s always been a student of the game and the imagination runs wild just thinking about the young talent he could develop that’s already on the Texans roster defensively.

A major question, as is the case with any defensive minded coach hired, who would coordinate the offense? It’s unclear who Ryans could pluck from the Shanahan tree.

The fit: Pretty close to perfect. However, with such a pivotal draft in the history of the franchise and needing to find a quarterback of the future in it, finding the offensive coordinator to develop a young QB is key.

Ryans seems like the right guy to lead this franchise out of the dark abyss they’ve been in the last three years, but has to have promise of assembling a strong staff around him.

Mike Kafka

It’s uncertain how the actual interview with the Texans went, but needless to say the Giants offensive coordinator had some extra explaining to do regarding his offense's lackluster performance in their 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Divisional game.

However, Kafka, 35, is another very young coach that has ascended quickly and has done so from an impressive coaching tree.

Kafka, who spent five years in the league as a backup quarterback before shifting to coaching, spent four years with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes as the quarterbacks coach. Kafka is also credited with helping develop Daniel Jones in New York and helping tailor the offense to the fourth-year pro’s duel-threat abilities.

The fit: Kafka is another one of those intriguing, young candidates that has risen quickly through the ranks but isn’t the right guy for this job. Like Evero and Brown, Kafka has learned from some terrific coaches and has some pelts on the wall.  However, while all three could very well get a shot to lead a team down the road, they all need more seasoning and opportunity to put their stamp on the game elsewhere.

Final thoughts

There’s a difference between hiring the best coordinator available and hiring the best head coach.

While neither of these candidates have been a head coach anywhere at anytime aside from Sean Payton, every one of them could turn out to be great.

Or not so much, one day.

DeMeco Ryans is the total package. It’s going to come down to whether he and the Texans believe it is best fit.

Do you trust DeMeco Ryans, a defensive minded coach to bring in a potentially unproven offensive coordinator to develop a highly touted rookie quarterback? Should the Texans?

The Texans can’t interview Gannon, Steichen or Ryans again until Jan. 30, per league rules. They’ll have until Feb. 5 to conclude any second in-person or virtual interview they wish to conduct.

Shaun Bijani has spent the last 16 years covering the Houston sports scene for SportsRadio 610. Follow him on Twitter @ShaunBijani.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports