(SportsRadio 610) - If DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud are in the conversation for NFL Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player, shouldn’t Nick Caserio be in the discussion for Executive of the Year?
The Texans’ success – a 5-4 record going into three consecutive home games against Arizona, Jacksonville and Denver – is getting the team a lot of well-deserved recognition around the NFL.
Ryans and Stroud are at the forefront of that national attention – the kind of positive publicity the franchise hasn’t received since 2018 when the Texans won the AFC South with an 11-5 record and had such stars as defensive end J.J. Watt, receiver DeAndre Hopkins, quarterback Deshaun Watson, linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, safety Tyrann Mathieu and nose tackle D.J. Reader.
There’s no award for happiest owners, of course, but if the NFL had one, the McNair family – Janice, Hannah and Cal – might be the unanimous favorite at this point of the season. After everything they’ve experienced – the Watson controversy, the deterioration of their team and the rebuild under Caserio, there can’t be an ownership more overjoyed about what’s transpiring than the McNairs.
Now, it could all fall apart if the Texans don’t take care of business the way they have in the last two victories over Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. They proved they can lose to bad teams like Atlanta and Carolina on the road, but now they’re one game behind the Jaguars in the AFC South with an opportunity to catch and overtake them if they can sweep their division rival.
Ryans’ leadership and Stroud’s late-game heroics have captivated fans and media locally and nationally. Check any media platform and both are being mentioned as candidates for awards that are announced before the Super Bowl.
And, at this point of the season, Ryans and Stroud would be deserving. But so would Caserio, perhaps even more so because he’s orchestrated a rebuild that’s put the Texans in the playoff picture before anyone imagined it would be possible.
Let’s start with Caserio wanting to hire Ryans, his third coach in three years, and recommending him to the McNairs. After the Zoom interview with Ryans, he turned to the McNairs and said they had to get Ryans in the building and not let him leave. And that’s what happened.
The McNairs, who provide the financial resources and support whatever the general manager and coach need, wanted Ryans, but they weren’t going to force Caserio to hire him. Ryans came to Houston for his in-person interview, but Caserio and the McNair family were already sold on the Texans’ former linebacker who had become one of the league’s best defensive coordinators and hottest head-coaching prospects.
Since Ryans started work at NRG Stadium, he and Caserio have worked well together. While Ryans worked on hiring coaches and other football-related people, Caserio and his personnel department were getting ready for free agency and the draft.
Caserio says it’s a “collaborative effort” working with Ryans when it comes to personnel decisions, but the general manager has it in his contract that he has final say. Like the best general managers, Caserio doesn’t force players on Ryans if the coach doesn’t want them. And if Ryans does want a player, Caserio makes every effort to acquire him.
“It’s fun working with Nick,” Ryans said this week. “He’s a sharp guy when it comes to personnel and moves we need to make. He does a great job of managing the roster and doing all the things that need to be done behind the scenes.”
Caserio and Ryans have done an outstanding job in free agency and the draft.
Among the free agents signed this year who have made significant contributions to the Texans’ success are receiver Noah Brown, tight end Dalton Schultz, running back Devin Singletary, offensive tackle George Fant, center Michael Deiter, receiver Robert Woods, fullback Andrew Beck, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, safety Jimmie Ward, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
Caserio’s draft should overtake the 2006 draft as the best in team history. Ryans would be the best judge since he was the first pick in the second round and was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Rookies who have helped the Texans reach five victories for the first time since 2019 are Stroud, defensive end Will Anderson Jr., receiver Tank Dell, defensive end Dylan Horton, linebacker Henry To’oTo’o, center Jarrett Patterson and receiver Xavier Hutchinson.
Anderson, Horton and Hutchinson were selected with picks Caserio acquired in trades.
One of the most important jobs Caserio and his staff have to do is constantly churning the roster when players are injured, backups are elevated and replacements have to be found. Caserio and his staff are on a constant lookout for players to be signed to the practice squad, too.
“Nick does a great job of being prepared before things happen,” Ryans said. “When something happens and we have to bring in a guy, he’s ready to go. We’re not fumbling the situation because we’re already ahead because Nick does such a great job.”
So far, the Texans have been able to overcome a rash of injuries. For instance, when the Texans continued to lose safeties, with Jalen Pitre the only member of the top four at his position still healthy, Caserio signed DeAndre Houston-Carson off Baltimore’s practice squad. In the victory over the Bengals, Houston-Carson started and contributed a team-high seven unassisted tackles and intercepted Joe Burrow in the red zone.
The Texans have to make multiple personnel decisions weekly to prepare for the next game. Ryans relies on Caserio to provide the best players who fit what the team needs in the upcoming game.
“Nick’s always looking ahead,” Ryans said. “It may seem like chaos to people on the outside, but it’s calm on the inside because of Nick’s leadership and what he’s able to do on a regular basis to make sure we’re well-prepared for any situation.”
Ryans and Caserio are quick to acknowledge the people they work with, preferring to deflect credit to their staffs and to the players. That’s one reason it’s fun for everyone to go to work every day because they’re all pulling in the same direction.
“That’s the thing I try to drive home – everybody is involved,” Ryans said. “We’re going to be good if everyone has bought in and everybody is on the same page in what we’re doing and how we’re getting it done.
“It’s all about the team. That’s how I think we’ve jelled very quickly and been able to have a little success. There are no egos in our building. Everybody just wants to win, and whatever it takes for us to win, that’s what we’ll do.”
Caserio and his staff bring find the players, and the position coaches spend more time with them than Ryans, offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Special teams coordinator Frank Ross has to be prepared for decisions that can affect his game plans. Ryans was a position coach with the 49ers and knows the important role they play.
“When you have a lot of new players, position coaches are vital to getting guys ready,” Ryans said. “That’s where you get that individualized training on the fundamentals and the techniques of what we’re asking players to do.
“It’s the position coaches’ job to take the time out to find film, find good reps of how it should look and teach guys. Nobody loves when a player makes plays more than a position coach because they put so much time into making sure their players are successful.
“We have a lot of great position coaches who do a good job of teaching. That’s what it comes down to – being great teachers and our players buying in and understanding how much their position coaches care about them.”
Or, as Caserio likes to say, it’s a “collaborative effort.” And it’s one that could lead to the Texans earning multiple awards, including Caserio being named NFL Executive of the Year.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Monday, Thursday and Sunday on Texans Radio, also on SportsRadio 610. He writes five columns a week and does three Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.