(SportsRadio 610) - As the Texans prepare to interview DeMeco Ryans on Friday afternoon, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson should hope the decision he made this week turns out like the one the 49ers defensive coordinator made last year.
Johnson told the Texans, Panthers and other interested teams he had “unfinished business” at Detroit, where the Lions compiled a 9-8 record but missed the playoffs.
Oddsmakers had made him the favorite at Carolina. Detroit’s players, coaches and fans celebrated Johnson’s decision because he’s so highly thought of. He’s been a coordinator one season, and they’re excited he thinks he needs another year of experience.
Ryans made the same decision last year when he declined a second interview with the Vikings. He told Minnesota he needed another year as a coordinator to prepare to become a better head coach. That decision worked out well for Ryans, whose defense is No. 1 in the NFL and preparing to play the Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game on Sunday. Now Ryans is ready to make the leap and has multiple teams interested.
What Johnson doesn’t want to happen to him is what’s happened to recently fired Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. When Tom Brady arrived at Tampa Bay to play for coach Bruce Arians, Leftwich was his coordinator. Leftwich was considered as a strong head coaching candidate because of the Bucs’ success.
Because the Bucs were a big disappointment and the offense regressed – despite winning the NFC South with an 8-9 record – Leftwich is no longer in demand. It’s ridiculous that Leftwich isn’t considered as a head coaching candidate because he didn’t lose his expertise between the end of the 2021 season and the end of this season. Unfortunately for assistant coaches, that’s the way of the NFL world.
Even though Minnesota finished 13-4 and won the NFC North in Kevin O’Connell’s first season as coach, the Lions might be favored to win the division next season after their remarkable improvement under second-year coach Dan Campbell. With Johnson in his first season as their coordinator, quarterback Jared Goff was tremendous, and the Lions finished fifth in scoring. Hopefully, for Johnson’s sake, the Lions continue to improve next season, and his offense is terrific again, setting him up to do what Ryans is expected to do.
Ryans, who’ll do a Zoom interview with, among others, chairman and CEO Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio, knows the McNair family well after his six-year career as a linebacker with the Texans (2006-2011). He was one of the best and most popular players in team history.
The McNairs don’t hold it against Ryans that he filed a lawsuit against the Texans and other companies in 2016, two years after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon playing for the Eagles at NRG Stadium. His lawsuit blamed the grass plates on the surface of the field. He returned for one more season with Philadelphia but wasn’t the same player.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was an assistant with the Texans under Gary Kubiak during Ryans’ first four seasons in Houston. In 2017, Shanahan hired Ryans as an assistant with San Francisco. He worked his way up until last year when he replaced another former Texans’ assistant coach, Robert Saleh, as the coordinator. Saleh left the 49ers to become the Jets’ head coach.
With Johnson out of the picture, Ryans is one of seven candidates to replace Lovie Smith. Sean Payton was one of the candidates to interview this week. After coaching New Orleans to a 161-97 record in 15 seasons, including 9-8 in the playoffs and a victory in Super Bowl XLIV, Payton seems ready to return to the NFL. He’s also a candidate at Denver and Carolina and possibly Arizona.
Payton told “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” this week that compensation has been worked out with Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis, who wants a “mid-to-late first-round pick.”
One reason Payton and the other assistants are interested in the Texans’ job is because Caserio has a cache of picks in the next two drafts as well as room under the salary cap to sign a couple of big-name free agents. This year, the Texans have 11 draft choices, including two in the first round. Next year, they have 10 selections, including two more in the first round.
An NFL source who worked with Payton for years at New Orleans said he won’t demand control of personnel in his contract but that he does want $20 million a year. What Payton also wants is a general manager he can work well with like the situation in New Orleans, where he and Loomis were a successful combination for years.
If the Texans don’t end up with Payton or Ryans, they’ve interviewed some impressive candidates and hope to add another one in Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Rams assistant head coach/tight ends coach Thomas Brown have already interviewed. Several should get second in-person interviews.
Unless Caserio finds other coaches he wants to interview, fans know that one of the candidates on the Texans’ list will become their next head coach. The process could take another couple of weeks. For the first time since Gary Kubiak was hired in 2006, the Texans have compiled a list of impressive candidates the fan base is excited about. The key is will they get the coach they want, or will another team beat them to the finish line for someone they covet?
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 three Houtopia Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com. He also can be read four times a week on GallerySports.com.