The Texans have made a coaching change for the second time in as many years. The team fired David Culley on Thursday, less than a year after hiring him to replace Bill O’Brien.
Culley, 66, led the Texans to a 4-13 record in his lone season. He becomes the first one-and-done coach for Houston during its brief franchise history. Before that, the shortest stint by a Houston head coach was Dom Capers’ four-year stint from 2002, when the team entered the league as an expansion franchise, to 2005.
“I’m disappointed, but it’s part of the business,” Culley said via SportsTalk 790 in Houston. “I understand and I move on. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
“You’re judged every year,” Culley continued. “Basically, you’re judged on wins and losses, and if you judge it on wins and losses I’m not happy with four wins at all. I expected to get more than four wins and felt like we should have got more than four wins. This is a bottom-line business, and I wasn’t happy with the number of wins we got.”
It’s hard to argue that Culley had a good season, but his staff certainly showed some promise while working with minimal talent. Third-round pick Davis Mills was, surprisingly, one of the best rookie quarterbacks in the league, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games (11 starts), and Houston did play well twice against the No. 1 team in the AFC, the Titans.
Still, the Texans have decided to go in another direction and will conduct their second coaching search of the yearlong Nick Caserio era.
Here’s why the Texans decided to bring in another head coach to replace Culley after just one season.
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Why did the Texans fire David Culley?
The Texans weren’t expected to be very good in 2021. They had one of the weakest rosters in the NFL and were dealing with the Deshaun Watson saga off the field.
As such, Culley’s 4-13 record wasn’t a surprise; it was actually probably on par with or slightly better than expectations. So was the play of Davis Mills, who flashed plenty of upside while starting most of the season for the Texans.
That said, there were issues with Houston’s overall performance. The team had a bottom-five offense and scored single-digit points in seven of its 17 games, but Culley reportedly didn’t want to make changes to his offensive staff after the season. Houston also had a bottom-five defense and allowed at least 30 points eight times. Culley also made some in-game mistakes, including declining a penalty in Week 2 that would have given the Texans a first down after a punt.
“While a change after one season is unusual, we had philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program moving forward,” Caserio said in a statement. “We appreciate Coach Culley for helping us navigate through a difficult season, but it is my responsibility to make decisions that I feel are best for our organization.”
Again, the Texans had a weak roster, and Culley had never been a full-time coordinator — let alone a head coach — at the NFL level. So, this type of performance was somewhat expected. Still, even after a thorough evaluation, the Texans front office recommended to owner Cal McNair that the team fire Culley, as John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports.
According to sources familiar with the situation, after the Texans spent four days evaluating the personnel side of the organization, general manager Nick Caserio and senior executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby recommended Culley be fired. Chairman and CEO Cal McNair signed off on it.
It seems like Houston never had much faith in Culley to begin with. The Texans built just two years of guaranteed money into his deal, so they had the flexibility to easily part with him after one year. A league source expected that would always be the case, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
When the Texans hired David Culley, they only guaranteed him two years of money; they knew there always was the real chance he would be one and done. As one league source texted about his one-year tenure, “I knew it when he was hired.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 13, 2022
So, why did the team hire Culley in the first place? Perhaps the candidate they were looking for wasn’t available but they felt he might shake loose in 2022. Either way, it seems that Culley was just a stopgap, as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport explained.
“Everyone knew it would be a down season, Rapoport said. “[The Texans] just really wanted to see was this going to be the coach to take them into the future, or would he simply be a Band-Aid — come in, coach the team as they get ready to move to the next level. Clearly, the answer here for David Culley and the Houston Texans is it was just a Band-Aid; a bridge.”
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Who will replace David Culley in Houston?
There is a strong Patriots connection with the Texans’ current front office. Caserio made his name in New England and Easterby got his start there as well. As such, it makes sense that they will look at plenty of former New England staffers, the most prominent of which could be:
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDanielsPatriots co-defensive coordinator Jerod MayoFormer Dolphins coach Brian Flores
Bill O’Brien would technically fit in that category as well, but he coached the Texans from 2014 through the beginning of the 2020 season. Things didn’t end well with O’Brien, so Cal McNair won’t consider bringing him back.
The other option for the Texans could be attempting to extend an olive branch to Watson. He reportedly wanted the team to interview Eric Bieniemy last hiring cycle and it didn’t, so maybe the Texans go after him this time in an effort to convince Watson to stay. That path seems unlikely, but Bieniemy would be a good hire anyway.
Flores would be as well. Watson reportedly wanted to play for him in Miami, so maybe he’d reconsider his trade demand if Caserio can bring Flores aboard. Again, it seems unlikely, but it’s at least worth considering.
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