The Houston Texans have finalized a deal to hire Lovie Smith as their new head coach, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Smith will be introduced Tuesday morning at a press conference at NRG Stadium.
The Texans also promoted passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton to offensive coordinator, replacing Tim Kelly. They retained special teams coordinator Frank Ross.
“I am excited to introduce Lovie Smith as our next head coach,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said in a statement. “He is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL and an established leader. A proven winner, Lovie has shown the ability to develop players both on and off the field for years. We had numerous discussions with countless coaches, executives, and players, and what revealed itself is that Lovie has both the leadership and people skills it takes to lead us forward. We both understand how much work is in front of us, but we embrace the responsibility and look forward to continuing to build a program that can have sustained success.”
The Texans had 25 takeaways last season, tying for 10th in the NFL last season with Smith as associate head coach and defensive coordinator.
The Texans finished 4-13 and fired David Culley
“The last couple of seasons have been disappointing, but I believe in the vision Nick Caserio has for our football team moving forward and I see the pieces coming together,” said Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair said. “Our goal here is to create an environment that’s conducive to winning on a day-to-day basis and compete for championships. I’ve had an extreme amount of respect for Lovie for years now and that only grew with the work he did last season and throughout this process. I’m excited for him and his family as we continue to evolve as an organization.”
On Monday, the Texans continued a productive dialogue with the former Chicago Bears head coach that culminated in a deal. Smith replaces David Culley.
The Texans opted not to hire former NFL quarterback Josh McCown after giving his candidacy significant consideration, according to sources.
“We have completed additional discussions with Lovie Smith regarding our head coaching position,” the Texans said in a statement Monday morning.
What happened during the Texans’ head coach search?
The coaching search took a curveball turn Sunday when the AFC South franchise interviewed Smith, a former Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Illinois head coach, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Smith was nearly hired in 2014 by the late Texans owner Bob McNair as the potential replacement for Gary Kubiak. Instead, they hired Bill O’Brien. Smith made a strong impression on the McNair family that continues to this today with chairman and CEO Cal McNair, per sources.
Everything went smoothly, and now, sources said, the former NFL head coach, Big Sandy native, Texas Hall of Fame member, and former Texas all-state linebacker has landed the job.
“I want to first thank Nick Caserio and the McNair family for giving me this opportunity,” Smith said. “I’m humbled to be the next head coach of the Houston Texans and incredibly excited to continue to work with Nick. I have so many friends, family, teammates and coaches to thank for supporting me and helping me continue to do what I love, which is teaching and developing players. I understand the responsibility I have to this organization and this city to develop a championship-level program. I’m ready to get to work and build it together.”
Moving on from Josh McCown as a candidate
McCown, a retired former journeyman quarterback, well-respected for his knowledge of the game and emotional intelligence, made a strong impression on the Texans and was under heavy consideration for the job before they changed course to Smith. McCown didn’t reject the job and would have accepted, if offered, per league sources.
Now, Smith becomes the Texans’ next head coach. Sources predict the Texans are expected to promote passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton to offensive coordinator as the replacement for Tim Kelly. Special teams coordinator Frank Ross is also expected to remain in place.
Nick Caserio reflects on Smith
Texans general manager Nick Caserio commented on Smith, who built a defense adept at forcing turnovers last season in his trademark Tampa 2 scheme, following a 4-13 season. Caserio was noncommittal on whether Smith would return during that press conference.
“I have a lot of respect and appreciation for what Lovie did this season,” Caserio said at the end of the season. “There’s things defensively that we can certainly do better, but with the ability to take the ball away, we played better in the red area as the year went on. We’re going to have to take that one day at a time and see where we end up on a coaching front. I think Lovie’s a good coach and I think he’s done a lot for our program and our system and our players have a lot of belief in him.”
What happened with Jonathan Gannon and Brian Flores?
The Texans moved on from Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, according to league sources. They interviewed McCown twice, and they haven’t had recent contact with former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores. Flores has filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins, New York Giants, and Denver Broncos.
Ton of experience
A Texas native, Smith, 63, was interviewed in Houston. Smith went 89-87 as a head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears. A member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Smith was previously the defensive coordinator for the Rams.
Smith has been to the Super Bowl twice, once as a defensive coordinator with the Rams in 2001 and again as the head coach of the Bears in 2006.
Illinois fired Smith as head coach on December 13, 2020, after he went 17-39 in five seasons. The team went 2-5 prior to Smith’s dismissal in 2020. They lost every game by a touchdown or more. Additionally, Smith produced a 10-33 record in Big 10 conference play after signing a six-year, $21 million contract in 2016 with the Fighting Illini.
A year ago on the same day, the Texans hired Culley as their head coach, Smith came on as their associate head coach and defensive coordinator. It was Smith’s first time returning to the NFL since 2015 when he last served as the head coach of the Buccaneers.
Smith has 20 total seasons of NFL coaching experience, including 11 as a head coach, in addition to 21 years of experience at the high school and collegiate level.
As coach of the Buccaneers, Smith helped the defense finish 10th in the NFL in total defense (340.4 yards per game) during the 2015 season.
Smith spent nine seasons as the head coach of the Bears. During Smith’s tenure, Chicago won three NFC North titles, appeared in two NFC Championship games and played in Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season. Under Smith’s guidance, the Bears led the NFL in takeaways (310) and third-down defense (34.1 percent) while ranking fourth in scoring defense (17.9 points per game). Smith was named the 2005 NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press after leading Chicago to a divisional title and an 11-5 record despite starting the season 1-3.
As a player, Smith was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference selection as a defensive back and linebacker at Tulsa.
“We have a basic philosophy on how we want to play football,” Smith said last season. “Yeah, we want to stop the run, we want to be sound and all those things. They determine the winner by how many points you score, and that’s one of our goals defensively to score as often as possible, just like on offense. And if we can’t score, it’s about taking the ball away. It’s not a good defensive game unless you’ve done more than make a tackle. Takeaways are important and if you’ve been at practice, you’ve seen guys buying into that.
“I think it’s a mindset. We as a defense, you can’t wait for the offense to turn the ball over you have to take it away. So on defense, first off, the philosophy that it’s a takeaway. You have to take the ball away on the defensive side and then you got to practice it. Simple as that. You just have to keep practicing it, like you practice tackling, like a receiver practice catching the ball, all of those things.”