Texans Get Their Man as DeMeco Ryans Returns to Houston

Former linebacker hired as head coach to turn the flagging franchise around.

By Edward "Figgy Fig" Gilliard February 2, 2023

Then San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.

After head coach Lovie Smith was let go by the Houston Texans at the end of another subpar year, they didn’t have to look too far for his replacement. On Tuesday, the team announced that they’d hired DeMeco Ryans as the new head coach.

Ryans, a former All-Pro Texans linebacker, who was drafted by the team in 2006, had been the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers up until they were eliminated from this year’s playoffs by the Eagles. He becomes only the fourth Black head coach in the NFL.

While his trajectory to head coach has been predicted by many, his ascent to the top job came remarkably quickly by league standards. Ryans only retired from playing in 2016. He then joined the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff in 2017 as the defensive quality control coach, and worked his way up to defensive coordinator following the departure of former defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh. His gifts as a coach were evident immediately. Ryans was named the 2022 Pro Football Writers of America Assistant Coach of the Year and his unit finished as the top defense in the NFL by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). 

The Denver Broncos also made a strong push for Ryans but he chose Houston and he released the following statement:

“I’d like to first thank the San Francisco 49ers, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch for six incredible seasons where I grew as a coach and a man. I couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished together, and I will always cherish the relationships I built there. Being the head coach of the Houston Texans is my dream job and my family is thrilled to be back in H-Town. I have been around the game of football my entire life and I’ve always had a natural ability to lead others. I know what it takes to win and be successful in this league as both a player and coach. We’re going to build a program filled with players who have a special work ethic and relentless mindset. I understand the responsibility I have to this organization and to the fans of Houston to build a winner and I can’t wait to get to work.”

The Texans, who have had four different coaches in four years, have struggled to find traction, as their play on the field has consistently placed them at the bottom of the standings. But if you’re a Texans faithful, there’s reason to believe Ryans is the right guy for the job. 

Everywhere he’s gone, he’s risen to a position of leadership and prominence within that organization, usually much faster than anyone would’ve expected. He’s 38 years old so he will bring a young and fresh mindset to coach the young talent on this team. His defensive philosophy meshes well with the strengths and characteristics of the key young Texans players like Jalen Pitre, Derek Stingley, Christian Harris and others. 

Ryans, who also worked well within the vaunted Shanahan coaching system, is expected to bring the West Coast Offense with him to the Texans’ system, often regarded as the most utilized, replicable style of play in the league. As evidence, all four teams left in this year’s playoffs used the system to some degree or another. 

But perhaps the best reason to get excited about the hire of Ryans is that he not only brings a winning attitude and track record with him, he also played on one of the best Texans teams in franchise history, as they regularly made the playoffs during his time there. More than that, Ryans was a favorite of both fans and peers, even earning the nickname “Cap” from his teammates during his rookie season. 

Even with the Ryans hire, it might be too much to expect an immediate return to glory for the Texans. There is a ton of work to do and star players like J.J. Watt—who retired at the end of the 2022 season—to replace. Still, Ryans is an inspired and promising choice for a team that has gone through its share of ineffectiveness on the field and controversy off it over the past three years. From star quarterback Deshaun Watson’s sexual harassment allegations, to the firing of three head coaches in three years, to years of poor play. 

This hire not only rejuvenates the city fanbase, but it goes a long way in getting former players like Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and others, excited about the direction of the team again. A few weeks ago, when the Texans mentioned they were interested in Ryans as head coach, former Texans running back Arian Foster said on his podcast how he would be a good fit in Houston and even joked about coming back to be a running backs coach if Ryans was hired. 

The Texans still have a lot of work to do, but the arrow is pointing up for this franchise for the first time in years, and there are a handful of reasons for fans to feel positive. The NFL Draft is coming up in April and the Texans have the second pick. The McNair ownership group has stated that they are listening to the city and are working hard to get winning football back in Houston. And now they have a head coach in DeMeco Ryans, that everyone agrees can bring that winning football back to Houston.

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