The Texans' coaching search took a curveball turn Sunday when the AFC South franchise interviewed veteran defensive coordinator and associate head coach Lovie Smith, a former Chicago 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.
The Texans will meet with Smith on Monday. If all goes smoothly, the former NFL head coach, Big Sandy native, Texas Hall of Fame member and former Texas all-state linebacker has an excellent chance to ultimately land the job, per sources.
The Texans aren't hiring former NFL quarterback Josh McCown, according to a league source. 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 is a strong candidate to become the Texans' next head coach.
Should Smith get the job, 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.
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."
The Texans moved on from Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, according to league sources. They interviewed McCown twice, and 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.
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. Chicago lost that game
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 David Culley as their head coach, Smith was brought 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.
“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 on 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.”
Aaron Wilson writes for Pro Football Network. He is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.