DeMeco Ryans delivered punishing tackles and timely defensive audibles on the fly during a highly decorated NFL career spent primarily with the Texans.
Now, the hard-hitting former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and retired Pro Bowl linebacker plies his trade plotting defensive strategies for the San Francisco 49ers' top-ranked defense.
Ryans, 38, would be a popular choice, should the Texans, interviewing him virtually Friday via a Zoom call that includes chairman and CEO Cal McNair, general manager Nick Caserio and other team officials, hire him as their new head coach.
Ryans has options,including meeting in-person with the Denver Broncos in addition to interviews with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
As the 49ers' defensive boss, Ryans has made a meteoric rise to emerge as a top head coaching candidate. One year after withdrawing his name from the Minnesota Vikings' coaching search before they hired Kevin O'Connell, Ryans is in the thick of the hiring cycle.
Why has Ryans moved up so fast? The former Texans team captain checks a lot of boxes.
"He's a great teacher," a 49ers defensive player told KPRC 2. "He's a great coach, great person. He's different than your typical coach. He played the game at a very high level and he's able to relate that to his players. Yes, he's special. He's a great leader."
Ryans has compartmentalized his time this week between preparations for an NFC divisional round playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys after trouncing the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round.
The former Texans second-round draft pick and Alabama standout is ultra-focused,
"With everything you do as a coach, you’re trying to crunch a lot of things in and dissect a lot of info in a certain amount of time," Ryans said. "Time management is crucial to have.I know how to make the main thing the main thing, and this week’s main thing is the Cowboys.”
Ryans agreed to interview with the Texans after contemplating whether to grant the request. In 2014, he filed a lawsuit against the Texans and the stadium authority for over $10 million after he tore his Achilles tendon at NRG Stadium. That shortened Ryans' career, which ended with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He's the seventh candidate to interview with the Texans following interview with Detroit Lions coach Ben Johnson, who withdrew his name from head coaching searchs and remained with his crrent team on a lucrative raise, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach and tight ends coach Thomas Brown and Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka interviews Sunday virtually.
Promoted from quality control coach to inside linebackers to his current post running the defense, Ryans has built a defense that reflects his playing style: aggressive, composed and quick-striking.
"He's gonna be an unbelievable head coach," All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa said. "I think he’s just really figured out how to perfectly push us, but not push us too hard, not give us too much credit. It seems simple, but it’s really not. Just the way he is as a coach and a leader, he's the best coach I've been around."
Ryans, who finished his decade in the NFL with 970 career tackles, 13 1/2 sacks and seven interceptions in 140 career games, has him poised to potentially run his own team. A year after Mike McDaniel was hired by the Miami Dolphins as head coach off Kyle Shanahan's staff, Ryans could be next.
The 49ers have allowed just 18.9 points per game and 305.3 yards per game over the past two seasons.
“DeMeco is so naturally talented and he’s good at everything he’s ever done and he really understands football,” Shanahan said. “He did as a player, he did as a quality control in his first year. He did as a linebacker coach, and he has as a coordinator, and he was good right away. But, anytime you have someone who does have those types of abilities, the more reps they get, like everybody, they get better.
“You go through experiences and you learn from the good and the bad and that’s what’s pretty neat about DeMeco because he was going to be good regardless, but just watching him throughout last year, each game, each quarter, he learned something. And he’s always trying to think and always trying to challenge his players, but always trying to keep it simple, too.”
A former Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year and two-time Pro Bowl selection, Ryans oversees an aggressive defense headlined by Bosa and All-Pro middle linebacker Fred Warner. Ryans has gotten a lot out of former Texans defensive end Charles Omenihu, who had two sacks and a forced fumble in a wild-card playoff game win over the Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s the best,” Warner said. “And I don’t just say that just because, obviously, he’s my coach. I know what greatness looks like and he shows that every day, not only just as a coach, but as a person.
"His leadership ability, the teachability that he possesses, and his continuing to want to get better as a coach is shown every day. He wants this group to get better and pushes us and makes sure that he prepares every single day to make sure he gives us his best self.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.