Hours after conducting their latest interviews in the Texans’ active search for a new head coach, Cal McNair and Hannah McNair attended the annual Houston Sports Awards on Wednesday night and expressed confidence in the ultra-detailed, organized process they’re following.
The Texans have interviewed eight candidates for the job, including second interviews with New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka in Houston on Wednesday and Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero virtually after he previously traveled to Houston for an in-person meeting.
Under NFL rules, the Texans have to wait until after the NFC championship game to have second interviews with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, a former Texans Pro Bowl linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year who’s in heavy demand as the architect of the NFL’s top-ranked defense, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who has already interviewed three times for the AFC South franchise over these last two hiring cycles.
“Very happy,” Cal McNair, the Texans’ chairman and CEO, told KPRC 2. “There’s a lot of rules and things we need to follow, and we totally embrace those. It’s been a lot of fun, having interviews with the strong candidate list that we’ve had. We get to to ask them questions. They get to ask us questions. It’s been enlightening and fun and we’re looking forward to picking the right candidate for Houston.”
Ryans’ interview with the Texans went “extremely well,” and he has a strong interest in the job, according to league sources, but he has another attractive option he’s contemplating after emerging as a leading candidate for the Broncos’ head coaching vacancy, per league sources. Both franchises are expected to keep exploring Ryans as a top candidate after the NFC championship game.
Gannon has also made a strong impression with his knowledge of the game, scouting background and leadership capabilities, per league sources, on the Texans’ search committee, which includes general manager Nick Caserio and the McNair family and there is “definite mutual interest,” between the team and the former Louisville safety.
How the next week unfolds is expected to ultimately determine who becomes the Texans’ next head coach as they get closer to making a decision.
After firing coach Lovie Smith following a 3-13-1 season and David Culley the previous year after going 4-12 and former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien following an 0-4 start in 2020, the Texans are looking for stability at a pivotal leadership position. It’s about finding someone they can grow with rather than settling for another quick-fix solution.
“That’s exactly right,” Cal McNair said. “Picking the right coach for the long term is what we’re after, not necessarily a timeline. There are a lot of rules we follow with the NFL. There are some guys still playing that we can’t be talking to right now and we’ll talk to them at the appropriate time and all of that will come together and we’ll come out with a great selection.”
The Texans interviewed Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson first. He withdrew his name from consideration for all head coaching searches, including the Carolina Panthers and remains in Detroit on an upgraded contract. They also interviewed Gannon, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who is not expected to be a finalist for the Texans’ job, Evero, Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach and tight ends coach Thomas Brown and Kafka.
Kafka, 35, is another intriguing option who impressed the Texans in both of his interviews, according to sources. The former NFL backup and Northwestern quarterback comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree from his time as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs and galvanized the Giants’ offense and quarterback Daniel Jones this season.
Hannah McNair, the Texans foundation vice president, is participating in the interview process and working in tandem with her husband and the organization to identify the sixth head coach in franchise history.
“It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly,” Hannah McNair said. “It’s really incredible to be trusted with that. There aren’t many people that get to sit in on these interviews. So, for him (Cal McNair) to bring me in on that, I feel really excited and honored.”
It’s a high-profile decision that has dominated conversations around the city since the Texans dismissed Smith.
“Yeah, that’s right it is,” Cal McNair said of the intensity associated with a head coaching search. “But it is fun and it’s a privilege. It’s something we’re looking forward to for Houston.”
The Texans have gone a combined 11-38-1 over the past three seasons, which was preceded by an epic playoff collapse to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round at Arrowhead Stadium. Engineering a turnaround is the Texans’ goal, and there’s hope internally they can improve this offseason through draft capital that includes the second overall and 12th overall picks of the first round and roughly $47 million in salary-cap space.
“That’s what it’s all about, it’s winning,” Hannah McNair said. “We’re both Houstonians. We want to make Houston proud and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.