The new quarterback was about to meet the quarterback of the Texans’ defense.
Acquired in a trade from the Atlanta Falcons and installed as the replacement for David Carr, Matt Schaub was eager to indoctrinate himself into the offense and get to know his new teammates.
One of the first teammates who made a lasting impression on the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback was Pro Bowl middle linebacker and team captain DeMeco Ryans, the future Texans head coach.
“Coming in as the new quarterback, a priority of mine was to get to know my new teammates,” Schaub said in a telephone interview from his home in Atlanta. “Knowing DeMeco had already established himself as the leader on defense, I could tell he was wise beyond his years. He saw the game like a seven-year or eight-year vet and he had just finished his rookie season.
“It was telling how he worked at the game, not just as a middle linebacker. He wanted to know everything he could about football, both sides of the football. He was always asking, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing with that formation?’ He was so immersed in the chess game. It was so impressive to watch and communicate with him. We had such a great relationship.”
Fast forward to now and Ryans, 38, is the sixth head coach in franchise history with the AFC South franchise optimistic that he’ll provide strong leadership and stabilize a team that has gone 11-38-1 over the past three seasons. Signed to a six-year contract, Ryans figures to have a long runway to build the team in his vision.
“I think hiring DeMeco was one of the better decisions that has been made around there,” Schaub said.
It all comes back to Ryans’ credibility and roots in Houston as an accomplished former player, his personality as an authentic, relatable leader not far removed from playing the game at an elite level as a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and his handiwork as the architect of the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense and NFL Assistant Coach of the year.
Schaub emphasized the intellectual, ultra-detailed nature of Ryans’ approach to football,
“He’s one of the few in this newer generation of coaches who has most recently played at a high level,” Schaub said. “He doesn’t have to coach. He wants to coach. He dove right into it and got into the mix. He wanted to ascend. He wanted to learn. His passion that he played with, it shows in his coaching ability and coaching style. That jumps out to you with that passion. He had that same smile you saw in his introductory press conference in the fourth quarter against the Colts. He was enjoying it all and loving the game.
“That credibility and authenticity, hes’ going to be that way all the time. That’s who he is. He’s sat in those seats in that exact same room, that linebacker room. He’s walked in their footsteps. That carries a lot of weight. He coached at a high level in San Francisco. He has that track record as a coach. You can’t help but respect that and bust your tail for a coach like that. He’s seen it. He knows what it should look like. You’re going to buy into that and he’s going to bring out the best in you.”
Days before Ryans was hired by Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair by popular acclaim, excitement was spreading among his former teammates. Schaub and several former Texans players, including tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham and punter Shane Lechler, attended a retirement dinner for defensive end J.J. Watt at B&B Butchers in Houston.
Ryans kept coming up in conversation as they reminisced.
“We were all catching up on old times,” said Schaub, a candidate for NFL Players Association executive director. “We’ve all gone in different directions in our careers and retirements. We knew DeMeco coming back as the coach was floating around. It was awesome to see it come to fruition. When you have a guy who you can connect with who’s lived the same experience, that’s so valuable.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for him as a leader and how much passion he brought to the every-day grind. To see him in every kind of setting and scene from training camp to games, you know what he’ll bring to the Texans. It doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of building to be done, but DeMeco will piece it together. I have so much confidence and belief in him as a person.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for Sports Talk 790.