- The Houston Texans have fired head coach David Culley after one season.
- The Texans went 4-13 during the 2021 NFL Regular Season after a 4-12 finish last year.’
- The Texans also fired offensive coordinator Tim Kelly.
There are times when you don’t really feel sorry for a fired NFL coach. Urban Meyer, for example, was lucky to last as long as he did. He does look to have left Jacksonville without any type of self awareness about his responsibility in the situation. Earlier this week, the Miami Dolphins fired head coach Brian Flores. He’s been a darling of the media for years and they’re apoplectic that the team deigned to let him go. He definitely made the team more competitive during his tenure–particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Still, he left with a record of 24-25, no playoff appearances. and a downright pathetic offense. His allegedly poor organizational and ‘people skills’ along with his inability to work with offensive coordinators is definitely justification for the move.
The Houston Texans have fired longtime assistant David Culley after one season and it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. At the same time, Culley went 4-13 in his one season providing no improvement over last year’s record. This fact is apparently lost on the sports media types where are shaking their head and implying that Culley’s firing was a product of institutional racism and not the byproduct of a season that included an eight game losing streak and a run of 11 losses in 12 games. There’s now a popular take among some members of the sports media that Brian Flores should replace Culley, completely ignoring the legitimate issues that brought his Miami tenure to an end.
Culley strikes me as a real good guy and he’s got a ridiculous amount of coaching experience dating back to 1978 when he served as the running backs coach at Austin Peay. The fact that Culley has worked consistently since then at both the NFL and college level suggests that he’s an excellent coach that really knows football. His NFL coaching career began in 1994 as the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his firing by Houston ends a run of 28 years as a pro coach. Culley became the oldest first time head coach in NFL history when Houston hired him at age 65. He’s got three years guaranteed left on his deal so he’s in a position to not do anything for awhile if he so chooses but should he want to return to coaching immediately you have to think he’d do so easily.
The sports media members that are trying to make this about race are absolutely correct about one thing–Culley never had a chance. This had more to do with the horrific state of the franchise and little to do with his own abilities as a coach. It’s tough to extrapolate this and generalize that African-American coaches are never afforded the chance to ‘grow on the job’. The reality is that there are few jobs more brutal than being a professional sports coach and the demand for immediate results–or at the very least, some tangible signs of improvement–are definitely greater in the NFL than any other league.
There are a fortunate few coaches that are given the time to turn around a struggling franchise. It’s difficult to argue that Brian Flores was held to an impossibly high standard in Miami. He was fired after three years with no playoff appearances and a record of 24-25. His predecessor, Adam Gase also lasted three seasons with a record of 23-25 but one playoff appearance. Todd Bowles went 10-6 in his first season as head coach of the New York Jets. He never came close to reprising that record yet was given three more years in which he posted records of 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12. Adam Gase replaced him and lasted only two seasons. There’s no doubt that minority coaches have been denied head coaching opportunities over the history of the NFL. At the same time, there’s little to suggest that minority coaches held to a different standard than any other NFL head coach. It’s a job that comes with ridiculous expectations and no margin for error.
Culley definitely didn’t get dealt a good hand in Houston but he did get to finish out the season. That’s more than former head coach Bill O’Brien can say–he was fired in 2020 after an 0-4 start and despite going 10-6 in 2019 and 11-5 in 2018 and winning four AFC South championships in the six previous seasons. Culley had a real dumpster fire on his hands from the time he took over as head coach dealing with the Deshaun Watson fiasco and the loss of quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the second game of the season. Rookie Davis Mills took over and went 0-6 while Taylor was on IR. When Taylor came back, he was ineffective. Houston finished dead last in the NFL in total offense, 28th in passing offense, dead last in rushing offense and 30th in scoring offense ahead of only the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The statistical profile was just as ugly on the other side of the ball–and particularly after veteran JJ Watt demanded a trade. Houston had the second worst total defense in the NFL ahead of the New York Jets along with the #23 passing defense, the #31 rushing defense and the #27 scoring defense. The allowed -172 points than they scored which is the third worst in the NFL and the worst differential in franchise history. There was some improvement on special teams and the Texans did have a +3 turnover differential though that has as much to do with variance as anything. Overall, not many signs of improvement or any indication that they’re headed in the right direction. Then again, with the awful personnel situation and the external distractions from the Watson situation there’s not many head coaches that could have done anything with this team.
General Manager Nick Caserio explained the decision to fire Culley as being due to “philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program moving forward.” At a press conference the day after Culley’s firing, the GM declined to go into specifics but said the philosophical differences had to do with “next steps or how we move forward, not necessarily rearview mirror about what has happened.” He took full responsibility for making the call:
“In the end, this is my decision. This was something that I felt we needed to do that was in the best interest of the organization.”
At the same time, he credited Culley for guiding the team through the mess and putting them in a better situation:
“I would say when you rewind here and go back to a year ago … I’d say the organization was in a pretty rough spot, and I think from where we were then to where we are now, we’re in a lot better position. And quite frankly, I think that’s because of the leadership and the guidance and the direction that David Culley brought in this football team.”
The Houston Texans are a business valued at $3 billion USD and have struggled to win consistently since joining the league as an expansion team in 2002. They had their first winning season in 2009 (9-7) but have been extremely erratic ever since with 7 winning seasons and 5 losing seasons. This has not been the inevitable ‘ebb and flow’ of success and failure in pro sports. The Texans went 12-4 in 2012 before slumping to 2-14 in 2013. They went 9-7 in 2016 then 4-12 in 2017. They went 10-6 in 2019, 4-12 in 2020. This isn’t a franchise that has a winning ‘blueprint’ in place and they certainly need to get one. This isn’t Culley’s fault, to be sure. Maybe given time he would have produced a turnaround but that’s pure speculation. If GM Caserio felt like Culley wasn’t a long term solution as head coach it doesn’t benefit anyone to ‘string him along’ for another year.