Patience and the NFL go together about as well as oil and water.
In a league where contracts can be terminated at the drop of a dime, players are only as good as their last touchdown or sack, and coaches and GMs are only as valuable as their last playoff berth or winning season, the idea of an NFL owner practicing patience and it actually paying off is nearly unheard of.
And that is exactly what makes the story of Texans owner Bob McNair, by all accounts one of the more patient, loyal and affable figures in the sport, rewarding head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith with well-deserved contract extensions on Thursday so neat.
Heading into 2011, Kubiak possessed a 37-43 record, and sat atop quite possibly the hottest coaching seat in the league. After registering the first winning season in franchise history in '09, Kubiak’s clan regressed badly in ’10, finishing 6-10 and seemingly finding new ways each week to blow late leads – the Texans lost several games in the fourth quarter or overtime. But McNair saw something in Kubiak. He saw how well the head coach held the locker room together through difficult times. He saw the respect Kubiak earned from his players. He knew Kubiak was one of the better personnel evaluators among NFL coaches. He loved how, under Kubiak, an offensive guru, his team could put points on the scoreboard quickly and consistently. But scoring points wasn’t the issue; it was the world of problems the “D” encountered trying to prevent its opponents from doing the same.
McNair heard the calls for Kubiak's head everywhere he went. But the owner steadfastly stayed the course with Kubiak, instead firing defensive coordinator Frank Bush and replacing him with Wade Phillips, the man with the magic touch when it came time to quickly revitalize a defense.
The plan worked.
Phillips, who deserves a massive tip of the cap from both Kubiak and Smith for their newfound job security, transformed the “D.” The Texans went from being a club that was regularly bullied to one that did the bullying itself. They gained a new identity, a greater resolve, an ability to persevere through countless injuries and obstacles en route to the most successful season in franchise history and first taste of postseason success.
Sure, there will still be plenty of Kubiak critics who want to give Phillips all the credit. You’re not reading one of them, though. I think what Phillips accomplished in Year One with that “D” was nothing short of miraculous, but what Kubiak did keeping the team together despite losing three of its most important players was equally impressive. There were never excuses. There was never a lack of accountability. Kubiak’s troops simply kept fighting. A lot like their head coach, who overcame several middling years and unfulfilled expectations to get over the hump. He didn’t let the naysayers – and there were no shortage of them – get the best of him. The perseverance he showed rubbed off on his team and it resulted in a division title, a contract extension and even greater expectations.
And don’t be mistaken – it couldn’t have happened without Smith, either.
With big assists from Kubiak and Phillips, Smith batted 1000 last offseason, using the draft to land a relentless defensive end (J.J. Watt) who couldn’t be stopped near the end of the season; a terrorizing pass rusher (Brooks Reed) who made one of the most talented defenders in the league expendable; and a fifth-round QB (T.J. Yates) who was nearly unflappable in guiding his team into the postseason under the most difficult of circumstances. Smith also swung for the fences in free agency, acquiring CB Johnathan Joseph, perhaps the team’s most indispensable defensive player, and S Danieal Manning, whose leadership helped one of the worst defensive backfields in NFL history in 2010 become a major strength last season.
In five drafts with the Texans, here are just a few of the players Smith has nabbed (in addition to the players already mentioned): OLT Duane Brown (second-team All Pro), MLB Brian Cushing (Pro Bowl), OLB Connor Barwin (11½ sacks last season), RB Ben Tate (942 rushing yards in a limited role). He also signed former undrafted free agent RB Arian Foster, only the fifth back in NFL history to have at least 1,000 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving in consecutive seasons, and orchestrated the trade that brought Matt Schaub to Houston.
This offseason, Smith has shown that he will make the tough decisions, parting ways with two locker-room favorites, DeMeco Ryans and Eric Winston, and letting two more starters, Mario Williams and Mike Brisiel, walk in free agency. But he made the calls, in part, so there will be money to lock up Brown, Barwin and potentially Schaub, all of whom have expiring contracts after the season.
It’s one of the many reasons the Texans’ arrow is pointing straight up. It’s a result of Smith and Kubiak building the team the right way: strong drafting, supplemented by key free-agent acquisitions and trades, and identifying the core of the team and making sure they are locked up long term. Smith and Kubiak have gotten consistently better over the past seven years, which couldn’t have been possible without McNair’s loyalty and patience. It’s finally a good time to be a Texans fan, thanks to these three men.