Over 200 miles north of Houston, roughly halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, there’s a sign in Big Sandy, Texas, that reads simply, “Home of Lovie Smith.” The former Chicago Bears head coach led Big Sandy High School to three straight state championships from 1973-75, playing on one of the most dominant teams in the history of high school football as a senior and eventually earning a spot in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
In nine seasons at the helm in Chicago, he amassed an 81-63 record, winning AP NFL Coach of the Year honors in 2005. However, after failing to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons despite a 10-6 record in 2012, Smith found himself out of a job.
Now, with NFL coaching vacancies starting to open up as the 2013 season winds to a close, the pride of Big Sandy figures to factor in heavily for several openings next month. Yet, none are quite as intriguing as the Houston Texans.
A son of Texas, Lovie never strayed far from his deep East Texas roots. Much to the chagrin of local media in Chicago, Lovie took his time when he talked, played it cool under all circumstances and lived exactly the kind of lifestyle you’d expect from a small town kid.
The Houston Texans are in the midst of their worst season (given the expectation vs. the outcome) in the franchise’s short history. They’ve lost 12 straight games after opening the season with two victories in a year where they were considered one of the favorites to win the AFC.
And all this is coming just one year removed from a 12-4 season where they won the AFC South for the first time ever.
They’ve been ravaged by injury at every level of the organization, sure, but it’s difficult to explain how a team built so fundamentally through the draft–with an established foundation largely centered around home-grown talent–has managed to collapse upon itself.
Regardless, despite having faced his own medical difficulties earlier in the season, on Dec. 6, head coach Gary Kubiak was fired by the Houston Texans. Now, as the Texans close out the season with a chance to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Houston has a decision to make.
That decision likely hinges on whether or not they believe 2013 was merely an apparition, or if they think the ensuing draft class gives them a chance to strip the veneer and build anew on top of that aforementioned foundation.
If the Texans are ready to try something different (and that doesn’t necessarily mean an entire rebuild, per se), Lovie Smith is the perfect man for this job.
Even beyond the nostalgic “son of Texas” narrative, Lovie Smith would give the organization a tried and true NFL head coach who could re-energize a 25th-ranked scoring defense and recommit the Texans to running the football and stretching the field with a healthy Arian Foster.
Sure, the Texans 3-4 would have to be reworked, but there’s still a lot of talent on that defense that could fit the Lovie Smith scheme.
J.J. Watt is a versatile defensive lineman who could wreak havoc on an offensive line and create mismatches by lining up in variation as either a three-technique or a defensive end. With the first pick in the draft, the Texans could even add Jadeveon Clowney on the outside to ensure that Houston gets pressure with their front four, the key component to Lovie Smith’s Cover Two system.
The roster would undoubtedly need an overhaul, but the transition isn’t as life-altering as you’d think if you’re a Houston Texans fan, primarily because of the potential dominance of Watt in a system that allows him to move about in an attempt to create one-on-one matchups.
Offensively, we saw in Chicago that Lovie Smith will make a commitment to running the football, and the return of Arian Foster in 2013 gives the franchise the opportunity to revitalize an offense that’s been utterly stagnant this season.
Obviously, the quarterback issue will have to be addressed, whether that means signing a veteran in free agency or spending that first pick on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (provided he declares himself eligible). However, the point remains that it’s hard to believe that this team fell so quickly from grace because it doesn’t have the talent to compete.
With the right coach implementing the right system and a return to health coupled with a few key offseason additions, the Houston Texans shouldn’t be that far away from becoming a winning franchise once again.
I think that coach is Lovie Smith. I think that system is the Cover Two, and while it will undoubtedly come with its challenges, I think now is as good a time for a philosophical change as any for the Houston Texans.