Texans general manager Rick Smith was a guest on SportsRadio 610 AM on Thursday morning with hosts Marc Vandermeer and John Lopez.
In the first segment of a lengthy two-part interview, Smith discussed the challenges of free agency this year, changes to the Texans’ coaching staff and his thoughts on 2009 first-round draft pick
How much did your mind begin to wander (during the Super Bowl) because a couple of years ago, the Packers were 6-10?
“You know, sitting in that stadium on that day and watching those two teams compete at that level, you have to think about your football team. And we’ve got some work to do. I think the biggest disappointment for me thinking about last season was the fact that we worked so hard for a few years to put ourselves in a position where we really felt we had a chance to be successful, and we didn’t get it done. And so when that happens, you’ve got to look back, and that’s what we’re doing right now, looking back and trying to analyze and figure out what is it that we need to do. We’ve made some moves and taken some steps already to right the ship and make sure that we do give ourselves a chance to be in that game next year.”
How difficult is it going to be with free agency and the CBA issues, because you really don’t know when you can get started going after people?
“Well, that’s right. But what you do is very similar to what you tell players all the time, is you control the controllables. And so we can’t control that. We’ve got a lot of people working hard on the CBA and the negotiation process. What we do individually here at the club level is to just make sure that we are ready when it starts. We’re hopeful that we will get an agreement done by March 3 and there is no problem with us handling business as usual. So internally, we’re preparing just like free agency will start when it typically does, and so we’ve got our coaches in. In fact, we introduced the free agent class to the coaches this week. They’re working on that. We’re going to have a meeting tomorrow and try to get our coaches and scouts together to see who the guys in the free agent class they think might be able to come in and give us a chance to be in that game (Super Bowl) next year.”
You talk about what you can control, and that’s obviously the draft. Can you give us the dynamic right now with (Wade Phillips) and the influence/impact he’s going to have in making those decisions with you?
“First of all, obviously that’s the first thing as we looked at our situation, we made some changes on the coaching staff and feel good about Wade’s addition and what he can bring and add to our football team and organization, (along with) Reggie Herring as our linebackers coach, Vance Joseph as a defensive backs coach. We’ve still got a couple of other quality control-type coaches to hire, but we feel like the coaching staff is rounding up into shape and we feel good about it. We’ll sit down with all of those guys, and as you know, we’re going to make a transition to the 3-4 and that involves some different types of personnel. We’ve got to get into those rooms and talk to Wade and get a sense of what he wants and make sure that we educate our scouts about what it is that he looks for in those players at those particular positions and make sure that we go out and find those players and bring them into our organization.”
I imagine it changed the way you approached the East-West Shrine Game, which Wade coached in, and also the Senior Bowl as you took a look at future possible Texans.
“Yeah, it opens up a little bit of a different kind of athlete for us. And so certainly, we were able to kind of get down at those all-star games and talk to the scouts. They will be in next week. We’ll start the draft board and make sure that everybody’s on the same page of what we’re looking for before we head to the combine and all those pro days and into our draft meetings.”
Bruce Matthews going to Tennessee to coach with the Titans under Mike Munchak there. Can you comment on that?
“Bruce, first of all, I love him as a man; (it was) great to be around him for a few years. We felt like we had a situation here where he was going to be comfortable here and happy here when we had the Dallas situation. And when Mike Munchak gets the job, it’s a 30-year relationship that they’ve had and I guess they’ve dreamed about coaching together, and so obviously he elected to go and take that position and take that opportunity and move his family there. So we wish him well.”
Will Bruce be replaced, or was that a position that was sort of created for him because he’s such a unique individual?
“Well, obviously, we wanted to have him here and give him a chance. He wanted to test the waters into coaching life and see if it was something that he wanted to do. So initially, it was one of those types of situations. He has done quite a bit of work over the last couple of years, and so it may be that we hire somebody or we re-adjust coaching responsibilities and assignments. But I leave that up to Gary (Kubiak), and we’ll visit about that and if we have to hire a quality control guy or something like that, we will. But at this point, from an offensive line standpoint, we feel like we’re covered with Frank Pollack and John Benton at the position.”
Can you take us through what happened toward the end of the year? There were things being talked about with Gary Kubiak’s job status. What about from your perspective? How did you approach the end of the season and going into the offseason and stating your case, if you will, to Bob McNair?
“I don’t know if I had to state a case. Bob is involved on a day-to-day basis and he sees what’s going on, and so we are in constant contact and communication and I think he understands what we are trying to get accomplished and I think he understands as we were evaluating the season and progressed throughout the season. And again, when you put yourself in the position – obviously, we’ve got a couple of 8-8 seasons and then we have a winning season for the first time a year ago and we’ve got a good core group coming back, and we feel like we’ve got a chance. And so everybody in the preseason said, ‘Hey, the Texans are the team to watch’ because of the things that we had done over the last few years to put ourselves in that position. When you don’t get that done, it’s disappointing. And so as the season came to an end, we were all disappointed, but we were committed to making sure we do the things that we need to do because I agree with Bob. If we make some corrections, this is a good football team. We’ve got a chance to be good. We’ve got a chance to realize those goals and reach all those games that we were watching in late January and in February. We’ve got a chance to do that if we just make sure that we keep the group of guys that we have together that are producing and add some players and hopefully a scheme on defense that will help us get to where we’re trying to go.”
You drafted Kareem Jackson last year and put him in the starting lineup, and obviously it was a difficult year for the entire secondary. How do you gauge where Kareem Jackson is at right now, because it was a difficult rookie season for him?
“Yeah, absolutely it was. The thing about it is once you make a decision that you’re going to play a young player at any position, you make that decision with the full awareness that you’re going to go through growing pains, OK. So you’ve got to be willing to accept that and willing to go through those growing pains. And certainly Kareem, or the secondary, we didn’t play at a level that was anywhere close to being good enough. So I know he’s capable of playing at a higher level. I know we’re capable of playing better, and that’s what we’re trying to get accomplished for next year.”
Look for Part II of Smith's interview shortly on HoustonTexans.com.