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McClain: Preserving continuity vital for Texans to take the next step to being a Super Bowl contender


John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

It's difficult to overemphasize how important the Texans' stability is to the team's aspirations of improving on the 2023 season and being in the best position to take the next step in their mission to win a first Super Bowl.

Being able to preserve continuity from Head Coach DeMeco Ryans' first season to watch what the Texans are able to achieve for an encore performance has worked fans into a frenzy as they eagerly anticipate free agency, the draft, the offseason program, training camp, preseason and, finally, the 2024 season.

The goal is to improve last season's 10-7 record, win another AFC South title and compete for the Super Bowl. That's a tough assignment, because as the defending AFC South champions, the Texans play a first-place schedule that includes five division winners and 11 games against teams that finished with winning records.

Stability is the backbone of a successful organization. In the NFL, familiarity doesn't breed contempt – it breeds success.

Working together for the first time, Ryans and Executive Vice President and General Manager Nick Caserio's accomplishments last season should provide fans with confidence in one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. Keeping together as much of the personnel side of the organization as possible should make scouting, coaching and playing a much smoother operation than it was a year ago when everything was so new.

"One thing we're excited about is we were able to continue with some degree of continuity," Caserio said. "We had a number of coaches interview for other jobs. Some of them made a decision to stay and be a part of our program, which is a credit to them. It's really a credit to DeMeco and to the players. Anytime you have continuity from one year to the next, it's important because at least it gives you a foundation in place."

The Texans were able to keep offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and quarterback coach Jerrod Johnson. Teams pursued Slowik for head-coaching openings and Johnson for offensive coordinator jobs. The Texans rewarded them with well-deserved extensions. That means the three members of the organization who played the most influential roles in rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud's development – Slowik as the play-caller, Johnson as the position coach and quarterback Case Keenum as the mentor – will be working with Stroud as he prepares for his sophomore season.

"Bringing back Bobby and Jerrod helps the continuity of our offense," Ryans said. "With a young quarterback (and) young players around him, you want to continue to build on what those guys did last season. I'm happy to not go into a new season and have to worry about installing a new offense or learning new terminology. We can hit the ground running. We can really build off what we did."

The Texans also kept defensive coordinator Matt Burke and Special Teams coordinator Frank Ross. The Texans have finished with the most productive special teams in back-to-back seasons, so retaining Ross was paramount.

When Ryans was hired, it meant Caserio would be working with a third head coach in three years. David Culley and Lovie Smith preceded Ryans. In each case, Caserio, Executive Director of Player Personnel James Liipfert and their scouts had to learn what their head coach, coordinators and position coaches wanted in players – rookies and veterans.

One thing that impressed Caserio and the McNair family was how well Ryans communicated what he wanted and needed when it came to players who fit the schemes Slowik wanted to run on offense and Ryans and Burke on defense.

As time went on and Caserio and his personnel people learned more about Ryans and his coaching staff, they were able to adapt when it came to making decisions on players.

"When you go back and look at last year, there were a lot of new people," Caserio said. "DeMeco did a great job putting the staff together. When we put the staff together in February, we didn't know what our team was going to look like (or) who the quarterback was going to be. We knew we were going to evaluate a number of players during the spring.

"There's a lot of work that goes into it. You learn about each other from where we were in May to where we ended up at the end of the season, almost like night and day. There are things we learned (that) we can utilize this year."

An offshoot of the coaches and personnel department communicating so well can be found in what's often overlooked in a team's success: Players signed during the season because of injuries and what their contributions were to the team's success. Once players started to go down in training camp and then in the regular season, they had to be replaced. The pro scouting staff as well as the coaches handled smoothly what could have been a confusing and debilitating situation.

Other than Ryans, no coach was more important to the team's success than Slowik. He was calling plays for the first time. Because Ryans worked with him for six years at San Francisco, he had the utmost confidence in Slowik, who rewarded Ryans' faith in him.

"I thought Bobby did a really great job," Ryans said. "Everybody is kind of hesitant when you have a first-year coordinator, and nobody knows truly what to expect. For me, knowing Bobby and knowing how detailed he is in his preparation, how he gets his coaches prepared, the way he teaches – it showed up on the film.

"I'm happy for Bobby that he was able to garner the success he truly deserves. Bobby's success doesn't happen without the players, so I never lose sight of this game (being) about the players. As coaches, we're here to assist the players and support them in any way we can. Bobby doesn't have that success without getting the right players and the players performing at a high level."

With the Texans being able to retain such coaches as Slowik, Burke, Johnson and Ross, it should give them an even better chance to get their players to perform at an even higher level next season.

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