A Chapter Ends

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May 10, 2006
A Chapter Ends

by Bob Hulsey

With the announced resignation of general manager Charley Casserly, effective June 1st, a chapter ends in Houston Texans history. The first GM in franchise history exits soon after the first head coach in Texans history. It’s only fitting.

The 2-14 thud of the 2005 season meant changes were needed, not just on the coaching staff or on the offensive line. The front office had made their share of bungles too. A fresh start was needed. Hiring Gary Kubiak as head coach appears, early on, as a good choice, and it is hoped that a smart and capable man will fill Casserly’s position before training camp opens in July.

While some say the resignation is a face-saving move, Casserly and McNair deny this. I will take them at their word. How one exits doesn’t really matter except to those most immediately involved. I wish Casserly well wherever this change may lead him.

While time may change opinions on how each ranks, this is how I see the highlights and lowlights of Casserly’s tenure as general manager:

Five Best Personnel Moves In Texans History

1. The Expansion Draft.
The Texans had two ways to go – devote a certain percentage of the first year’s salary cap to players drafted in the expansion draft or choose 33 players amongst the league’s castoffs. The Cleveland Browns had chosen the second route and came away with very little to show for their draft.

Casserly negotiated with three teams in salary cap trouble – the Jets, Ravens and Jaguars – to make available some good players with high cap numbers. This gave the team instant veteran leadership that helped them through the first few years. Of course, you can criticise the selections of Tony Boselli, Ryan Young and Jermaine Lewis. They were package deals. Without them, we wouldn’t have had Aaron Glenn, Marcus Coleman, Jamie Sharper, Gary Walker or Seth Payne. Taking this route gave the new franchise instant credibility and solid footing, particularly on defense.

2. Drafting Domanick Davis.
Clearly the best value pick in the Texans’ first four years of the college draft. The fourth-rounder from LSU was originally taken with the thought of being a third-down back and a kick returner. 4,585 yards and 28 touchdowns later, Davis has proven himself to be a productive every-down runner and receiver who may get even better under the Kubiak system.

After Davis was selected in the 2003 draft, Casserly received a call from his Denver counterpart, Mike Shanahan, congratulating him on selecting the back the Broncos were hoping to take. The Broncos seem to have an eye for selecting second-day steals. It looks like they would have done it again if it weren’t for a sharp set of eyes in the Texans war room.

3. Signing Kris Brown.
True, he did not have a stellar 2005 season and we may yet thank him for Mario Williams, but the placekicker came home after three years with the Steelers to provide an accurate NFL-caliber threat for the young team.

With Dom Capers’ hold-em-close philosophy, the Texans often came down to needing a field goal at the end to win and Brown delivered more often than not. In four seasons, the Nebraska alum has hit 6-of-14 from 50 yards or further but has nailed 26-of-35 between 40-49 yards (74%). He has never missed an extra point as a Texan in 105 attempts.

It was a bit of a risk signing him as a restricted free agent, meaning the Texans forfeited a seventh-round draft pick to Pittsburgh in order to get him, but it has been a draft pick well spent.

4. Drafting Chester Pitts.
I called this a reach when the choice was made. Despite being shifted more often than an ill-fitting pair of glasses, Pitts has been arguably our best offensive lineman. The Texans originally thought he could be groomed to be another Larry Allen but necessity put him at left tackle and he has done adequately there. Despite this, the Texans are still hoping to fit someone else there and move Pitts back to left guard or possibly right guard. It will be interesting to see how he transitions to the new zone-blocking offense.

5. Hiring Dom Capers As Head Coach.
Yeah, I know you had to read that twice. Ignoring the possibility of head coaches who would have insisted on being general manager, Casserly picked a guy who had been successful getting an expansion Carolina franchise running from scratch. He had built strong defenses everywhere he had been and knew personally some of the key players being brought in to lead his new team. On paper, this was a solid choice.

Think back to how you felt when the Texans upset the Cowboys in their first regular season game ever. At the time, did any of you question whether Capers was the right choice for head coach or ask yourself how many other head coaches could have pulled that off? Yes, his tenure ended on a sour note but there was no way to predict it when he came on board. In the first three seasons, the team improved in the win column each year. Still, one has to guess how a coach who built so many stellar defenses couldn’t build one in Houston. Hopefully, the new coaches can pick up the pieces and make them work.

Five Worst Personnel Moves In Texans History

1. Trading Up To Select Jason Babin.
The Texans had taken a "live for tomorrow" five-year approach of building the Texans through the draft. That is, until they used a second, third and fourth-round selection (as well as trading down in the fifth round), in 2004 in order to move up and choose an unheralded defensive end in the first round that the Texans tried to convert into a linebacker.

To date, Jason Babin could, at best, be worth a second-rounder straight up. Trading the heart out of that year’s draft, to a division rival, was a collosal failure. Babin still has time to right his career in a 4-3 defense under new coaches but, given the off-season moves by the new regime, it doesn’t appear that Babin is much regarded in their plans. He could be allowed to leave once eligible for free agency or used as trade bait for a middle-round pick.

2. Trading For Phillip Buchanan.
Again, it may be too early to judge but the Buchanan deal and his poor play in 2005, triggered the whole sequence of bringing in Dan Reeves and calling Casserly’s job into question. Surrendering a second and a third-round pick, a year after the Babin deal cost three picks, obviously hurt the team’s depth. Could the Texans have used three more first-day draft choices last season? By contrast, the Chiefs were able to acquire cornerback Patrick Surtain that same year for just a second-rounder.

What’s worse was that a quick check of Raider fans and Raider opponents could have told you all you needed to know about Buchanan. He was susceptable to giving up big plays, was not a good tackler and was a player opposing teams expected to exploit. He wasn’t worth two high choices.

3. Signing Todd Wade.
The free agent offensive tackle of the Dolphins signed before the 2004 season to a large contract but has been disappointing, a combination of injuries and poor performances. He’s emblematic of every attempt the Texans have made to try and build an offensive line, whether from overpaying free agents to drafting raw prospects, the Texans have become a punchline for ineptness in protecting the quarterback. Were players like Wade living up to their paychecks, there wouldn’t be the need to draft two first-day offensive tackles and sign several free agent linemen this off-season. Wade might even be cut loose after June 1st.

4. Drafting Charles Hill.
If you don’t recognize the name, he was taken by the Texans in the third round of the 2002 draft and couldn’t last with the team beyond the first season. The defensive tackle from Maryland kicked around some training camps and practice squads for a few seasons but ultimately was a total bust as a first-day pick.

5. Releasing Jamie Sharper and Aaron Glenn.
While both careers were clearly in decline, both players were considered leaders on defense and could have been shopped for draft picks before ultimately being released last spring. In a way, I regretted more how this was handled, not that it was done. Both found new homes – Sharper with Seattle and Glenn with Dallas – so they still had value to other teams. The Texans, meanwhile, clearly showed a leadership vacuum on defense without them. The loss of these two may have indirectly led us to the Mario Williams Era, an era that will not have Dom Capers or Charley Casserly at the helm.

Bob Hulsey is incredibly jealous that, at age 57, Charley Casserly still appears to have a full head of dark hair.

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