The Next Step

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September 19, 2005
The Next Step

by Ric Sweeney

I used to work for, arguably, the single most inept organization in the entire history of creation. I have stories from that era that, when shared with others, never fail to generate a rare combination of shock, laughter and pity. People honestly can’t believe I had to endure such lethal stupidity on a daily basis. For a general idea, think The Office (the British version) meets the Special Olympics. Those were good times.

One of my favorite anecdotes from that experience came as the organization was hemorrhaging money and desperate for ways to cauterize the financial bleeding. Our esteemed executive team hastily called an off-site meeting in the penthouse of one of Dallas’ swankiest, most expensive private clubs to discuss viable solutions to the budget crisis. Upon their return to the office, they met with the rest of the staff and opened the floor to suggestions after declaring they were at a loss as to what could be done. Sensing someone needed to interject a degree of common sense, I raised my hand and offered what would prove to be my final two cents with the firm. “I have an idea,” I said. “Next time, don’t hold a meeting to discuss ways to save the company money at one of Dallas’ swankiest, most expensive private clubs…” They stared back at me like I’d just spoken Swahili as looks of confusion spilled over their faces like paint. It never, EVER occurred to them that THEY were responsible for our financial state. Eventually, I was let go in a cost-cutting move. For the record, I’ve never been anywhere considered swanky or expensive and certainly not on a company’s dime.

I thought of those yahoos this morning upon hearing that Chris Palmer had been fired as Texan offensive coordinator. As he was being shown the door, the two people most responsible for the Texans’ slide into what seems like it may be perpetual mediocrity – GM Charley Casserly and head coach Dom Capers – somehow inexplicably remain employed, likely holed up in some swanky, expensive private club discussing what’s gone wrong with their team. My guess is that their own failures were never a topic of conversation, but they should have been. The truth is that, talent-wise, the cupboard in Houston is bare, a direct result of poor drafting, poor free agent signings, poor personnel development and poor coaching. So by firing Palmer, in essence, the team has placed a band-aid on top of a massive, gaping wound that continues to bleed and may, in fact, already be infected.

Which isn’t to say firing Palmer was the wrong move because it definitely needed to be done. It was obvious that Palmer was on a different page than David Carr and whatever your opinion of him might be, Carr, for better or worse, isn’t going anywhere just yet. He seemed less than enthused by Palmer, and that feeling appeared to be mutual, as frustration boiled throughout the first two games of the year. Something needed to give.

Reading between the lines from their various postgame comments, Carr is frustrated with the playcalling; Palmer, the play of his quarterback, who yesterday, he wouldn’t even call by name. When asked about the two inexcusable delay of game penalties called on Carr, Palmer said, "The quarterback wasn’t aware of the play clock." When asked about the offense’s play in general, he responded, “They scramble around and make plays. We scramble around and we don’t make plays.” Ouch.

Carr retaliated. “(The Steelers) were on our stuff. (They) did a good job of game-planning and scouting. They were locking our guys up, and we just really had nowhere to go with the ball.” Loosely translated, they somehow found a way to crack our too-simple-for-Pop-Warner game plan. Imagine that.

But firing Palmer addresses only a small part of a much bigger problem. Someone still needs to be held accountable for the dearth in talent on the team’s roster; the lack of progress in every single area of the game and the fact that the face of the franchise, Carr, has seemingly been ruined beyond repair.

Because here’s the cold, hard truth of the matter: This team cannot be fixed overnight (which makes Casserly throwing away five picks to secure Jason Babin and Phillip Buchannon all the more inexcusable). As currently constructed, they need, in no particular order of importance, a better quarterback (whether it’s Carr or someone else), a better running back who can pick up a blitz, a better second receiver to give Andre Johnson some room (not to mention a better third and fourth receiver…), a tight end and an upgrade at every single position across the offensive line. On defense, they need linebackers who can effectively rush the quarterback and a second cornerback who isn’t stuck in game of two below. And that’s if they keep the current 3-4 scheme; a new head coach could mean a different defensive philosophy and that would require even more personnel upheaval.

In short, we’re four years into this thing and staring down the barrel of having to completely rebuild from scratch, which means we’re 2-3 years away from seeing any tangible results and if I dare mention the p-word, Jim Mora is gonna come flying out of nowhere and chastise me for even thinking it.

So in terms of moving forward, here’s my two cents, for what it’s worth (certainly not two cents): Don’t stop with Palmer. Casserly and Capers have also dropped the ball and don’t deserve a chance to right the ship they’ve blown holes in. I don’t know if Casserly failed to acquire viable talent or Capers failed to develop it – all I do know is that none of us should be surprised. Because here’s the dirty, unspoken little secret about Casserly, Capers, Palmer and the direction the Texans took out of the starting gate – they all came to town with failure dotting their résumés, and now, they will leave town with even more failures under their belts. We should have known better.

Casserly rode Bobby Bethard and Joe Gibbs to Super Bowl rings, but when handed the reins of the franchise after Bethard’s departure, Casserly drove it into the ground. He’s lauded as shrewd judge of talent and apparently was a whiz of a scout in Washington, but his first round misses alone as GM read like a cautionary tale of what not to do on draft day: Andre Johnson (who never played a down for Washington), Michael Westbrook, Heath Shuler, Tom Carter, Desmond Howard and Bobby Wilson. Others, like Kenard Lang, became marginal NFL’ers. In his tenure, after Gibbs’ retirement, the Redskins made the playoffs only once.

Capers, while an obviously gifted coordinator, took all of four years to lose his players and the organization’s faith in Carolina in his first stint as a head coach. Yes, he led the team to the brink of a Super Bowl in a mere two years. In hindsight, however, he fell into a favorable situation because the team was loaded from top to bottom with veteran talent and leadership (especially on defense). And while he didn’t make personnel decisions, and therefore, is hard to blame for the veterans rapidly aging, Capers and his coaches did fail to develop talent behind those veterans (including a top quarterback prospect). And by the end of his brief tenure, many of the same complaints we have with Capers today were rampant in Carolina. Now, the coordinator he hired and eventually fired in Carolina for being too conservative (Joe Pendry) has been promoted to replace Palmer. Wonderful. Speaking of Palmer, he came to town with the fresh stench of having failed another expansion quarterback, Tim Couch, who flamed out in Cleveland after the Browns made him the first pick in their history (second version). Whether Couch’s demise had Palmer’s prints on it or not, it should have at least sent a red flag up the pole as the team centered its sights on Carr.

So I’ll join the majority in not having concrete answers for how to fix all that’s gone wrong with the Texans except to say I would recommend we take into great consideration the track record of the next round of hires.

And that the interviews not be held at Houston’s swankiest, most expensive private club.

Ric Sweeney wants to remain positive and upbeat. So on the plus side, his purchases of and URLs were recently approved.

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