September 18, 2007
by Ric Sweeney
I’m not ready for this. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. I knew the Texans were in good hands. I knew Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak would eventually right the ship and get us pointed in the right direction.
And I assumed it would all happen in 2009.
This was a bad, bad, awfully bad football team they inherited. And yet, here we are just five days away from the most meaningful game in franchise history. If somehow they can punch the Colts once more in the nose as they did last December, then we’re six days away from the entire fallout from the 2006 NFL draft being a distant, fuzzy memory; seven days away from NBC throwing the Texans into the mix of teams to watch as they scout the second half’s flex schedule; and nine days away from being the obligatory "Who are these guys?!" feature in Sports Illustrated.
Twenty-one months ago, we were cheering for their opponents.
It’s likely going to enter broken record territory soon, but I don’t care as it’s worth repeating again and again: Win or lose Sunday, Kubiak and Smith have worked something just short of a miracle on this franchise. And their greatest accomplishment wasn’t trading for Matt Schaub, or drafting DeMeco Ryans, or signing Ahman Green, or releasing David Carr… well, maybe Carr.
No, their most impressive feat to date was gaining Bob McNair’s trust at a time when Bob McNair’s trust had been beaten soundly by Charley Casserly and his merry band of nitwits.
McNair doesn’t list football among his "strengths." Business? He knows it inside and out. Horse racing? The track record speaks for itself. So when he sunk a billion or more of his own dollars into owning a football team, he wisely turned its operations over to seasoned football professionals. Casserly and Dom Capers then proceeded to go all Arizona Cardinals on us.
No one would have blamed McNair for being twice shy after Casserly and Capers had bitten him. Hell, fifteen shy would have been understandable. You could have even read the hiring of the green Kubiak and Smith tandem as McNair bringing in a bunch of young, eager chicks ready to "yes" man him to death as he regained control of his investment and licked his wounds.
We may have even seen traces of it: McNair’s insistence of shoving Carr down everyone’s throat; perhaps his hedging on paying so many millions to a liar like Reggie Bush…
Whenever it happened, however it happen; it happened. McNair handed the keys to his franchise over to Kubiak and Smith and, for whatever reason, wisely trusted them to get the job done even though he had no record to assume they could.
So as we stare lovingly at 2-0 this fine Tuesday morning, McNair deserves oodles of praise for his faith.
Fortunately, Kubiak and Smith have given McNair no reason to second-guess himself; no reason for him to awaken suddenly in the middle of the night yelling, "Phillip Buchanon?!!!?"
They’ve made shrewd, decisive personnel decisions. They didn’t waste four years on Carr. They had him for a year, determined his worth(lessness), obviously made an impassioned plea to McNair and then jettisoned him posthaste when they knew he was either damaged goods or a never-was. They did their homework, too. On Schaub, on Ryans. When they took chances, they made damn sure they paid off. Not a Seth Wand among the first two drafts, just an Owen Daniels and a Jacoby Jones. And their signings made sense, a combination of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance that added talent and depth to a team that needed a whole lot of both.
And then Kubiak and Smith won over the franchise’s second-toughest audience: its players. Guys who’ve endured nothing but losing — guys like Andre Johnson, Steve McKinney and Dunta Robinson — bought into Kubiak’s system. Johnson, effectively a super possession receiver his first four years, has responded to open spaces and a more diverse game plan big time with back-to-back terrific games. McKinney beat out the regime’s hand-picked center du jour, Mike Flannigan. Robinson has emerged as more than a big-hitting corner; he’s starting to establish himself as a big-time playmaker, too. Others are stepping up as well.
Having watched this team from its inception, sitting through losses and uninspired wins, moral victories and esoteric progress… it’s fascinating, and a little discombobulating, frankly, to see — right before your very eyes — a team take shape and gel.
I’m not sure they can beat Indianapolis Sunday. I’m not even sure they’re "there" yet. But they will be, much sooner than later, thanks to McNair having faith in Kubiak and Smith.
But hopefully not too soon; I still need time to prepare myself.
Ric Sweeney’s bank account is currently accepting donations after its owner egregiously visited StubHub this week and got a little fiesty.
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