After days of speculation, the Texans fired head coach David Culley on Thursday after just one season.
The rebuilding Texans went 4-13 during Culley’s lone season at the helm. Culley took over a Texans team that went 4-12 last season and was gutted of much of its veteran talent prior to the 2021 season.
Culley confirmed his firing to one of the local radio stations before it was announced publicly by the team.
“I’m disappointed, but it’s part of the business,” Culley said to Sportstalk 790. “I understand and I move on.”
Culley, a career assistant coach, was hired a year ago by Texans CEO and chairman Cal McNair and newly hired general manager Nick Caserio. The 65-year-old Culley was the oldest first-time head coach when he took over from Bill O’Brien, who had been fired following an 0-4 start to the 2020 season.
McNair said firing Culley was Caserio’s decision. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly was also fired Thursday.
“I have entrusted Nick Caserio to lead football performance and I have complete confidence he will find the best leader for our team,” McNair said in a released statement Thursday night. “These decisions are difficult, but Nick believed it was necessary for the future of our organization. We look forward to continuing to build our roster and finding the right coach to lead us forward.”
“Earlier today, I met with David Culley and Tim Kelly to inform them we will be moving in a different direction at the head coach and offensive coordinator positions,” Caserio said. “I came to this difficult but necessary decision after reviewing our football operation. While a change after one season is unusual, we had philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program moving forward.
“We appreciate Coach Culley for helping us navigate through a difficult season, but it is my responsibility to make decisions that I feel are best for our organization. The search for the next coach of the Houston Texans will begin immediately.”
Culley was the only African-American head coach hired in the NFL last season and now the NFL has just one African-American coach in Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin.
In the days leading up to Thursday’s firing, Culley expressed confidence that he would be retained despite mounting speculation that he would not. Culley has three years remaining on his contract and the years all guaranteed.
“I loved every minute of being the head coach of the Houston Texans,” Culley said in a released statement Thursday night. “I appreciate the players and coaches for staying the course with me through the ups and downs of our season. I’m disappointed we didn’t win more games and I won’t have a chance to improve on the lessons I’ve learned, but I fully understand this is a bottom-line business and I didn’t do enough.”
His players also spoke highly of Culley after the way he handled a season that was highlighted by discord between the franchise and its unhappy and troubled quarterback Deshaun Watson. Culley came aboard thinking that Watson would be his starting quarterback, but instead, Watson didn’t play a down with the team this season, leaving the most important position in the hands of journeyman Tyrod Taylor and rookie third-round draft pick Davis Mills.
“Definitely a joy. He’s an unbelievable coach. He’s a great leader of this team,” running back Rex Burkhead. “People may not see the growth in the win category but from a player’s perspective seeing it out on the practice field, seeing the guys in the locker room, especially some young guys, taking some steps further has been super impressive. Just his positive attitude every day to make sure we’re growing as a unit. He’s done a great job with that.”
The players went into the offseason on Monday uncertain of whether or not their coach would return.
“You’re talking to a guy that has been traded a lot, so it’s a business,” said veteran receiver Brandin Cooks. “At the end of the day, that’s what I will say. He’s a great coach. He meant well to us this year and had a lot of energy and did a lot of positive things. But, as we all know in the business, things happen.”
Speculation surrounding Culley’s status with the team ramped up when the Miami Dolphins surprisingly fired Brian Flores. That put Flores possibly in play with the Texans.
Caserio and Flores shook from the Bill Belichick tree and were both on New England Patriots staff together. Other names that could come up as the Texans start their search are Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.
Flores and Mayo are both African-American. Mayo, who has been the insider linebackers coach for the Patriots since 2019 also played for the Patriots from 2008-2015.
Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris