Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans greets linebacker Denzel Perryman.
Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans greets linebacker Denzel Perryman (6) during the NFL football team's training camp at Houston Methodist Training Center. Credit: Associated Press

There is a different energy that seems permeable around the Texans’ camp this season.

And it has everything to do with their new energetic and encouraging head coach DeMeco Ryans – the franchise’s third in the last three seasons. The energy and perspective Ryans brings as a coach who has literally walked in the very cleats of his players as a former Texans’ star linebacker, is being felt and appreciated.

The 39-year-old Ryans gets it from a need to turn the franchise around and from the perspective of a player who is grinding to be part of the resurgence. His unusual compassion was on display on final cutdown day last month when most coaches turn their focus to the players who have made the 53-man roster.

But Ryans’ thoughts were with the players whose hard work and sacrifice had not paid off. He encouraged his players to reach out to the men they had gone to battle with since OTAs who weren’t so lucky.

“I just make sure that guys who are on our team realize, still, we need you to reach out to our other brothers, and make sure we’re connecting, make sure you’re checking on the guys, making sure they’re okay,” said Ryans, who makes his NFL head coaching debut Sunday when the Texans open the season at Baltimore. “We’ll have some guys come back eventually for the practice squad, but make sure those guys feel that you care about them because of the special bond that you guys have built throughout OTAs and training camp.”

Make no mistake, the guy with the disarming smile and down-the-earth demeanor wants to win as badly as anyone connected to the Texans franchise, but he also cares about the people surrounding him, especially his players. Nobody on the practice field is pulling harder for the third-string linebacker than the man under the visor who is jumping, high-fiving and chest bumping as enthusiastically as the players.

Ryans is African American like his two predecessors, David Culley and Lovie Smith, but that is where the comparisons end to the 65-plus year-old coaches Ryans has replaced. The players seem to be responding to Ryans and his energy.

“I told him I feel like he still wants to play, low-key,” said Pro Bowl linebacker Denzel Perryman, who the Texans signed during the offseason. “But, just having that mindset, I mean it’s a defensive mindset and he’s a players’ coach, I can say that. And he’s been in the same seats that we’ve been in. Literally in the same seats we’ve been in. But, just having a players’ coach in general, I feel like that’s great for the locker room and for the team itself.”

Rookie wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson doesn’t have much to compare Ryans to, but he definitely feels fortunate to have a coach like Ryans.

“DeMeco’s great, man,” Hutchinson said. “He’s a players’ coach, and he just brings a level of winning – a winning attitude, and he knows what it takes. So, you want to listen to a guy who has been successful and has had success in the NFL, whether it was him being a [defensive] coordinator or now being a head coach.”

While definitely relatable to his players, Ryans has been built to succeed. He was the hottest name among the new coaching candidates this past hiring cycle after two impressive seasons as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator.

Of all the jobs he could have gone after, Ryans said coming back to a place he called home for the first six seasons of his NFL career just seemed right.

And so far, he and Texans third-year general manager Nick Caserio seem to be about making bold moves to fix a franchise that hasn’t won more than four games in a season or sniffed the playoffs since 2019.

After putting together a stellar coaching staff, they went aggressively and strategically after free agents then saved their boldest move for the NFL Draft. During that draft, the Texans took Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud with the No.2 overall pick and then traded up the very next pick and took the player some predicted the team was going to take first, Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.

Both figure to be the cornerstones of the rebuild and are set to make immediate impacts this season.

“Definitely excited about the opportunity ahead in front of us,” Caserio said of his working relationship with Ryans. “Look, it’s not going to be perfect. We understand that. We’re going to run into some bumps in the road, we are going to run into some situations we’re going to have to deal with.”

Texans at a Glance

2022 Record: 3-13-1 (fourth place in AFC South)

Season kickoff: at Baltimore Ravens on Sunday

Players to watch: QB C.J. Stroud, S Jalen Pitre, LT Laremy Tunsil, RB Dameon Pierce, CB Derek Stingley, DE Will Anderson Jr., WR Nico Collins, LB Denzel Perryman, WR Tank Dell.

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....