Week 2 of the Broncos’ coaching search wasn’t nearly as eventful as the first, but there appears to be a reason for the lack of action.
Multiple reports from various reporters over the past few days have indicated that San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is either the top candidate or one of a couple of top candidates for the Broncos’ and Houston Texans’ vacant head coach positions.
Very little hard information is out there, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Friday that Ryans will meet with the Texans and, “if all goes well, he could be their next head coach.”
It appears the Texans will get the first chance to woo Ryans, who was ineligible to interview this week because of NFL rules for coaches on playoff teams. Our best guess, is that the Texans have a leg up in the race for Ryans over the Broncos.
But should they?
Here’s what Ryans might be seeing in the two openings:
The Houston Texans
Remember when Scott Frost coached the Nebraska Cornhuskers?
During his five seasons as head coach, Frost never won more than five games. In the previous 50 years, Nebraska had never won fewer than five games. But even at the end of Frost’s tenure, a portion of the fans had his back.
Why? Frost won a national title as Nebraska’s quarterback in the 90s.
Over time, Frost lost the vast majority of the fanbase but the fact he stuck around for five seasons is unbelievable. The coach before him was fired after going to two bowl games in three seasons.
DeMeco Ryans could get the same treatment in Houston.
The Texans are a relatively young organization—they’ve only played 21 seasons—and Ryans is one of the best players in the team’s history. He isn’t on the Mount Rushmore, but the All-Pro linebacker would probably get a longer leash than other coaches who could take over the Texans.
The short leash has been an issue for recent Texans coaches. David Culley and Lovie Smith, the Texans’ last two head coaches, were both fired after their first season as the Texans’ head coach. Ownership is one of the biggest question marks regarding the Texans job, but given his past, Ryans may be better equipped than any other candidate to weather that storm.
And if Ryans can weather the storm, there’s no reason he can’t be successful. The Texans have the most picks of any team in this year’s draft, 12, and one of those is the No. 2 overall pick. Houston can find its quarterback of the future, and Ryans will probably have a few years to see it through. Houston’s $40 million in open cap space this offseason, the fifth-most in the NFL, will make the path easier.
Despite the long leash, winning in Houston will not be easy in the first couple of years. The Texans haven’t won more than four games in any of the past three seasons. They’ve pretty easily been the worst team in the NFL in that timeframe. It’s tough to find a strength anywhere on their roster.
Houston’s situation is fairly simple; the team is bad, but they have the assets to improve over the next few years. Plus, Ryans may get the benefit of the doubt.
If Ryans believes he has three seasons to get to the playoffs—and that the front office and ownership won’t make his job harder—he could love the Texans job.
The Denver Broncos
The Broncos are in a complicated situation.
They’re coming off a 5-11 season, but their roster probably isn’t quite as bad as that record indicates. They finished the year with a league-leading 23 players on injured reserve and were among the league’s worst-coached teams. In the two weeks with an interim head coach leading the charge, the Broncos looked like a competitive football team.
It’s tough to say what record Ryans would need to post to win over fans next season, but the standards will be much higher in Denver than in Houston. Six wins for the Texans would be a step in the right direction. Eight wins in Denver and Ryans could still face a firestorm from fans and media.
And then there’s Russell Wilson.
The Super Bowl-winning quarterback flopped in his first season in Denver, and the Broncos will need him to rebound in 2023 if they want to compete for a spot in the postseason. Football coaches typically love a challenge and have the ego to think they can find a solution, but Ryans would probably rely on his staff to turn around Wilson and the Broncos’ offense, while he took a more hands-on role with the defense.
The Broncos have stated that they aren’t hiring a coach to fix Wilson, but another tough year would put a new coach behind the eight ball. Ownership would probably be willing to move Wilson next offseason, while letting Ryans control the rebuild, but the cost of cutting Wilson will be high and the rest of the roster will suffer. Ryans would likely start his tenure with consecutive losing seasons, which would be tough to come back from. The Broncos’ ownership group showed a willingness to pull the trigger quickly when they made Nathaniel Hackett the fourth NFL head coach to ever be fired before the end of his first season, last month.
Still, the Broncos have a significantly better roster than the Texans. A strong coaching staff and better injury luck could be enough to make the playoffs, if Wilson plays better. But three consecutive coaches have proven unable to meet postseason expectations, which could be a scary prospect for a prospective coach.
If Ryans likes what he sees from the Denver defense, and he thinks he can build a staff capable of cleaning up the offense, he might like his chances of a quick turnaround in Denver. If he doesn’t believe in Wilson, though, he may be better off taking a job with lower expectations, where a rebuild will be accepted.