HOUSTON (AP) — After giving David Culley just one year to prove himself, the Houston Texans on Monday hired Lovie Smith as their new head coach, adding a veteran with a track record of success to a team that faces questions about its hiring process.
Smith, who is Black, is the second minority candidate to be hired this offseason after the Miami Dolphins hired San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is biracial, on Sunday.
Smith spent last season as Houston’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator. He will take over for Culley, who is also Black, and was fired after one season.
Houston interviewed multiple candidates over the past few weeks, including Brian Flores, Hines Ward, Josh McCown and Joe Lombardi. Flores, who is Black, was fired despite posting winning records in the final two of his three seasons in Miami.
Flores sued the NFL, the Dolphins and two other teams last week over alleged racist hiring practices for coaches and general managers.
Flores issued a statement through his legal team applauding the Texans for hiring a Black man, but questioning why he wasn’t offered the job.
“We would be remiss not to mention that Mr. Flores was one of three finalists for the Texans’ head coach position and, after a great interview and mutual interest, it is obvious that the only reason Mr. Flores was not selected was his decision to stand up against racial inequality across the NFL,” his legal team said in a statement.
The Texans had been criticized by some in the media this week for even considering McCown for the position since the 42-year-old former NFL quarterback has never coached at any level aside from volunteering with his son’s high school team. McCown spent part of the 2020 season on Houston’s practice squad before retiring following a 17-year career.
The Texans raved about the qualities Smith brings to the team.
“He is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL and an established leader," Houston general manager Nick Caserio said in a statement. “A proven winner, Lovie has shown the ability to develop players both on and off the field for years. We had numerous discussions with countless coaches, executives, and players, and what revealed itself is that Lovie has both the leadership and people skills it takes to lead us forward."
The 63-year-old Smith joined the Texans last offseason after spending 2016-2020 as the coach at Illinois.
This will be the third NFL head coaching job for Smith, who coached the Chicago Bears for nine seasons and coached Tampa Bay for two seasons ending in 2015.
Now he takes over a team in the process of a complete rebuild after trading or releasing almost all of its top players in the past couple of years. The Texans went 4-13 last season in a year when star quarterback Deshaun Watson did not play after a trade request and amid 22 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment or assault.
After the hiring of Smith is complete, the Texans will continue an offseason where they are expected to finally trade Watson. They have the third overall pick in the draft after not having a first-round pick since 2019, and could acquire more high draft picks if they’re able to trade Watson.
Smith becomes the fifth head coach in franchise history, following Dom Capers, Gary Kubiak, Bill O’Brien and Culley.
“I have so many friends, family, teammates and coaches to thank for supporting me and helping me continue to do what I love, which is teaching and developing players," Smith said in a statement. “I understand the responsibility I have to this organization and this city to develop a championship-level program. I’m ready to get to work and build it together.”
Noted Texans owner Cal McNair: “I’ve had an extreme amount of respect for Lovie for years now and that only grew with the work he did last season and throughout this process. “I’m excited for him and his family as we continue to evolve as an organization.”
Smith was 144-81 with the Bears, leading them to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season where they lost to the Colts. He struggled in his stint with Tampa Bay, going 2-14 in his first season and 6-10 the following year before being let go.
Smith went 17-39 at Illinois before being fired with one regular-season game left in his fifth season. The Texas native began his coaching career at his alma mater as the defensive coordinator for the high school team at tiny Big Sandy, Texas, in 1980 before moving on to college coaching in 1983.
His first NFL job came in 1996 when he was hired to coach linebackers for the Buccaneers.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL