HOUSTON (AP) — Lovie Smith fought until the bitter end to help the Houston Texans to a win in the finale of a dismal season, with his fate likely already sealed.
Hours later he was out of a job.
Smith was fired as coach of the Texans on Sunday night after just one season in which the team went 3-13-1.
It’s the second straight season in which the Texans have fired a coach after one year. They parted ways with David Culley last January after he went 4-13 in his only season.
“I’m constantly evaluating our football operation and believe this is the best decision for us at this time,” general manager Nick Caserio said in a statement announcing the team parting ways with Smith. "It is my responsibility to build a comprehensive and competitive program that can sustain success over a long period of time. We aren’t there right now, however, with the support of the (team owner) McNair family and the resources available to us, I’m confident in the direction of our football program moving forward.”
Smith was asked about his future after Sunday's win at Indianapolis and seemed confident that he'd return next season.
“We understand the totality of the season," he said. "Do I expect to be back? Yeah, I expect to be back, absolutely.”
The Texans had the league’s worst record for most of the season, but won two of their last three games, capped by Sunday’s win over the Colts that cost the team the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. The 32-31 victory over Indianapolis gave Chicago the top pick and left Houston to choose second in April’s draft.
Davis Mills connected with Jordan Akins on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 50 seconds left Sunday against the Colts. Mills then found Akins again for the 2-point conversion to put the Texans on top for good.
Smith was asked about the win ruining Houston's chance to get the top pick in the draft.
“So, you’re saying, hey, guys, playing this last game, all that you’ve been working for all your life, you play to win, forget that, lose the game on purpose," Smith said. "I think that would be a hard one to get by. They wouldn’t expect me to say that. I didn’t. Each week our game plan to be to win the game. It’s kind of simple as that. That’s what we followed through on today.”
The 64-year-old Smith was one of the few Black coaches in the NFL along with Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles and Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who is biracial. The league requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions, but has long fallen short of its goal to increase the number of Black coaches in a league where the majority of players are Black.
Culley, who is also Black, spent more than 40 years as a college and NFL assistant before being hired to coach the Texans.
The Texans move to cut ties with two coaches – each after just one season -- was met with swift criticism. Both coaches were working with rosters devoid of any stars and lacking much established talent. They also had to contend with an inexperienced young quarterback in Mills with Deshaun Watson sitting out last season after requesting a trade before his sexual misconduct allegations surfaced and then being traded to Cleveland before this season.
Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl who compiled a 148-79 record in 13 seasons as an NFL coach, questioned who would want to take Houston’s head coaching position moving forward.
“What are the Texans doing,” Dungy tweeted Sunday night. “What kind of operation is this where you don’t have any convictions about supporting the coaches you hire. Who is going to want to coach there if you might only get one year to implement your plans. Two years in a row is ridiculous.”
Robert Griffin III, the second overall pick of the 2012 draft who led Washington to a division title, tweeted: “The Houston Texans have fired Lovie Smith after 1 year. Using 2 Black Head Coaches to tank and then firing them after 1 year shouldn’t sit right with anyone.”
And, Fred Taylor, who played 13 years in the NFL, directed his ire at the Texas, posting on Twitter that hiring Smith was done to save face after they received criticism following reports that they planned to hire Josh McCown, a former NFL quarterback with no coaching experience.
“Hiring Lovie Smith to an extremely untalented Texans team was only done to save face, checklist the Rooney rule, and erase the racial accusations it faced less than a year ago,” Taylor tweeted. “And to fire him less than a year into rebuilding its franchise shows they are full of crap. Crazy!
It is the third time since the merger that a team has fired its head coach in consecutive years after just one season. The 49ers fired Monte Clark, Ken Meyer and Pete McCulley in consecutive seasons from 1976-78 before the team fired Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly in 2015 and 2016.
Smith was promoted to head coach after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator for one season. The 2022 season was his 12th as a head coach, and he has a 92-100-1 record in his career that included nine seasons with the Bears and two with Tampa Bay.
Texans owner Cal McNair said in a statement that he and Caserio informed Smith of the move Sunday night and thanked him for his “contributions over the last two seasons.”
“We are grateful for his leadership and character, and we wish him the best moving forward,” McNair said. "While we understand the results have not been what we had hoped for, we are committed to building a program that produces long-term, sustainable success. Our fans and city deserve a team that they can be proud of. I will work alongside Nick Caserio throughout this process and I’m confident we will find the right leader for our football team.”
His firing will give the Texans a fourth head coach in as many years. Culley was hired after coach Bill O’Brien was fired after losing the first four games in 2020 in his seventh season in Houston.
This is the second time the Texans have fired a coach after just one year. Dom Capers was the team’s first coach and spent four seasons at the helm before being let go. Gary Kubiak took over, and he was fired in his eighth season.
This season was Houston’s third with a losing record after the team went 4-12 in 2020. That season came after they won AFC South in the previous two seasons.
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