NFL Handicapping: Houston and the Gary Kubiak Firing
by Trevor Whenham - 12/6/2013
There was a mercy killing in Houston this morning. Gary Kubiak’s days had long been numbered, but this loss to Jacksonville last time out was the final straw, and he was put out of his suffering. He was fired this morning, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been named interim coach for the rest of the season. Phillips has already filled that role for one game this season when Kubiak was out recovering from his mini-stroke. So, is there any reason for bettors to trust these Texans going forward this year? Or is this season a complete and utter write-off? I tend to believe that there is some life left in the squad, but here are six factors that will help determine whether that is true:
Kubiak was toxic: It was absolutely time for Kubiak to go. In fact, his time went on too long. He probably would have been gone sooner if it weren’t for the health setback that sidelined him for a game. It was clear that Kubiak had lost control of the team. They were playing with a shocking lack of discipline. Their first half against the Jaguars Thursday night was as sloppy as any I have seen. Players were playing without consistent intensity — like they just didn’t care anymore. On top of it all, Kubiak was making almost random decisions about his quarterbacks. Kubiak’s time was at an end, his absence can provide a boost for this squad. It wasn’t quite as bad as Lane Kiffin’s later days at USC, and Wade Phillips isn’t as dynamic as Ed Orgeron, but there are a lot of parallels between the situations.
Team has nothing left to play for: The Jaguars were the doormats of the league for the first half of the year, and now the Texans have lost to them. Twice. That could be the final blow to the psyche of a team that knows that there is no miracle coming to them. With strong play down the stretch, the best they could accomplish is not finishing last and having the first overall pick, and that will do little to motivate players. The coaching staff will have a very tough time getting this team back on track and ready to play a more intense, more disciplined game.
Interim coach is not going to be the replacement: Wade Phillips is not going to lead this team next year, and everyone knows it. It is going to be tougher for him to sell his message when the players know he has no future. The rest of the staff is likely gone as well. To again use the USC parallel, when Orgeron took over as interim there was at least a chance he could be the permanent choice, and as he had success that chance grew. That made it much easier for him to instill new habits and to command a high level of play. For the Texans there is also the issue that there is no clear or even likely replacement at this point. If the next boss was evident then players could be playing to impress him. Now, though, players don’t know what the future holds, and that uncertainty can create another issue.
Crennel comparison: Though there are differences, we can draw a recent parallel to the 2011 Kansas CIty Chiefs and Romeo Crennel. Like Kubiak, Todd Haley had completely lost control of a team that had come into the season with major expectations, and he was also fired after 13 games. That team was 5-8, so they were better than the Texans, but they were equally lost, and the situation was equally hopeless. Crennel was named interim, and at the time it seemed all but certain that he would only be a placeholder for the rest of the season until a new coach could be brought in. The team responded very well, though, and played with an effort and intensity that had been entirely lacking up to that point. They won two of their final three, and they lost the third in overtime. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the team made the decision to keep Crennel around, and that proved disastrous. In the short term, though, the move was positive. Could we see the same here?
The team hasn’t been universally terrible: There have been a lot of issues with this team, but they haven’t been blown out and embarrassed on a consistent basis. They played the Patriots very tough just a week ago. Four of their last seven losses have been by a field goal or less, and none of the games have been lost by more than a touchdown. They are second in the league in pass defense, and though the offense has mostly been lousy, they have been able to move the ball well when they focus on getting Andre Johnson involved. If they were to play with just a bit more focus and intensity, and were able to avoid terrible penalties, then the distance from where they are to a win or two isn’t far.
Remaining schedule: At first glance, the remaining schedule — at Indianapolis, Denver, at Tennessee — is pretty brutal. When you think about it, though, it could be worse. Indianapolis has been far from consistent lately, and there is a good chance they will have the division clinched by then. They may not be at their best, and the Texans played them close last time. Denver will likely still be playing to secure the top seed, but Manning has never been one to work his hardest late in the regular season. Tennessee will have nothing left to play for, either, and they are the last team Houston beat. It could be worse for the Texans. Certainly, it isn’t impossible to imagine them winning a couple of games if they step up their effort.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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