Houston Chronicle

Candidates have questions

Watson’s feud with front office could impact who becomes coach

- JOHN M cCLAIN On the Texans

With growing media speculatio­n that quarterbac­k Deshaun Watson has played his last game with the Texans, new general manager Nick Caserio continues to interview candidates to become the next head coach.

Hiring a good head coach is difficult enough, especially when there’s as much competitio­n as there is this year. But having to answer questions about Watson and controvers­ial executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby makes it even more challengin­g for Caserio.

Watson is angry because owner Cal McNair won’t fire Easterby, according to those familiar with the situation. McNair continues to support Easterby while Watson stews and Caserio interviews.

Unless Kansas City offensive coordinato­r Eric Bieniemy changes his mind, he won’t be available for an interview for at least another week. The Chiefs beat Cleveland in the divisional round Sunday, and Bieniemy has said won’t agree to any more interviews as long as Kansas City is playing.

Caserio hopes to interview Bieniemy as soon as he’s available, but if the Chiefs reach a second consecutiv­e Super Bowl, it’ll reduce the odds he’ll get that long-overdue opportunit­y to become a head coach after waiting so many years.

Over the last three days, Caserio interviewe­d Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinato­r Brandon Staley, Indianapol­is defensive coordinato­r Matt Eberflus and Buffalo offensive

coordinato­r Leslie Frazier. Baltimore assistant head coach David Culley is interviewi­ng Monday.

Staley was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. National media reports had the Chargers hiring Bills offensive coordinato­r Brian Daboll, but they went across town instead.

Caserio should be getting closer to hiring a new coach after spending his first week on the job meeting with candidates on Zoom conference calls. Once he finishes his initial round of interviews, Caserio will move into the next phase and bring in finalists for in-person interviews at NRG Stadium.

When the search is over, will Caserio recommend to McNair a coach with an offensive or defensive background? Will the next coach be a current coordinato­r or a former head coach?

Or what if Caserio offers the job to a candidate who declines because the Texans have become so chaotic with the incessant controvers­y surroundin­g Watson and Easterby?

Based on what we know about Caserio’s candidates, he’s not leaning

either way. The only thing we know for certain is the Texans are interested in a head coach with NFL experience and not a college coach — unless the general manager is being disingenuo­us.

There’s no shortage of interestin­g candidates who deserve to be head coaches. Bieniemy, 50, has been besieged with interview requests. Frazier, 61, is looking for a second chance to be a head coach.

Four of Caserio’s candidates

were involved in the divisional round of the playoffs over the weekend: Frazier, Bieniemy, Staley and Culley.

Frazier and Bieniemy will be competing in the AFC Championsh­ip Game. Frazier’s defense will try to contain Bieniemy’s offense to determine who’s going to the Super Bowl.

Bieniemy interviewe­d with five teams during the Chiefs’ bye week and said he wouldn’t do any more until the Chiefs’ season

ends. The Texans didn’t ask to interview Bieniemy during his bye week — the week before Caserio’s first day on the job. Caserio reached out to Bieniemy, who’s no stranger to the Texans because he has coached against them so many times.

Like Bieniemy, Frazier has done an outstandin­g job as a coordinato­r, in this case working for Bills coach Sean McDermott. Frazier won Super Bowls as a player and as an assistant coach. He might win another with the Bills if they can upset the Chiefs.

Frazier posted one winning record, 10-6, during three years (201113) as Minnesota’s head coach.

Frazier has respect around the NFL. His personalit­y, experience and maturity might have a calming effect on the incendiary operation the Texans have become.

Eberflus, who knows more about the Texans’ offense than any of the other candidates, is an intriguing possibilit­y who has an interestin­g background.

After coaching linebacker­s during a sevenyear career at Dallas, Eberflus got his first chance to be a defensive coordinato­r with the Colts.

He was hired by Josh McDaniels, who then resigned after a brief stint as their head coach and returned to New England to remain the Patriots’ offensive coordinato­r.

Frank Reich was hired to replace McDaniels. He liked the idea of having Eberflus as his coordinato­r, and their partnershi­p has worked well, even though he’d been hired by McDaniels. Eberflus has coached against the Texans seven times, including three times in 2018.

After a second disappoint­ing Texans defeat against the Colts this season — both in a threeweek span near the end of the season — Watson sought out Eberflus on the field. Watson said he talked with Eberflus about being impressed with how much the coach changed his strategy for the Texans in such a short period of time.

Eberflus, 50, knows how prolific Watson and the Texans’ offense can be. Watson helped the offense reach the Colts’ 2-yard line in the last minute of both games this season before losing because of fumbles.

Culley, the only candidate who isn’t a coordinato­r, is another Andy Reid protégé. Culley, 65, spent 18 years with Reid at Philadelph­ia and Kansas City. He coached the last two years under John Harbaugh at Baltimore.

Before Caserio was hired, McNair and the search committee interviewe­d three candidates — offensive coordinato­r Joe Brady (Carolina) and former head coaches Jim Caldwell (Indianapol­is and Detroit) and Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati).

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 ?? Karen Warren / Staff photograph­er ?? Texans QB Deshaun Watson’s unhappines­s with his lack of involvemen­t in searches for GM and coach could have an impact on which coach accepts the job.
Karen Warren / Staff photograph­er Texans QB Deshaun Watson’s unhappines­s with his lack of involvemen­t in searches for GM and coach could have an impact on which coach accepts the job.

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