Texans GM says differences in opinion led to Culley’s firing

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Houston Texans head coach David Culley watches from the sideline during the first half of his team’s NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio on Friday defended his decision to fire head coach David Culley after just one season, citing differences in opinion about the organization’s path forward.

The Texans announced the firings of Culley and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly on Thursday night following a 4-13 season.

“When you look at the way we played — the effort and toughness and consistency and competitive spirit that we played with — a lot of that should be attributed to David,” Caserio said. “Philosophically, there were some things in the end that maybe we saw a little bit differently, and that was the impetus for the decision that we made yesterday.”

Culley’s dismissal left only one Black head coach in the NFL, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brian Flores was fired this week after leading the Miami Dolphins to a 9-8 record.

The 66-year-old Culley spent 43 seasons as a college and NFL assistant before finally getting his first head coaching job.

Caserio declined to go into details over where he differed with Culley and stressed that it was his decision to fire him.

“It’s about fixing problems and finding solutions,” Caserio said. “We need to do a better job of that, and I need to do a better job of that. It’s not necessarily one specific thing. In the end, there were some differences about next steps and how we move forward, not necessarily rear-view mirror about what has happened.”

Culley was hired last January to replace Bill O’Brien after working as an NFL assistant since 1994. He took over a team that went 4-12 in the 2020 season with Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

“We’re in a lot better position, and quite frankly, I think that’s because of the leadership and guidance and direction that David Culley provided this football team,” Caserio said. “I have a lot of personal respect and appreciation and admiration for what David did for this team. Forever, we’ll be indebted to him for what he did for us.”

Watson requested a trade around the time Culley was hired, and before 22 women filed lawsuits against the QB alleging sexual harassment or assault. Those issues kept Watson sidelined all season and precipitated a rebuild in Houston that left Culley at the helm of a depleted team.

Culley didn’t have much of a chance without Watson and with a roster where most of the few remaining quality starters were traded or released as the season progressed.

A month after Culley joined the Texans, longtime star defensive end J.J. Watt asked for his release from the team. Houston gave it to him, and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

Texans owner Cal McNair on Thursday thanked Culley for his work and looked to the future.

“I have entrusted Nick Caserio to lead football performance, and I have complete confidence he will find the best leader for our team,” McNair said in a statement. “These decisions are difficult, but Nick believed it was necessary for the future of our organization. We look forward to continuing to build our roster and finding the right coach to lead us forward.”

The Texans finished last in the NFL with just 278.1 yards per game and 30th in the league in scoring with 16.5 points per game.

“It’s about production,” Caserio said of the offense and the firing of Kelly. “There are some areas, quite frankly, where we need to do better. I have a lot of respect for Tim, and I think Tim is a good coach, but that was just one thing we felt like we needed to do to move forward in the organization.”

Kelly had been with the Texans in various roles since 2014 and had been the offensive coordinator since 2019.

Caserio and the Texans will now look to replace Culley and Kelly. Caserio said it’s too early to know if more coaching staff changes will come, and that many of those personnel decisions could be up to the next head coach.

Caserio said there’s no timeline on hiring the next head coach and that the organization will be thorough and patient.

“The head coaching position is probably a leadership position more than anything else,” Caserio said. “My responsibility is to continue to provide support and infrastructure so the entire organization can succeed.”

Beyond hiring a new head coach and offensive coordinator, the Texans will have their hands full with trying to find a solution to Watson’s situation and evaluating how they want to use what could be the third overall pick.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Caserio said. “This year, I feel like we put a really good foundation in place. When you move forward, our situation right now is a lot better than it was this time last year.”

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