Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Dec 2013

Texans Fire Gary Kubiak

Not a surprise, and not unearned. But it is a little funny that it was benching Case Keenum for Matt Schaub that appeared to be the last straw in the mind of Bob McNair. The real question is if general manager Rick Smith will survive as well.

Special teams coordinator Joe Marciano was also fired. Finally.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 06 Dec 2013

71 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2014, 8:10pm by justanothersteve


by Boots Day :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 2:58pm

I'm not a big fan of in-season firings, especially this late in the year. Is it really going to help anything, or just make the last three games even more of a clustercuss?

by Dired :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:02pm

From the sounds of it McNair just went nuclear, between losing to the Jags (didn't the coach of the Saints team that gave Tampa Bay its first-ever win also get canned immediately?) and Kubiak playing Schaub again, possibly for the last three games as well. I guess Texas is big enough for two "colorful" owners.

by Shattenjager :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:20pm

Hank Stram got fired after the season, so he actually coached one more game after losing to Tampa in 1977. He did supposedly burn the game film from the loss.

The next team the Buccaneers beat, the Cardinals, also let go of their coach, Don Coryell.

by Hurt Bones :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:48pm

I thought the quote from Kubiak that he was considering playing Schaub for the final three games was code for "put me out of my misery".

by JasonG (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:30pm

Literally laughed out loud.

by Steve in WI :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:41pm

It's probably good for the Texans in two respects: one, it's in their best interests to stick with Keenum for the rest of the season to see what they've got, either as a potential starter (although I would assume they draft a QB in the 1st round) or a backup). Two, while the owner would never say it, it's really better for the team at this point if they lose out and get the highest pick; Kubiak, on the other hand, had every incentive to win the last three games and try to save his job (see benching Keenum for Schaub).

by Mash Wilson :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:07pm

Whereas Wade Phillips doesn't have every incentive to win the last three games and get an extension or a head coaching offer elsewhere?

If the Texans' goal is to lose out--and it isn't, no owner or GM of a football team ever wants to lose a game, but if it was--keeping Kubiak through season's end would be a much better idea.

If I were a Texans fan I'd be terrified of them winning out and giving Uncle Wade a three year extension to remain head coach.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 11:39am

Yeah, that's the nightmare scenario. I want the #1 pick and a coach who might be exceptional, not one who's definitely ok. Shaw or Briles, maybe, or Bowles or Bevell or Roman.

by Insancipitory :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:07pm

The season is gone, the super bowl window may be closing. They may as well get a jump on acquiring the best head coach. If they were going to fire Kubiak, now was probably the best time.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 11:41am

Superbowl window's closed, I'd say. If they had more cap room maybe they could sign Cutler and that would maybe keep it open, but I'm not sure it would be a great idea even if they did, and they don't.

by mehllageman56 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 2:58pm

If they draft Bridgewater and he's everything me and everyone else think he is, the super bowl window closes until May and then re-opens for the next ten years.

by Mr Shush :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 5:56am

I hope you're right. I've seen barely any college football the last couple of years, but certainly Matt Miller's scouting report on him is encouraging reading.

by Hurt Bones :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 9:45am

The eyes play tricks. I read that as Matt Millen's scouting report, a pretty scary thought.

by mehllageman56 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 7:01pm

Matt Millen's scouting report on Teddy Bridgewater: Accurate in pocket and on the move. Shows courage; can take a hit. Throws receivers open. Three year starter in a major program, with pocket awareness. Arm strength solid, not elite. Does not play piano. Draft his receivers instead.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 12/09/2013 - 9:30am

I'm glad I saw this before I got my coffee. Otherwise, it'd have been all over my computer screen.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:07pm

Texans have had a lot of bad luck and key injuries this year, which is sure to regress to the mean next year. Between that and draft position, the Texans are going to be really good next year.

On that note, I don't think Rick Smith's job should be in jeopardy any more than Mark Domenik's in Tampa Bay. How is it the GM's fault when they put together a talented roster that the coach fails to take advantage of?

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:38pm

This team is 2-11, and looking like they will finish either 2-14 or 3-13. They have lost Brian Cushing, Daniel Manning, Arian Foster and Owen Daniels for significant time. I don't know if those four plays, plus a top three overall draft pick will result in a "really good team", which is nebulous, but I assume at least 12 wins when I hear really good.

In order to improve, they need (as you noted) health, but they will also need vastly improved QB play. Are they going to get that from Schaub/Keenum, or some rookie coming in? Doubtful. They should improve next season, but this team is a couple of solid drafts away from competing again.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:07pm

Schaub has been really bad this season but has been pretty good most of his career. Which is more likely, that this is his decline at age 32 or that this was a down year? I think they are reasonably likely to get "vastly improved QB play" just by trying again with Schaub next year.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:52pm

"Which is more likely, that this is his decline at age 32 or that this was a down year?"

I think that's a more interesting question than you're giving it credit for. Past analysis says that the average age of QB decline is 32. On the other hand, "decline" does not necessarily mean "hit a brick wall". It's entirely possible that Schaub could be a better player next year, while still not being as good as he was a couple years ago. It's also possible that he really has hit a brick wall. QBs with questionable arm strength can fall off really fast once decline sets in.

by Mash Wilson :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:10pm

Schaub reminds me of Jake Delhomme. Delhomme was injured for most of his age-32 season, played decently at 33, and cratered at 34.

But I don't think Schaub is really very talented--he's always been an average quarterback at best--and so I think there's a significant chance he's finished. If I were a team badly in need of a quarterback in 2014 and not in a position to draft a starter, I'd see about picking Schaub up and seeing if he has anything left, but I'd be prepared to pull the plug pretty early if it gets ugly.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:35pm

Schaub had DVOA's of +24% and +12% the last two years. That's not average, thats very good.
In most years, that range is somewhere between the 4th and 10th best QB in the league.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:08pm

He's also played with a well above average supporting cast. Very good running game / O-Line, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels. I think an average quarterback could easily put up numbers 12 - 25% better than average with those teammates.

He hasn't been the same since his injury in 2011 which also cost the Texans their best shot at a Super Bowl.

by Rivers McCown :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:18pm

I think the end point you were looking for was "hasn't been the same since the Lions game in 2012." Call it kicked-in-the-balls syndrome.

BRB, dropping Vernon Davis from all my fantasy teams.

by Jimmy :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 2:16pm

DARGH - which measures performance following taking a hit to the man parts.

by nath :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:59pm

Yes. Great QBs can play for a long time before their performance drops off to an unacceptable level. Guys of Schaub's caliber fall off around this age, often hard.

Watching Schaub this season, it's clear his arm strength is no longer adequate.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:25pm

I didn't intend for that to come off as dismissive. Call it a limitation of the medium. I do think it's an interesting question, and I do not assume that I'm right. I just think he'll probably play significantly better next year than this year. My guess, and I know it's a guess, is that he's declining but hasn't truly "hit a brick wall" as you put it. I expect a season moderately worse than prior years, but that's still much better than this year.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:31pm

I also think players at all positions can perform worse when play around them falters. I don't just mean that supporting cast makes outcomes differ. I mean that players really do play better or worse depending on other players. For example a talented guard playing next to a terrible center can try to do too much to help the center and as a result be less effective overall. A QB with an offense that can't make any yardage is apt to take more chances and so perform worse (that may even be the right strategy since high variance play favors the worse team). I have no idea if that's happening in Houston though.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 11:51am

I've seen just about every second of Schaub's Houston career, and I think I would literally bet everything I own at even money that his time as an above average starter is done. He played poorly in 2012, but the excellence of the supporting cast masked it, so his stats were still good. He never had a very strong arm, and as a result he didn't have to lose much to cease to be a viable starter. Look at similar players like Bulger (last good year at age 29), Hasselbeck (32) and Pennington (32).

Moreover, in the wildly unlikely event of Schaub being a good starter again, it won't be in Houston. He won't play another snap this season unless Keenum gets hurt, and he will be cut in the off-season. The starting QB in Houston next year will be a rookie (probably), a veteran currently rostered elsewhere (conceivably) or Keenum (depending on what happens in the last three games).

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:09pm

So you've apparently not paid attention to what happened to the Chiefs this year. While the Chiefs may not be a true Superbowl contender, they're likely to finish with 11 or 12 wins (which I think is really good, especially compared with a two win season last year).

If they bring in a competent veteran QB to groom any rookie they draft(or if Keenum becomes that), and if what was a previously excellent defense gets healthy, combined with being in a weak division, with a 4th place slot in "placement" games, I don't see how you could be shocked that they would be competitive again.

Keep in mind in week 3, the Texans were dominating the Seahawks in the 1st half, and were one poor Matt Schaub decision from beating them. They've only been blown out a couple of times, and had close losses to some good teams. Everything about them screams "regression" (but in a good way).

by RickD :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:33pm

You understand that the Chiefs are the outlier, yes?

Regression will only bring the Texans so far. They need to serious improve in several ways, most importantly at head coach and QB.

Let's see who their new coach turns out to be and who plays QB next year before we think they'll even be better than the Jaguars.

by tuluse :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:37pm

I don't think it would be surprising to see the Texans go 10-6 and get a playoff spot next year.

by RickD :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:02pm

I want to see who they bring in first. I wouldn't be surprised to see them go 10-6, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see them go 6-10. When you're changing your head coach and your QB, you can't just rely on regression to the mean to improve your record. I see no a priori reason to expect them to be better than the Jets, for example. The 11-1 Texans of last December are gone, and seem more like a mirage than an indicator of how they'll fare next year.

by tuluse :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 2:05am

I agree with your for the most part. I think getting healthy and shooting themselves in the foot less (ie regression towards the mean), will improve them to the 6-10 to 8-8 range. If they upgrade a little bit or catch some breaks 9-7 or 10-6 seem reasonable.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:29pm

Starting 9-0 was definitely outlierish, but not going from 1-4 wins to double-digit wins and a playoff berth. May also happen with this year's Lions. Happened to 2012 Colts/Vikings, 2010 Chiefs, 2009 Bengals, 2008 Dolphins. And the Texans have more talent than any of those teams.

Obviously if they bring in a train wreck of a coach or channel the 2010-2012 Cardinals when trying to fix the QB situation, all bets are off.

by Bobman :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 2:07am

Chiefs the outlier? No way! Only half-kidding, but they went from 2-14 to probably 12-4 in one season, and the year before Indy went from 2-14 to 11-5. The real question is which team is next year's turnaround candidate?

Semi-joking aside, the Colts were the outlier and a pretty weak team last year they mysteriously won 11. They were really horrid in 2011. The Chief, BTW, were picked by a lot of pundits to make the playoffs before last year's 2-14 campaign. They were regarded as a talented team that had a lot of injuries. Add new coach, new QB, weak sked, and voila, a playoff team.

I don't think it would be a surprise at all if a similarly snake-bitten team from this year made a huge turnaround, and with their D and O skill players and LT, why not the Texans with a new coach and new QB? Great team, no. But going from 2-3 wins to 10 wins and a WC slot would be a huge turnaround that's not terribly surprising. Watch for Green Bay next year to go from "bad" only because of Rodgers's injury, to good again. The Rams only have a few pieces to get fine-tuned but are in a brutal division.

EDIT: Okay, reading posts above mine it seems that a bunch of us are close to agreement on this. Sorry for piling on.

by mehllageman56 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 3:01pm

I think you need to watch some tape of Bridgewater before assuming a rookie coming in will not give them vastly improved qb play.

by nath :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 8:14pm

In Dominik's case, he's now hired two colossal failures as head coach. It IS his fault that he can't seem to identify good coaching.

by Jerry :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 9:51pm

Good organizations are the ones that can identify where the problems are, or even whether they exist. Are we losing because of bad talent, bad coaching, injuries, or just an off-year where lots of things are going wrong? If you can answer that correctly, you'll likely become accustomed to playoff appearances.

Before this, I'd have predicted that at least one of the Falcons and Texans would rebound to 10+ wins next year. I'll make that claim less confidently now, since major changes, even if they're warranted, make that kind of success less likely in the short term.

by jklps :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 3:59pm

I thought, preseason, the Texans would have to figure out a way to move on from Schaub as their ceiling was limited with him at QB. Never saw this happening.

How does a team with JJ Watt lose 11 in a row?

(Not a Texans fan, just making observations)

by QCIC (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:00pm

No idea.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:04pm

"How does a team with JJ Watt lose 11 in a row?"

Probably not where you were going with this question, but it's because he's a defensive lineman. The best defensive lineman in the league is still a defensive lineman. In the modern NFL, if you don't have a QB, you don't have a chance.

See also, Adrian Peterson.

by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:47pm

Yep, pretty much the same way the 1992 Seahawks went 2-14 with DPOY Cortez Kennedy putting up one of the best seasons an interior DL has ever had.

by mehllageman56 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 3:03pm

The Jets aren't exactly lighting it up, and their entire defensive line is just nasty.

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:31pm

The Texans' secondary has been a mess this year. Even Watt can't make up for that. If Rick Smith deserves to be fired for anything, it's for letting Quin go and hoping Ed Reed would make up for it. If Quin were back there the Texans might have managed an average season.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 11:57am

Yeah, losing both Cushing and Manning has left the team with no-one even remotely capable of covering the middle of the field, at any depth, and while the top two corners are good, #3 on down suck something fierce.

Also, the offensive line has been putrid, including a major down year for Duane Brown, and Ben Tate can't block, which is not a good situation for an inexperienced QB who holds the ball too long to come into.

by nath :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:26pm

Injuries, sticking with bad players for far too long, and the most fearful head coach in the league.

by jds :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:18pm

Seems to me this is really bad form for the Texans. Isn't this the guy you rolled off the field on a strecher 3 weeks ago; and you feel the need to fire him now? Of course he was gone by the end of the year, but what do you get by firing him now? Unless he was given orders not to put Schaub back in a game this year, and you need to show who the boss is, what is the point. You are not going to sell more hot dogs in your last home dates because you now have Wade coaching. Don't get the timing at all.

by RickD :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:36pm

I don't see how Kubiak's fainting earns him 3 more weeks. I hope his health is OK, but the Texans are running a serious business.

It's not like his contract has been ripped up. He'll still be paid.

And I wouldn't be surprised if this related to using Schaub again.

by PaddyPat :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:20pm

I really think losing to the Jaguars a second time was enough. Putting Schaub in again isn't so much the incendiary move as an admission that the coach doesn't know what he's doing and he's losing to the JAGUARS a second time. I mean, good God, the Jaguars are absolutely putrid this year. If Belichick lost to the Jaguars twice I would expect ownership to start to itch.

by Boots Day :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:17pm

The Jaguars have now won four out of their last five games. They may not be completely helpless after all.

by nath :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 8:15pm

I'm glad I didn't tear up my ticket on JAX over 5 wins when they started 0-8!

by RickD :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:47pm

Half of those four wins are against the Texans themselves.

by nath :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:28pm

After the game Kubiak was talking about starting Schaub the rest of the season. The fact that he apparently doesn't understand why that's totally counterproductive has a lot to do with why he was fired.

by Hurt Bones :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:54pm

That was what I was trying to imply above though in a more humorous way. I'm pretty sure that was the final straw. Your team has just been eliminated from the playoffs, to a bad team playing hard while trying to evaluate the talent on their roster.

I'm thinking McNair is thinking if Kubiak isn't interested in evaluating young talent for next year, I'm not interested in keeping a coach like that.

by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:33pm

Healthwise, it's probably better for Kubiak to be fired. Less stress.

The man with no sig

by theslothook :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:23pm

I wonder if people really believe something in Kubiak is leading the texans to this nosedive. Ie - is he a fundamentally worse coach this year versus last year? I don't know if I can lay this debacle at the head of the coach, his asinine waffling with schaub put to the side. Overall, I feel like he's learning the painful lesson of regression combined with awful qb play. Seriously, is there any coach out there right now that is winning despite having a significantly below average qb playing? The closest I can think of is Rex Ryan and he's not even winning now.

by DEW (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:43pm

The Jets, Titans, Browns, Raiders, and Jaguars all have worse or equal QB play than the Texans and better records. (Indeed, even the Lousy 2013 Matt Schaub would be a major upgrade for some of those clubs.) The Bengals, 49ers, and Chiefs have all gotten average QB play and had considerable success.

The narrative (true or not) has always been with the Texans that Kubiak's offense was exceptionally vanilla and not designed to maximize the possible output, and that's when Schaub was playing well in it, and also that it was the defense that finally pushed them from a perennial 8-8 to a playoff team. When Schaub's performance tailed off this year, the offense was no longer even propped up to adequate, and when the defense faded as well the team crashed, hard. Kubiak has never been credited with assisting the success they did have, and has been depicted as an impediment to achieving the success they didn't attain. Again, I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but that's the tale as it's been told.

by PaddyPat :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 6:24pm

My feeling was that Kubiak's offense was adequate/average with strong talent. It was a reasonable scheme, but insipidly vanilla and predictable. He didn't contribute materially to the defense or the special teams; he simply ran that bland and slightly sour offense, which depended on execution and ability and tended to fall apart against smart teams. Nevertheless, it brought competency and a measure of consistent dependability to what had been a miserable franchise. Kubiak couldn't propel the team to the next stage and with a dip in talent on the field, a significant dip in performance ensued. It just really snowballed on him, and that tends to happen in football. It can even plague great teams like the 2003 Buccaneers. Embark on a path of losing and you start to slowly become a loser.

by Whatev :: Mon, 12/09/2013 - 4:27am

But dude, if you have strong talent, you're supposed to produce strong results. "Adequate" or "average" results mean your scheme sucks.

by JimZipCode :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 10:42am

Lots of talk on the Ravens discussion boards last night, that it would be awesome to get Kubiak as offensive coordinator. Of course, for Ravens fans, a "competent" offense with "a measure of consistent dependability" sounds like the Holy Grail.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:44pm

Kubiak has been the coach since 2006, other than last year, the team has never really been better than average, despite playing in what has been a pretty weak division (outside the Manning Colts). Last year, Jacksonville was (surprise) awful, and so was Tennessee.

They were +7% DVOA last year and went 12-4 against the weakest schedule in the league, so I'm not even convinced they were a better than average team last year.

It's like Reid's last couple years in Philly. Something needs to change. I can't definitively say Kubiak is a bad coach, but hes a bad coach for Houston right now, just as Reid was a bad coach for Philly at that point.

by nath :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:31pm

Frankly, I thought he should have been fired after 2010. The team consistently underperformed relative to its talent level, because of his vanilla, uncreative offense with no big-play potential, as well as his inability to turn red zone trips into touchdowns and his remarkable cowardice (even by NFL standards) on fourth downs and late in games.

by DEW (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 5:32pm

It's interesting. On offense, at least, the Texans appear to have a lot in common with the Chiefs: quality players (indeed, considerably superior receivers, and even though Foster and Tate are not Jamaal Charles they are very good) being weighed down by poor QB play and dubious coaching. On defense, the situation is not quite so rosy, where the stellar play of Watt is matched by the inability of Cushing to stay healthy and the general misery in the secondary and linebacking corps. It's possible that they've managed to miss their window and will have to rebuild. Hopefully, though, they can figure out their coaching situation quickly so that they can address their player needs.

(It's interesting, all these suggestions that Kubiak was fired for playing Schaub, particularly in last night's game when Schaub played far better than Keenum, apart from the Romo-esque narrative created by his final interception. But if you lose twice to this year's Jaguars, it's not likely the coach had any chance to stay.)

by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:09pm

Kubiak has a .488 winnng percentage. He wasn't a terrible coach he just wasn't the genius people thought he was. He was basically a replacement level coach. He won games when he had talent, lost games when his talent was hurt. You probably have to think the nose dive has something to do with his health. I can see why the team is better off moving in a different direction and Kubiak is probably better off moving to a less stressful situation.

by Theo :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 7:52pm

This is best for everyone.
Clearly the team and coach didn't connect anymore.
The QB mess doesn't help either.
If the coach then shows signs of breaking down, it's best for him and the team to let someone else finish the season.

by Never Surrender :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 8:01pm

FO readers often put way too much stock in regression to the mean, to the point where it's fallaciously employed. I hope you guys don't gamble much.

by RickD :: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:59pm

Well put. It's a point that drives me crazy. Regression to the mean only applies when
a) you have reason to think that recent performance is diverging widely from the mean ; and

b) conditions will be the same (i.e. the mean of whatever is under consideration will remain constant)

The Texans are in transition. They're changing their head coach and likely their QB. We're really not going to know what their true level is next season until the games are played. But I've just been stunned to see how far they've fallen this year. They were legitimately one of the top teams in the AFC last season. And now they're being swept by the Jaguars? Why, because of a few injuries? Every team has injuries.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/07/2013 - 12:06pm

The 2014 Texans offense is a huge unknown at this point, that's absolutely true. The defense, however, may well have more similar fundamental constituents, and there and on special teams I think we should expect a substantial rebound.

by Hurt Bones :: Sun, 12/08/2013 - 1:01pm

I see that Shanahan was ready to quit as Washington's head coach in January, according to a source (the guy who wrote the biography of Shanahan maybe?). Hoping he gets fired this week so he can battle Lovie for the first crack at the Texans job. Ladies and Gentleman Kyle Shanahan your 2014 Texans OC.