David Culley’s first head coaching job wasn’t an envied one.
After decades spent as an assistant, Culley finally got a chance to man the main role in 2021 with the Texans, a team in flux that hired the coach to lead its squad of veteran castoffs looking for another chance to prove their worth in the NFL. So too was Culley as a head coach, and leading the Texans to four wins — including two in the final month of the season — has earned Culley the respect of folks around the league for making the most out of a difficult situation.
Culley’s Texans played an entire season without their embattled star quarterback, Deshaun Watson, and ended up handing the keys to third-round rookie Davis Mills. What followed was impressive, even if the season as a whole was far from a title run. Culley earned the right to continue in his role, it seemed, considering the circumstances he was forced to overcome.
As of now, the Texans think so, too.
“As far as I know, I’m the head coach of the Texans right now and I’m moving forward with that,” Culley said Monday.
It’s perfectly reasonable to give Culley a generous benefit of the doubt when analyzing his first season as Texans coach. Houston became a destination for veterans seeking one more shot at playing in the NFL and potentially earning a second life beyond 2021. Some of those veterans — Mark Ingram, Anthony Miller and Whitney Mercilus — didn’t last the entire season before they were either traded or released, leading some to believe a mass exodus could be ahead.
Instead, those who remained banded together and rallied around Mills, who produced enough quality game tape to inspire a belief he can be Houston’s quarterback going forward.
“He (Mills) picked up on a lot of things about how to prepare,” Culley said, via Sports Radio 610’s Tyler Milner. “First in, last out. Watch the video, but understand it. You’re starting to see him smile more … He knows he has a long way to go but progressing nicely.”
The job was the least desirable in the NFL, especially considering whoever got it would have to deal with rampant Watson speculation until the matter was resolved. As of now, it remains unresolved, but Culley managed to handle the situation better as time passed, keeping his players focused on the weekly task at hand.
Upset wins over the Chargers and Titans stand as the highlights of Culley’s first season. He thinks more are on the way.
“We expect a big jump next year,” Culley said. “Disappointed we only won four games, thought we should win more. … We will add some more pieces through the draft. (General manager) Nick (Caserio) will add through free agency. We look forward to moving forward.”
On its surface, the thought of firing Culley after one season seemed cruel. It’s not as if he was handed the same tools as other first-year coaches, and that’s without including the ongoing situation with Watson. He deserved some leniency when judged by Houston’s decision-makers.
It appears they — including Caserio — agree. Just don’t expect Culley to want a free pass any time soon.
“You’re judged every year,” Culley said, via Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson. “I’m not happy with the number of wins we got. I expected to get more. It’s a bottom line business.”
That will be true in 2022, a season that will be played after Caserio has had a full offseason to improve the team’s roster. For now, though, Culley’s work to produce four wins and take the AFC’s top-seeded Titans to the wire in Houston’s season finale stands as enough proof to bring him back for another season.
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