HOUSTON — DeMeco Ryans was a highly sought-after candidate for head coaching jobs in this coaching cycle and had plenty of suitors other than the Houston Texans.
No team really had a chance to land him with the Texans as an option.
“When it came down to it, there is no place I wanted to be any more than H-town,” he said. “So, it was an easy pick for me. It was a no-brainer to be here, be home.”
Ryans was introduced as Houston’s new coach Thursday, giving him his first head coaching job in the place where he began his NFL playing career.
The 38-year-old Ryans joins the Texans from the San Francisco 49ers, where he spent the past two seasons as their defensive coordinator.
He replaces Lovie Smith, who was fired after just one season where the team went 3-13-1.
Ryans' introduction Thursday had a celebratory feel for a team that hasn’t had much to celebrate recently as the team endured three straight dreadful seasons where coaches Bill O’Brien and David Culley were also let go.
Ten current players and more than two dozen former players attended the event and many of them clapped and cheered as Ryans talked about his plans for this struggling franchise.
People around town are buzzing about the Texans hiring one of their own, and Houston rappers “Bun B” and “Trae tha Truth” illustrated that Thursday, attending the news conference both wearing the No. 59 jersey Ryans wore as a player.
Houston’s career leading receiver Andre Johnson was among those there to laud the new hire.
“It’s a great day for the Texans organization to have DeMeco back,” he said. “I just felt like it was the right decision. The league now is going to a place where you have to have a guy who can relate to players, develop players, create those relationships with players and have the belief of the players. And I think DeMeco is the guy for that.”
The Texans interviewed seven other candidates for the job, but it became clear pretty quickly that Ryans was their man.
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General manager Nick Caserio talked about their first interview with Ryans that came over Zoom minutes after he left the practice field where he was helping the 49ers prepare for a playoff game.
“What did we like? Everything,” Caserio said. “It was one of the more impressive interviews, interactions I’ve ever been around. And the thing about it is he’s genuine. DeMeco is who he is. He’s sincere. He’s real.”
At the end of that first interview Ryans left Caserio and team owner Cal McNair with some strong parting words.
“I want to come home,” Caserio said Ryans told them. “This is my dream job. Let’s make it happen.”
Ryans was a star linebacker in six seasons in Houston after being drafted in the second round in 2006. He won AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009.
“When we drafted him in ’06, he took over the defense, stepped into the middle, called the plays,” McNair said. “He was captain and they called him ‘Cap’. So, he’s been a leader for a long, long time. ... I can’t tell you how excited I am that he’s here.”
Ryans, who spent his entire six-year coaching career in San Francisco, knows he has a difficult task ahead of him to turn this team around. But he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“We’re excited now, but we have to win,” he said. “We want to build the right staff. We want to get the right players so we can go out and win and compete. That’s when the excitement continues and that’s what we want to bring here.”
Ryans joins Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles as the only three Black head coaches in the NFL. There are three other minority coaches, including Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who has a Black father and identifies as biracial.
Arizona and Indianapolis have yet to hire new coaches after firing their head coaches.
“It’s an honor to be a head coach in the National Football League,” Ryans said. “And it is humbling. It’s truly a blessing to just be one of 32. There’s not a ton of these jobs. So, to be trusted to lead this organization is something I take seriously. And I know the men who came before me and the sacrifices they made for me to be in this position leading the organization.”
Ryans said he received more than 500 texts congratulating him, with many saying how proud they were of him for reaching the pinnacle of coaching.
“Those same messages that I've gotten telling me how proud they are of me, I want to reflect that in our team," Ryans said. “We're preparing to make the city of H-town proud.”