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Friday's NFL: Texans GM says differences in opinion led to Culley's firing

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Houston — 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.”

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.

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.

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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.

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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.”

Chiefs missing Edwards-Helaire for game vs Steelers

Kansas City, Mo. — The Chiefs will be without Clyde Edwards-Helaire for their wild-card playoff game against the Steelers on Sunday night after their starting running back was unable to put together a full week of practice because of a hurt collarbone.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed Friday that Edwards-Helaire would be ruled out for the playoff opener after he returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday but did not practice at all Thursday or Friday.

“It wasn't quite as good as what it might be and we thought it might be,” Reid said.

The oft-injured Edwards-Helaire missed five games earlier this season with a sprained knee ligament. He returned to start five more games before leaving early in the second half of the Chiefs' 36-10 romp over Pittsburgh on Dec. 26.

The injuries have turned the 2020 first-round pick into an afterthought in the Kansas City offense. Edwards-Helaire has run for just 517 yards and four touchdowns with 19 catches for 129 yards and two scores in parts of 10 games this season.

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In his place, former undrafted free-agent Darrel Williams has turned into a reliable option in the backfield. He's started seven times this season and run for 558 yards and six touchdowns with 47 catches for 452 yards and two scores, giving him more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his four-year career.

The Chiefs also have been relying on another undrafted free agent, Derrick Gore, and journeyman Jerick McKinnon.

“I think us as a room, we all collectively have a lot of similarities,” McKinnon said Friday. “The only thing I bring extra is that I bring the energy. The guys can thrive off that and feed off that.”

Despite the revolving door in the backfield, the Chiefs are ranked third in the league in total offense and fourth in scoring, and they have topped 100 yards rushing in their past three games and four of their past five.

“My comfort level is where it always is: the next man is up,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “The thing is, Clyde is going to do everything he can to be out there and we’re going to let the people take care of what they need to take care of. But on top of that, (running backs coach) Greg Lewis is doing a heck of a job with those guys. When given an opportunity, those guys have proven that they can rise to the occasion."

It's not just the running backs, though. Even quarterback Patrick Mahomes has gotten into the act, hurting defenses with his ability to scramble away from the pocket. He led the Chiefs with 54 yards rushing in their regular-season finale against Denver, when five different players got a carry and McKinnon hauled in a touchdown reception.

Williams was slowed by a toe injury against the Broncos, but he practiced all week and will be available against Pittsburgh.

“We've just rolled guys in and everybody has had their little role with the offense,” Reid said. “We'll keep doing that. We try to keep guys fresh the best you possibly can against a really good defense. It won't be any different than in the season.”