Inside the Texans players’ group chat, a lively conversation is hopping with activity and opinions.
As the Texans’ head coaching search reached its eighth interview Sunday with New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, the players are not entirely different from fans and media who are actively following along with each development.
They continually analyze the candidates, a strong group that also includes San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Los Angeles Rams assistant head coach Thomas Brown, former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
“A group of us have been chatting about it in our team chat,” Hughes said during an appearance at a Verizon store in Cypress. “We all get the alerts of who we’re interviewing. We’re ballplayers, so we’re going to talk about their resume, how cool it would be. We’re excited to see who will be the new head coach and what direction we’re going to head. I think that’s really what everyone is eager about right now.”
Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair, general manager Nick Caserio and other team officials have been meeting with some of the top available coaches. And that group has included some of the top defensive minds in the league, including Ryans, a retired former Texans Pro Bowl middle linebacker who coaches the 49ers’ top-ranked defense, and Gannon, who has interviewed three times with the AFC South franchise during the past two hiring cycles and is coming off an impressive game plan and defensive performance in an NFC divisional round playoff victory where the Eagles dominated the New York Giants by shutting down quarterback Daniel Jones and contained running back Saquon Barkley.
The possible scenario of the Texans hiring a defensive mastermind is intriguing to Hughes.
"Right, which would be so fun for us because I’m a defensive player,” Hughes said. " I love being in the room with those guys, being able to learn just more football. I think that will not only help us be a top-five defense, but put us in the right frame of mind because of the young talent we have. I’m thinking about Jalen Pitre, Christian (Harris), some of those young guys who could learn from a great coach with a great defensive mind.”
Caserio said the Texans are hoping to hire a strong leader with a collaborative vision for the entire organization.
After a 3-13-1 season and dismissing veteran coach Lovie Smith, the Texans are in transition again having won just 11 games over the past three seasons.
“I’m looking for those qualities of someone who can help teach us the game of football, how to operate in tight situations, which is probably why Nick is looking for those young minds right now to make sure that we’re all thinking and talking the same kind of football,” Hughes said. “Which is really important. Our core, we have very talented guys, a very young room. It’s just getting us with the right coach to direct us in the right way and I think we’ll get it this year.”
Hughes, 34, is coming off a resurgent first season with the Texans.
His pass rushing moves were effective as he led the team with nine sacks as he finished tied for 25th in the league. Hughes also recorded 10 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract last offseason that includes $5.5 million guaranteed, Hughes has 67 career sacks, 18 forced fumbles. 447 tackles, 92 for losses and 139 quarterback hits.
A former Indianapolis Colts first-round draft pick from TCU, the Sugar Land Stephen F. Austin graduate revitalized his career.
“It felt fun,” Hughes said. “I don’t know if it was just being home or being around the people I grew up with or being in a comfortable environment with me being back home. It was great to get those sacks and get that rolling. It recharged me, revamped me and I’ve been looking at the sack totals, man. Trying to find ways to climb into that top 10, to five, leading the NFL in sacks is something we always talk about, ways to get to the quarterback, for me to have fun and get it done this year.”
Hughes has been spending time with family resting up after a long season. He’s healthy and optimistic about the future. Although he’s one of the older defensive ends in the league, Hughes isn’t thinking about retirement. He’s hungry to play more football.
“Right now, I’m recharging, getting back with the fam and trying to find a routine of dropping off the kids at school early in the morning,” Hughes said. “Knock on wood, I had a healthy season this year. Got to keep fine-tuning my body and just finding ways to improve in myself.
“Absolutely. I’m feeling good. The way this team is set up, (strength and conditioning coach) Mike Eubanks does a great job of keeping our bodies in shape. I think as long as I can keep this engine fine-tuned and running, I’m going to go out there and have fun.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.