DeMeco Ryans’ first moments in Houston provided an immediate boost as a hard-hitting middle linebacker in the Texans’ defense.
Seventeen years ago, the expansion franchise was still establishing itself. And the impactful play and leadership of Ryans, a second-round draft pick and consensus All-American from Alabama named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, made the Texans more competitive.
Ryans was exactly what former Texans coach Gary Kubiak was looking for as an alpha personality in the locker room and on the field. And now, Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker named the Texans’ sixth head coach in franchise history last week, follows his original pathway to the NFL back to his roots in Houston where Kubiak was running the team at the start of his NFL career.
“He walks in the building as a high draft choice and, because we were a startup franchise, we put him on the field and he became the quarterback of our defense the minute he stepped on Kirby Drive,” Kubiak told KPRC 2 in a telephone interview. “We were asking a hell of a lot of him and everyone knew by the way he handled himself, the way he was with teammates, understanding what everybody does, you could see the effect it hand on the other people around him at a young age.
“We hate to say it, but we weren’t a very good team at that stage, but we knew he was a big part of what we were going to be doing in the future. He’s a great kid. He’s very humble, very bright, very driven. Don’t let him fool you, he’s a very driven person. He’s a special person. We’re all rooting for him."
Ryans has made a fast ascent in the coaching profession since his retirement to be hired by Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair and signed to an extremely lucrative six-year contract.
Ryans, 38, was the architect of the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense last season.
Ryans was hired by as a defensive quality control coach by 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan then promoted to coach the inside linebackers and named defensive coordinator when Robert Saleh was hired as the New York Jets’ head coach.
“The ground DeMeco has made up in six years tells you what kind of a special person he is,” Kubiak said. “I think DeMeco is going to do a tremendous job. It’s the chance of a lifetime and now is when the work starts. The fun part is the press conference, all of that, and now there’s all these things to get done. He’ll figure all of that out. I think there’s a lot of keys to a head coaching becoming successful. The most important part is having successful people around you.”
Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio have interviewed San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik, who’s regarded as the leading contender for the offensive coordinator job, Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters, former New England Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley, who was hired as the Los Angeles Rams’ tight ends coach, and Minnesota Vikings assistant quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson, according to league sources.
They’ve also interviewed New York Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel, per a source, and requested former Washington Commanders secondary coach Chris Harris, who was announced Tuesday as the Tennessee Titans defensive passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach. The Texans have interest in 49ers defensive passing game specialist-secondary coach Cory Undlin for their defensive staff, according to sources. Undlin’s contract has expired, so he can take another job outside the organization below coordinator role. 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek will remain with the NFC West franchise, according to multiple sources.
“I know Cal and Nick are doing everything they can to give him what he needs to be successful,” Kubiak said. “People will gravitate to DeMeco. He’s going to surround himself with guys who know his system. I’ll reiterate, the character of the guy, people will gravitate to him. He’s just who he is. He’s a very young head coach, but his reputation is exceptional. People will want to come work with him.”
Because of Ryans’ background with the ultra-successful 49ers, he comes from a place where there’s innovation and also proven schemes and strategies. Coming from the Shanahan coaching tree that also produced Saleh and Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel bodes well for Ryans and the Texans.
“It’s a tremendous system, a system proven in the years in the league and Kyle has put his own spin on it, it’s now the 49ers’ way,” Kubiak said. “His dad, Mike Shanahan, took it to Denver. I took it to Houston. Kyle is doing it his way and has a way of running his program. It’s been positive in the NFL in terms of a track record of success. Now, it’s time for DeMeco to take that and put his spin on it as well.
“Being around Kyle, who’s not only a great head football coach but a great teacher, has taught DeMeco a great deal. Kyle has done a good job of helping DeMeco understand offensive football and how they attack on offense. His knowledge has grown over a very short time. Now, it’s time for him to surround himself with the other Demeco Ryans of the world and other bright young minds.”
Ryans’ confident personality exudes relatability and communication skills with a high emotional intelligence. Those traits will serve him well in his new job, Kubiak believes.
“He’s very comfortable in his own skin,” Kubiak said. “When you have that much confidence in general in yourself, in who you are, you don’t have to worry about a lot. He believes in himself, most importantly. He’s going to treat people with respect. He’s going to put his fist down when he was to from a teaching and motivational approach, but he doesn’t have to think about when he wakes up every day: ‘How am I going to do this?’
“His presence is automatic, not something he has to go reaching for. You can just tell from him doing his press conference, he could have sat up there all day. He answered any question honestly. If he doesn’t have the answer, he’s going to go looking for it. The confidence, from watching him the other day, that’s exactly who he is.”
When Kubiak became a head coach for the first time, it was an adjustment like it is for every coach new to the job. So much goes across the coach’s desk on any given day that the general public and media and, even people within the organization, don’t realize.
“I used to tell assistant coaches when I was in Minnesota helping out Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman, ‘You don’t know what the head coach is dealing with,’” Kubiak said. “You have to respect all of the hats he’s wearing. It’s all part of how you handle all of those things as a leader.”
Kubiak and Ryans have remained in touch with his former coach sending him a congratulatory text.
“Yeah, we text,” Kubiak said. “I congratulated him and kind of left him alone. I’ve texted him a few things since then. I let him know I’m here for him to lend him an ear anytime he wants to talk. We’ve always been very good friends. I have great respect for him.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.