In a Town Hall Conference Call with Texans’ season ticket holders Jan. 27, Texans owner Bob McNair spoke to SportsRadio 610’s Marc Vandermeer about a range of topics, including the Collective Bargaining Agreement and his decision to retain coach Gary Kubiak.
Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Marc Vandermeer: A lot of people have a lot of questions on this subject. It’s hard to avoid. I want to talk to you about the Super Bowl and how you feel about things regarding the Texans, of course, but people keep hearing about the Collective Bargaining Agreement. And we wanted to get it out of the way early. We’re not going to take any more questions on that as the call progresses, but we wanted to get your overall thoughts on the current situation and what fans should expect this offseason.
Bob McNair: Well, the Commissioner is making himself available just about every day of the week for negotiating. He stands ready to do that. I believe that what he says makes a lot of sense, and that is that he’s confident we’re going to reach an agreement with the (NFL) Players Union. And we stand ready and would like to get it done as soon as possible. So it’s really sort of up to the Union to come to the table. Our folks are there and they’re ready to sit down and work something out that will be reasonable for everyone.
Vandermeer: Alright, so that’s the latest, really, that negotiations could happen at any time. And the two sides have been talking a little bit, right? There was a meeting, I believe, last week. So we do have somewhat encouraging news, but I guess we are in a wait-and-see mode, correct?
McNair: Right, it’s a situation where, you know, quite often, in these situations, some of the parties feel like that they’re better off waiting until the last minute to really get serious in their negotiations. That’s not our feeling at all. We’re serious about it and we want to get it done. We’d like to get it done before the present agreement expires. But there are two parties involved, and we can’t do that by ourselves. But we’re ready to do everything to make that happen. Hopefully, it will. Even if for some reason that deadline passes by, there are still opportunities to continue talking, and we’re going to be pushing forward to continue those talks.
Vandermeer: We always say the NFL is 12 months a year now. There is no offseason. And let’s hope we can get to work with the signing of free agents and that sort of thing as the year progresses here. And there are a lot of exciting things happening with the Texans, including the addition of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Why don’t you talk about that addition to the Texans organization and then we’ll get into some of the other things, but you must be excited about Wade Phillips coming on board?
McNair: I really am. This past year has been a very frustrating year for me, and I know it’s frustrating for our fans. We probably had six games that we lost that we probably should have won. And we ought to be playing now instead of sitting at home and watching someone else. That’s a big disappointment.
But when we look back at the year and we ask ourselves what is it that we did well and what didn’t we do so good and what do we need to do to get us into the playoffs, it became quite obvious that, number one, our offense is the third-ranked offense in the league this past year, and for the last four years it’s been the third-ranked offense. We have put enough points on the board to win games, and the offense has not been the problem. Now, no offense is going to be perfect, and from time-to-time, from one game to the next, they might have a better game than the next game. But overall it’s one of the top offenses in the league.
But the problem we had is that we just couldn’t stop the other team from scoring. We knew that we had to do something with our defense. So that’s why we really changed our defensive coaches out with the exception of Bill Kollar, who coaches defensive line and does a good job. We decided that we wanted to bring in one of the best defensive people in the business and we made our list of the defensive coordinators or people who could serve us in that role who were active and available, and Wade was at the top of the list. And we made the decision as we went forward in the interviews, if any one of these – there were four people there – if any one of these four was available and we liked them and they liked us and we could come together on the terms, that we weren’t going to go any further.
So, fortunately, Wade was the first person that we talked to, he was our top choice, and he wanted to be in Houston and we wanted him to be here. And he just brings a wealth of experience and he’s had tremendous results every place he’s been. We’ve spent a lot of time with him and we’ve reviewed a lot of film with him and he’s already pointed out a number of things that needed to be corrected that had hurt us in our defense that were really technique-type issues, not necessarily personnel. I just think you’re going to see a big improvement there (on defense).
And, of course, we added Reggie Herring, and Reggie is a very fiery personality, as opposed to Wade, who is more laid-back. But Reggie is a fireball and he was with us back in 2002-03 when we had a good defense, so we’re fortunate to get him back as linebackers coach. And so we’ve added some really good guys there. And I like our new secondary coach, Vance, and I think he’s going to add a lot.
You’re going to see a big improvement. And as I told our coaches, if our defense this past year… they didn’t have to be in the top 10. If they’d just been in the middle of the pack, if we would’ve been 15th or 16th with the offense that we have, we would’ve been in the playoffs. So we don’t have to make a giant leap from down near the bottom to the very top (of the NFL). We just need to get up there in the middle of the pack and we’ll be more than competitive. But I think with Wade we have the opportunity to do even better than that. And I’m hopeful that we will.
Vandermeer: You know, I had Dom Capers on my radio show, on SportsRadio 610. (Capers is the) former Texans head coach now the defensive coordinator for the , of course. And he was raving about Wade Phillips, saying he’s a great teacher and he thinks he’s going to make a big difference. And it’s an interesting dynamic, Bob. Because you have Dom, a former head coach going to Green Bay as a (defensive) coordinator and they let him handle that side of the football and they’re going to the Super Bowl. You look at what happened with Gregg Williams last year with New Orleans, a former head coach, and they let him handle that (defensive) side of the ball and they went to the Super Bowl and won it. So you have to feel good about that kind of dynamic going into this situation with Wade coming here with the Texans?
McNair: Yeah, if you look at just about all of the coaches in the league, I can’t think of anyone off hand who really had a lot of experience on both sides of the ball. They all came up either as a defensive coach or an offensive coach. And that’s where their greatest interest lies. And I think that you have to match them up with someone who has an opposite interest.
And, of course, Gary Kubiak, everybody in the league will tell you, if you talk to any of the coaches or the people that really know what’s going on, that he has got one of the best offensive minds in the league. They all respected our offense and knew it was very explosive. And to be able to match him up with Wade Phillips, I think is the right combination. And Gary has a lot of confidence in Wade, as I do. And he’s going to let Wade design the defense.
And he is going to go to a 3-4. But the way he plays the 3-4, it’s very similar to the way you play a 4-3. You aren’t asking the players to make a lot of changes. And then the other thing is, the way that he does his scheming and the calls that he has and what have you, make it easy for the players to pick it up. He tries to simplify the game, not complicate it for the players. Sometimes we try to complicate things too much.
Vandermeer: Well, a lot of questions are rolling in about your thought process for the decision to keep Gary Kubiak on as head coach, and I think you just explained some of that. But you really wanted continuity with the Houston Texans and have that head man still in charge of the football operations, Gary Kubiak. Can you explain how difficult it was for you and what went into it? Because a lot of season ticket holders are asking about it.
McNair: It’s always a difficult decision that you have to make, but the thing that really swayed me in Gary’s favor is the way that he managed the locker room.
Typically, when things are going well, you don’t have problems in the locker room. But when things aren’t going well and you have got a losing streak going, players have a tendency to start pointing fingers, and sometimes coaches have a tendency to start pointing fingers, and it is very disruptive, very divisive. And what happens is you’ll see that the team doesn’t play as hard. And that’s never happened with Gary. We’ve been through some of those dips. He’s always been able to maintain the support of the players and the coaches. And they’ve always played hard. I mean, there’s no one in this league that will tell you that the Texans don’t play hard. They do play hard.
Now, some will say, ‘Well, it’s not a hard-nosed type football.’ Well, it is. You get out there on the field and you stand next to them and you watch them colliding, and they do (hit hard). Now, the type of offense that we run is not the type where we try to get the biggest linemen that we can possibly get and just try to smash the other guy in front and just do it strictly through power. We don’t do that. We try to use speed and leverage. So our linemen are not as big, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t hit hard and play hard. They do. But that was one of the big factors.
And then the other thing is that we had a lot of injuries (in 2010), and Gary doesn’t make excuses, so you wouldn’t hear any of this from him, but we had a lot of injuries on the defensive side of the ball that really hurt us. We lost our captain, , and he was a guy that the young guys looked up to, and DeMeco was the one to make sure that they were in the proper position and that they understood what they were supposed to be doing out there. We lost , and he was the other half of our pass rush that we thought was going to be much improved this year. We had other linebackers that were out for periods of time. We had , who missed the first four games, and then when he came back, DeMeco went out, and we tried Brian there at middle linebacker and moved him back, deciding that wasn’t the best spot for him. And so there were a lot of changes there, and that really impacted the results of the team.
But Gary is honest with the players. He doesn’t play favorites. And that has a big impact on the team. I’ve been around other teams before where coaches, the star players got star treatment, preferential treatment. And that only works so long and it builds resentment on the part of players. They all want to be treated the same. If you’re really hard on them, but you’re hard on everybody, they don’t mind that. They know that you’re trying to make them a better player and you’re trying to win. They’ll do that. But they don’t want to see you being hard on one guy and not hard on the next guy. Those were all the considerations.
Then the other consideration is, who do you have out there who is going to do a better job? That’s part of the consideration. And you look around the league and ask yourself the question, who out there has done a better job than Gary? And some of them have, but not many. There are a lot of them that haven’t. I wouldn’t trade Gary for a lot of the other coaches.
So those are the considerations, but at the same time, I want everybody to understand that there is a sense of urgency. And we’re not going to stay in this position forever. I didn’t get into this business to be the runner-up. We got in it to build a championship team and we expect to win. I’ve won in everything that I’ve been involved in before and I’m dedicated to winning here. And Gary is, too. There’s nobody that wants to win more for this city than Gary Kubiak. Believe me. I mean, he puts this team first and this organization first above any of his interests. He’s going to continue working hard to see that we get there.
And he’s made these changes this year that, you know, coaches are very reluctant to make any changes. And he made a lot of changes this year that are really significant and important to the success of the team. That was sort of the process that we went through.
Believe me, we looked at the records of a lot of coaches. And we looked at their circumstances, and no one is in the same circumstance. You know, if one coach comes in and he’s got a good group of players but they just haven’t quite gotten there, and he comes in and the performance picks up, that’s one thing. But Gary came in and our performance had been pretty bad the prior year, and he really got this thing turned around for us. So I think we’re headed the right way, but Gary knows and the coaches know and everybody knows, we expect to see favorable results this year, and we don’t want to be sitting at home again watching somebody else in the playoffs.
Vandermeer: Well, we know it’s been a busy offseason already with the coaching additions. And no matter what happens with the CBA, there will be an NFL draft. Talk about your involvement with the draft personally and how you see things as far as the way the entire football operation with Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak handles the draft.
McNair: The way we’re organized is that Rick is responsible for the personnel. He has the scouting department – I forget exactly what we have, 14 scouts, I think, something like that – and they’re out scouting in colleges all during the year. Plus, we have four pro scouts that scout all the other teams in the league, the other 31 teams. And so, they have been working on this all along. They’ll start preparing their draft board. And what I mean by that is, they’ll start ranking all of the players and put them up on the board in our war room, and we’ll have every player that’s going to be in the draft, at the end of the day we’ll have every one of them ranked. And then we’ll also have them ranked by position.
Then we have the coaches come in, and we have them look at the cut-ups on the players. Then they’ll determine what they view to be the best players at the different positions. Then the two groups come together and then we have a discussion and a debate and reach an agreement.
And even though Rick has the authority and the responsibility for personnel, he knows that he can’t go out and select players that coaches don’t want, because if he does, they’re not going to play them, and that doesn’t help us win. So he’s got to get players that the coaches want.
So one of the things they try to do is they try to get the coaches to describe the player that they want. (For example), Bill Kollar, ‘Bill, what do you want for your defensive tackle? Describe the defensive tackle that you want us to look for. What do you want in the way of the defensive end?’ And then linebackers, Reggie Herring will tell ‘em what he wants and what he looks for in an (outside linebacker) and the things that are important to him and the things that aren’t so important. So we try to do that so the scouts have a good idea not only of the players that are out there, but what the coaches prefer and what they’re looking for in the player.
So once we go through that whole process and we get our board set, then we have the draft day. On draft day, Rick leads the draft, but basically he and Gary are working (together) as players come off the board…There will be 10 players taken off the board before we have a chance to pick. Now, will those be the 10 players that we had ranked 1-10? I doubt it. There will always be some surprises in there. There always are. So there will be somebody still left on the board that we weren’t expecting, and there will be somebody that we thought that would be available on the board that won’t be there.
So we will then have all of our people in the room, our coaches and our scouts, and we’ll look at the board and the best player that’s available and we have several positions, not just one, but several positions, primarily on the defensive side of the ball, that we’re most interested in. And we’ll determine who is the best player available at any one of those positions and we’ll have a debate in the room.
We’ll ask people to show their preference and have a show of hands one player versus another one and listen to what they have to say. Why do you want this guy? Why do you think he’s better than the other guy? And Rick will listen to that and he’ll lead that discussion and then he’ll get Gary to express his view after hearing everything. And Rick will tell him either he agrees with him or he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t agree, he’ll tell him why. And they’ll talk about that some more and then reach an agreement as to who we’re going to pick. And that’s the process. It’s an open process in which everyone has a chance to voice their opinion.
Vandermeer: Alright, the Super Bowl is next week, obviously. And it’s in Dallas. We all remember how wonderful the Super Bowl was when it was here following the 2003 season. And I know you’ve been very passionate about trying to get it back here. But now that Dallas has that stadium, what do you think the chances are and what does the future look like for Houston as a possible site, because Houston did put on a terrific show when it was here?
McNair: I think we’ll get another Super Bowl. I don’t know when it will be, because we’ve got a real challenge in getting some new stadiums built. They cost so much money, and of course the public funds available for this sort of thing are limited. And now, with the economic picture the way it is, it’s going to be even more difficult.
So once a community is able to come together and get a stadium built the way we did here in Houston, they’re going to be rewarded with a Super Bowl. And sometimes we’re going to play in places that we really aren’t that excited about playing in. But that’s sort of been the tradition and I think that will continue.
So it doesn’t leave a lot of openings. So we’ll have to just work our way back in there and it does take a lot of effort on the part of the community. Houston did a great job the last time we had the Super Bowl. Everybody really pitched in and I think everybody had a good time. Those are the complications involved and that’s why it takes so long to get one of these bowls.
Vandermeer: Some fans want to know your Super Bowl pick for next week. Can you get into that or is that something you have to stay away from?
McNair: I like both teams. I really do. And I like the coaches and the owners. Of course, it’s public ownership with Green Bay.
I’m not going to pick a favorite, but I’ll just tell you this: Both of them are fine teams and they play the game, really, the way we want to play the game. They can both run the ball. They both have good passing attacks, and their special teams are sound. And they play solid defense. And that’s what it takes.
You really have to have a solid defense to get where they are. If you noticed, none of the teams that got to the championship level had weak defenses. They all had strong defenses. So our offense is strong enough. We just have to strengthen our defense and we can be up there with them.
I’ll be surprised if it’s not a relatively close game (on Sunday), because I think they’re pretty well-matched.