How Houston Texans’ DeMeco Ryans has had one of the most impressive NFL rookie seasons ever

2024 NFL defense rankings, Houston Texans
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the Houston Texans didn’t have one of the most attractive head-coaching jobs in 2023, unique circumstances positioned them to land DeMeco Ryans. In less than a year at the helm, Ryans has already turned the Texans into one of the best teams in the NFL.

Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has received a majority of the credit for the Texans’ success this season. However, the likely NFL Coach of the Year has been just as impactful for what he’s done for Houston’s culture, defense and future outlook.

Related: Houston Texans draft picks 2024

Ryans is no stranger to having outstanding success as a rookie. The former 33rd overall pick won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006. Nearly two decades later, Ryans could take home NFL COY thanks to one of the best seasons ever by a rookie head coach.

The DeMeco Ryans effect on the Houston Texans

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Houston hired Ryans for a variety of reasons. For one thing, he brought leadership and accountability as a linebacker for the Texans, all at a time when the franchise knew how to win. Ryans would help create a much-needed winning culture and provide a positive, learning atmosphere for young players, but he was also hired for his defensive mind.

The Texans’ defense experienced plenty of injuries this season, especially in the secondary and even in the front seven. However, this unit consistently improved as the season went along, with both Will Anderson Jr. and Derek Stingley Jr. emerging as blue-chip talents who can lead this group for years to come.

Houston Texans defense

PPGYards per PlaySacks3rd Down SuccessEPA per PlaySuccess Rate
202224.7 (27th)5.7 (26th)3938.91% (14th).010 (18th)45.8% (26th)
202320.4 (10th)5.2 (14th)4636.36% (7th)-.033 (14th)41.2% (9th)
Houston Texans defense before (2022) and after (2023) the hiring of DeMeco Ryans

Ryans’ defensive mind is also apparent when he works with players one-on-one, highlighting things they can take advantage of. A perfect example happened in the Wild Card game against the Cleveland Browns when the Texans’ head coach told linebacker Christian Harris exactly what was going to happen on a play and where he needed to be. It was that insight and direct coaching that helped lead Houston to a playoff win.

Of course, part of being a successful head coach in the NFL is also building a strong coaching staff. Young coaches are at a disadvantage compared to their elder peers in the process of putting together a staff because they have fewer connections around the league.

Ryans first became an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and he was there all the way through the 2022 season. However, he still put together a group of coaches that helped lead to Houston’s turnaround. The most important hire, of course, was offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.

PPGYards per Play3rd Down RateEPA per PlaySuccess Rate
202217.0 (31st)4.7 (32nd)30.32% (31st)-.168 (32nd)37.9% (32nd)
202323.4 (11th)5.5 (12th)37.5% (20th)-.023 (15th)41.4% (24th)
Houston Texans offense before (2022) and with Bobby Slowik (2023)

Unfortunately for the Texans, Slowik won’t be around for long. Houston’s offensive coordinator is. one of the top NFL coaching candidates in 2024 and if he isn’t hired during this cycle, he’s all but guaranteed to become a head coach in 2025.

Fortunately for Houston, Ryans built a deep coaching staff. Texans’ quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson, who has worked for Kevin O’Connell and Kyle Shanahan, is an offensive coordinator in the making. Meanwhile, wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Ben McDaniels has done wonders with Nico Collins, Tank Dell, Noah Brown and John Metchie III. The Texans coaching staff is built to survive after Slowik’s departure and that is also a credit to Ryans.

DeMeco Ryans and the best rookie head coach seasons

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

For now, it seems unlikely that Ryans will have the best season ever by a rookie head coach. After all, only two first-year NFL head coaches won the Super Bowl (Don McCafferty and George Seifert). However, Ryans is part of an exclusive group of rookie head coaches to win double-digit games.

NFL coach (Year)Record – Playoffs
DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans (2023)10-7 — Divisional Round
Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts (2018)10-6 — Divisional Round loss
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (2006)10-6 — NFC Championship loss
Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins (2016)10-6 — Wild Card loss
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (2007)10-6 — Wild Card loss
Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals (2013)10-6 — No playoffs
Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams (2017)11-5 — Wild Card loss
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens (2008)11-5 – AFC Championship loss
Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears (2018)12-4 — Wild Card loss
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers (2011)13-3 — NFC Championship loss
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts (2009)14-2 – Super Bowl loss
Here are the rookie NFL head coaches who won 10-plus games

Considering what the expectations were for the Texans this season, Ryans has arguably done a better job than Bruce Arians, Sean McVay, Mike Tomlin and Adam Gase did in their first seasons. Even if the Texans lose to the Baltimore Ravens, Ryans will have matched what Frank Reich has accomplished.

When you consider the context of the state of the Texans’ franchise before Ryans was hired and where things stand a year later, this is truly one of the best rookie seasons ever by a head coach. If the Texans somehow reach the AFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl, Ryans’ first year would be one of the four best ever.

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