The Houston Texans fired head coach David Culley on Thursday after one season with the team, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero reported, per sources.
An NFL assistant since 1994, the 66-year-old Culley got his first head coaching opportunity with the Texans in 2021, but it lasted just one campaign in which Houston finished 4-13.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio, who was brought in during the 2021 offseason as well, will now look for his second coach in as many seasons and the franchise's third head coach over the last three years.
"Earlier today, I met with David Culley and Tim Kelly to inform them we will be moving in a different direction at the head coach and offensive coordinator positions," Caserio said in a statement Thursday evening. "I came to this difficult but necessary decision after reviewing our football operation. While a change after one season is unusual, we had philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program moving forward. We appreciate Coach Culley for helping us navigate through a difficult season, but it is my responsibility to make decisions that I feel are best for our organization. The search for the next coach of the Houston Texans will begin immediately."
Among the reasons Culley was fired, Rapoport reported, was that he would not make changes to his offensive staff, including Kelly, who was fired on Thursday, as well. Other changes are expected, Rapoport added.
Culley's departure comes with a costly caveat for the organization, however, as Pelissero later reported that Houston owes its now former coach another $17 million over the next three years. In all, Culley will have earned $22 million for one season of work, per Pelissero.
The dismissal of Culley follows that of Brian Flores, who was fired Monday as the Miami Dolphins head coach. With Culley and Flores having been fired, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin is currently the NFL's only Black head coach.
"I loved every minute of being the head coach of the Houston Texans," Culley said in a statement. "I appreciate the players and coaches for staying the course with me through the ups and downs of our season. I'm disappointed we didn't win more games and I won't have a chance to improve on the lessons I've learned, but I fully understand this is a bottom-line business and I didn't do enough. I want to thank the McNair Family and Nick Caserio for giving me this opportunity, I am forever grateful for the experience. I wish this team and organization the best, they are building a special program and I truly believe the future is bright for Texans fans."
Culley's firing ends his time spent in what was essentially a no-win job from the moment he was hired. Deshaun Watson requested a trade before Culley was hired and did not play during the 2021 season amid 22 allegations of sexual misconduct and the aforementioned trade request.
With all things considered, Culley overachieved in his only season at the helm. Houston was a talent-poor team whose roster only grew thinner as the season progressed following the departures of running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Anthony Miller and pass rusher Whitney Mercilus. Veterans on one-year, prove-it deals filled much of the remainder of Houston's roster, providing Culley with little to develop. And still, the Texans won four games, despite ranking 27th or worse in points per game, total yards per game, points allowed per game and yards allowed per contest with a team many projected at the start of the season to finish with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft.
Most notable was the fashion in which Culley's Texans played down the stretch. The coach saw the benefits of giving third-round pick Davis Mills the starter's reps in the team's final five games, and the decision proved to be a wise one, with Mills surprising many with his play. The rookie posted four games with a passer rating of 92 or better and finished the stretch with a 9-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, helping Houston win two of its final four games, including a stunning upset over the Chargers in Week 16.
Meanwhile, Houston's mercenary cast of veterans gave their full effort with little else but future employment to play for, refusing to lay down against superior opponents. The Texans defeated two teams with winning records after their Week 9 bye and even took the AFC's top-seeded Titans to the wire in their 28-25 loss to close out the season.
With a 4-13 record, questions surrounded Culley's future even after outperforming expectations. Rapoport and Pelissero reported this past Sunday that Culley had been viewed as a potential bridge to the future in Houston.
Culley told reporters Monday that he was proceeding as if he was going to be the head coach in 2022. That changed with Thursday's news, which cannot be analyzed without acknowledging a significant change in the coaching landscape. Caserio, who hired Culley in 2021, has a history with the now-available Flores from their time spent together in New England.
Houston is expected to embark on a targeted coaching search, per Pelissero, one that should include Flores and could also see Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels receive an interview request.
Selecting a new head coach is far from the only task ahead for Caserio. The Texans GM has roughly $20.5 million in cap space to work with (per Over The Cap) while carrying over $35 million in dead cap due to roster changes.
Culley leaves Houston with the one season of experience as a head coach and decades more as an assistant that stretches back to the mid-1990s. Where he lands next remains to be seen, but it's likely few will hold his 4-13 record as a head coach against him, considering the circumstances amid which he operated with the Texans.