DeMeco Ryans, the Texans' third new head coaching hire in as many years, selected to come back to the team that drafted him with high hopes that this time is the charm.
Ryans was a much sought-after option during the most recent hiring cycle thanks to coordinating a 49ers defense that ranked first in both points and yards allowed. He interviewed with the Panthers, Colts and Broncos, but his history as a Defensive Rookie of the Year winner and two-time Pro Bowler as a linebacker with the Texans made his choice clear.
"When it came down to it, there is no place I wanted to be any more than H-Town," Ryans said during Thursday's introductory news conference. "It was an easy pick for me. It was a no-brainer to be here, be home. It wasn't a difficult decision at all. It was very easy."
The decision might have been easy, but the process of rebuilding a team that hasn't eclipsed the four-win mark since 2019 will be anything but -- even with two of the 2023 NFL Draft's first 12 picks and five in the first three rounds.
In the two seasons that Ryans has served as defensive coordinator in San Francisco, the Texans have languished. They have ranked 27th or worst on both sides of the ball in points and yards, which helped create a situation where Houston parted with David Culley after Year 1 in 2021 and did the same with Lovie Smith following this past season.
The draft capital at Ryans' disposal begs the quarterback question given the pass-happy nature of the NFL and the fact that incumbent starter, Davis Mills, is coming off a sophomore season in which he tied for the league lead in interceptions with 15.
But Ryans appears to be taking a measured approach at shoring up the position.
"We understand we have one quarterback here on our roster, and we have to add more at that position," Ryans said. "We know everybody gets excited about the quarterback. The quarterback is one piece to a team. As I've seen in San Francisco, what happens when you don't have that one guy? Is the season over? Are you just booking it? No. How do you build around that quarterback? Yes, we want a great quarterback. But we need a great offensive line to protect the quarterback. We need great running backs, great tight ends. We need a great defense. Great special teams. We all play together. That's the awesome part about football. It's not on one guy's shoulders to go out there and win the game for us."
Whether the starter next year is Mills once again, a veteran addition or a top pick in the upcoming draft, it's clear Ryans envisions a scenario similar to the trench-dominating, yards-after-catch hungry offense he worked alongside as San Francisco's DC.
"We want to play with precision," Ryans said of his hope for Houston's offense. "We want to play with effort, we want to play with physicality. So, with that, we want to own the line of scrimmage. We want to establish the run game first, but we want to be balanced. We want to be able to operate with play-action pass, but we also want to be efficient. We want to have explosive playmakers who we can get the ball to. If it's not down the field, we want to be able to throw a check down and put it in the hands of an explosive playmaker and see him create."
While Ryans continues his process of filling out an offensive staff that can oversee those aims, his presence is more likely to directly affect the defense's mission of returning to a dominance last seen during the prime of J.J. Watt, who recently tweeted his excitement over Ryans' hiring.
"It means everything," Ryans said regarding the endorsement of his one-time teammate. "Everyone knows what J.J. Watt has meant to the city of Houston. Not just the football J.J. Watt, it's the charitable work that J.J. has done. J.J. Watt represents the Texans -- he is the Texans. For J.J. Watt to have that support for me, it means everything to me. … That's the type of team we want. We want to build this team with guys who have the character of J.J. Watt. Who have that athletic ability, that dominance as a player as J.J. Watt. That's the type of men that we want in our organization."
Players of Watt's caliber are nearly generational, but Houston certainly has the means available to find individuals that share his outlook and drive. Beyond the draft capital netted by the Deshaun Watson trade, the Texans also have the fourth-most cap space heading into free agency, per Over the Cap.
Plus, Ryans made it clear Thursday that he already sees valuable building blocks on defense, such as the 2022 draft class' cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., safety Jalen Pitre and linebacker Christian Harris.
"That's what excites me the most is being able to work with young guys -- and young guys who are talented," Ryans said. "Stingley has outstanding talent. Scouted him the last year, and I know the talent he has. Know the competitor that he is. We're gonna put him in position to make a lot of plays for us. Put him in a position where he can excel and showcase his talents.
"I've seen Jalen Pitre. Loved him coming out of Baylor. Loved the blitzing. Loved just the play speed of Pitre, and to see him come out this past year, the five interceptions, the way he attacked the ball? Man, Jalen, we got to continue to do that. We got to continue to take the ball away. Christian, fast, physical linebacker. These are the types of players we can build around. So that does excite me."
With those players already in the fold and a clear vision of how to construct a complete, winning roster, Ryans and the Texans brass now have to put words to action to reach the first-time head coach's ultimate goal.
"We just want to make the city of Houston proud," Ryans said. "That's what makes this special. We know that our fans here are hungry for a winner. They deserve a winner. … We are preparing to make the city of H-Town proud."