HOUSTON (AP) — DeMeco Ryans has been hired as coach of the Houston Texans, giving him his first head coaching job and bringing him back to the place where he started his playing career.
Ryans joins the Texans from the San Francisco 49ers, where he spent the past two seasons as their defensive coordinator.
He replaces Lovie Smith, who was fired after just one season where the team went 3-13-1.
Ryans issued a statement thanking the 49ers, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch for his time in San Francisco before looking ahead to his future with the Texans.
“Being the head coach of the Houston Texans is my dream job and my family is thrilled to be back in H-Town,” Ryans said. “I have been around the game of football my entire life and I’ve always had a natural ability to lead others. I know what it takes to win and be successful in this league as both a player and coach.”
“We’re going to build a program filled with players who have a special work ethic and relentless mindset,” he continued.
"I understand the responsibility I have to this organization and to the fans of Houston to build a winner and I can’t wait to get to work.”
A fan favorite during his playing days in Houston, Ryans could help the team win back some fans that have become disenchanted with the direction of the Texans as they muddled through three straight dreadful seasons after winning the AFC South in 2018 and 2019.
Houston’s most famous former player, J.J. Watt, appears to support the move, with the recently retired defensive end tweeting a picture this week of himself with Ryans when the two played for the Texans.
Team owner Cal McNair vowed to be more involved in this hiring after the Texans fired their past two coaches after just one season. David Culley was fired after coaching the team in the 2021 season before Smith was hired.
“For so many reasons, DeMeco is everything we are looking for in a leader and coach for our organization,” McNair said. “He has a proven track record for developing high-quality players and constantly innovated his defensive scheme over the last six seasons in San Francisco.”
Ryans is the third consecutive Black head coach the team his hired in as many years. The Texans faced criticism for firing two Black coaches after just one season with rosters devoid of any stars and lacking much talent.
Ryans led a 49ers defense that led the NFL this season by allowing just 300.6 yards a game.
San Francisco was particularly good against the run, ranking second in the league by holding teams to 77.7 yards. That’s a stark contrast to Houston’s run defense, which ranked last in the NFL by allowing 170.2 yards this season.
Ryans helped the 49ers to a 13-4 regular-season record and the NFC West title this season. San Francisco reached the NFC championship game before falling to Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Texans decided on Ryans after interviewing Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Rams assistant head coach Thomas Brown, former Saints coach Sean Payton, Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
The 38-year-old Ryans was a linebacker who was a second-round pick of the Texans in 2006. He led the NFL with 126 solo tackles that season to win AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
He spent his first six NFL seasons with the Texans where he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009. Ryans started all 16 games in five of his six seasons in Houston and piled up 636 tackles, including 43 for losses and 8½ sacks.
Ryans finished his playing career with the Eagles, where he spent the 2012-15 seasons.
Ryans has spent his entire coaching career with the 49ers. He was San Francisco’s inside linebackers coach from 2018-20 after spending the 2017 season as the defensive quality control coach.
“DeMeco is a proven coach with a track record of success who has an innate ability to lead people,” general manager Nick Caserio said. “He is progressive in his vision, a great communicator, a connector and somebody that values collaboration.”
“We are working to build a sustainable program that has long-term success and DeMeco is the coach we feel is the best fit to help us achieve our goals,” Caserio continued. "We know how important it is to get results now and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to partner with DeMeco to build our football team together.”
Ryans joins a team that has plenty of holes to fill but has 11 picks in this year’s draft, including the No. 2 and 12th overall selections.
Houston is expected to address its glaring need at quarterback with its first pick and could add a piece to its defense with its other first-round pick that the team received from Cleveland as part of the Deshaun Watson trade.
Ryans becomes the sixth coach in franchise history and the first who played for the team.