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DeMeco Ryans returns to Texans as their head coach

DeMeco Ryans is the next coach of the Texans. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP)
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The Houston Texans landed the head coach of their choosing Tuesday while taking a step toward addressing the NFL’s minority hiring issues by picking San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

The Texans announced the move while Ryans was in Houston for his second interview with the team. He oversaw the NFL’s top-ranked defense this season with the 49ers and was eligible to be hired for another franchise’s head coaching job upon the completion of their season Sunday. The 49ers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game.

Ryans is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks and was in demand during this hiring cycle. He reportedly emerged as a leading candidate for the coaching vacancy of the Denver Broncos as well. The Broncos reached an agreement Tuesday to hire Sean Payton, the Super Bowl-winning former coach of the New Orleans Saints, according to a person with knowledge of those deliberations.

Ryans, 38, played for the Texans for six seasons. He said in a statement Tuesday that coaching the Texans is his “dream job” and that he and his family are “thrilled to be back” in Houston.

“I have been around the game of football my entire life and I’ve always had a natural ability to lead others,” Ryans said. “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. 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.”

Broncos reach deal to hire former Saints coach Sean Payton

The Texans and the Broncos became the second and third teams among the five franchises with head coaching openings to make a hire. The Carolina Panthers chose Frank Reich, the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, last week. The Colts and Arizona Cardinals continue their searches.

“For so many reasons, DeMeco is everything we are looking for in a leader and coach for our organization,” Texans owner Cal McNair said in a statement. “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. We started this process with the goal of finding someone our fans and city can be proud of and we’ve done just that.”

Ryans is the first Black head coach hired during this cycle. That gives the league three active Black head coaches; Ryans joins the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Todd Bowles.

The league and franchise owners are under intense scrutiny for their minority hiring practices. Brian Flores, the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit last year against the NFL and its teams. Two other coaches, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, joined Flores’s lawsuit in April.

The NFL had four Black head coaches this season after Wilks was promoted to be the Panthers’ interim coach when they fired Matt Rhule in October. But the Texans fired Lovie Smith following the regular season, and Panthers owner David Tepper did not retain Wilks.

Carolina Panthers hire Frank Reich as coach, passing over Steve Wilks

“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into Playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the Head Coach position by David Tepper,” Wilks’s attorneys, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, said in a statement after the Panthers announced Reich’s hiring Thursday. “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”

Wilks said in a statement Friday: “I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through.”

Ryans is the third consecutive Black head coach hired by the Texans. They fired David Culley and Smith after one season apiece.

The 49ers will receive a third-round draft choice in 2025 under the NFL system that rewards a team for developing a minority head coach or general manager candidate hired by another franchise. The 49ers previously had been awarded two third-round choices for the Tennessee Titans’ hire of Ran Carthon as their GM.

Eagles are bound for the Super Bowl after rout of depleted 49ers

Ryans was a linebacker for the Texans from 2006 to 2011. He was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year in 2006 and was selected to two Pro Bowls. He finished his playing career with four seasons with the Eagles. He spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach for the 49ers, the past two as defensive coordinator. The 49ers led the league in total defense and scoring defense in the regular season.

In Houston, Ryans inherits a team that went 3-13-1 this season and has won only 11 games over the past three years. The Texans lack a franchise quarterback after trading Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns last offseason amid allegations of sexual misconduct that led to him serving an 11-game suspension this season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

But the Texans have the No. 2 choice in the draft and abundant salary cap space as General Manager Nick Caserio attempts to rebuild the roster.

“DeMeco is a proven coach with a track record of success who has an innate ability to lead people,” Caserio said in a statement. “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. 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.”