Would things be different if the Texans hired Robert Saleh as coach?

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  • Houston Texans
    Houston Texans
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  • New York Jets
    New York Jets
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  • Robert Saleh
    American football coach

Houston Texans fans had to be pondering a certain question as their team battled the New York Jets in Week 12 at NRG Stadium: what would the team look like had they hired Robert Saleh?

The New York Jets hired the former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator on Jan. 14, nine days after the Texans hired Nick Caserio as general manager and another 15 days before Houston would introduce Culley as their fourth full-time coach in team history.

On the face, it is easy to say the Texans just waited too long; the Jets beat them to the punch. However, Houston fired Bill O’Brien on Oct. 5, 2020, after an 0-4 start. The Texans had a full 13 weeks of the regular season to evaluate the coaching landscape.

Saleh was also one of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s picks for coach. Normally, no one would care what a franchise quarterback thought, but chairman and CEO Cal McNair gave the impression he would include his star quarterback in the coaching and general manager search.

There is no guarantee that hiring Saleh would have meant Watson stepped on the field in 2021. After all, the three-time Pro Bowler is involved in pending litigation wherein 22 women have alleged he committed sexual assault. The NFL may have stepped in to nix Watson’s season.

What Saleh would have brought to the Texans is a tough defense and better in-game management. Saleh went for two after the Jets scored their first touchdown in the second quarter, and he also kept pressing on the Jets’ penultimate drive of the game. Albeit kicker Matt Ammendola attempted a field goal further away than had Saleh settled with 4:45 to play, but the Jets churned 1:19, made Houston burn all three timeouts, and left the Texans with 3:26 to mount a game-tying drive with all their timeouts gone.

The Jets also sustained three blowouts this season — Week 3 at Denver (26-0), Week 7 at New England (54-13), and Week 10 against Buffalo (45-17) — but their arrow is trending upward. As much as wins and culture are empty calories to Houston sports fans, they do matter when laying the foundation. Houston is not accomplishing that objective while also benching team leaders.

The Texans can’t go back in the past. They can only go forward and hope the interminable, Arctic winter night of 2021 leads to better days in 2022.