John McLain of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Texans wanted to hire McCown. But, since McCown has never served as a coach in the NFL or even college, Houston knew that the hire would be criticized. This goes along with reports that the Texans wanted to see other teams interview McCown, which would theoretically make the potential hire look better. But that never happened.
What did happen was former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL alleging racial discrimination. The Texans aren’t named in the lawsuit but they did just fire David Culley after only one season. With a 4-13 record, we can’t exactly sing Culley’s praises as a coach. But given nobody expected much out of Houston coming into the season, 4-13 didn’t come out of nowhere.
Hiring the inexperienced McCown was going to bring ridicule. But hiring a white coach with no NFL or NCAA coaching experience after giving a Black coach only one season while the league is being sued? Those optics would be terrible. It would be feeding right into Flores’ lawsuit, especially with a coach like Smith already on the staff.
Coaches don’t come with much more experience than Smith. Smith has been on a college or pro coaching staff in every season but one (2013) since 1980.
His most recent stint as an NFL head coach didn’t go especially well, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers posting an 8-24 record over his two seasons there. The University of Illinois had some bright moments under Smith but struggled to a 17-39 record in his time there. But in nine seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bears, Smith posted an 81-63 record, made the playoffs three times, and reached a Super Bowl. Smith’s record as an NFL head coach is 89-87.
Even if we take the lawsuit out of play, Smith would be the smarter hire for a Houston organization looking to gain some stability. There’s still a good chance that McCown will be an NFL head coach someday. But following the optics of what’s currently going on and the general optics, Smith was the more sensible hire.