Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: West Houston
Section: My Living Room
Risky call had better be the right one
By JOHN P. LOPEZ
This might become Bob McNair's Bud Adams moment, a time when a few fateful days change everything he has done and everything he has built.
Or this could be, in the words of former NASA flight director Gene Kranz in those perilous moments that separated triumph from tragedy for Apollo 13, McNair's "finest hour."
Houston knows heroes and goats. The line between the two can be thin — as thin as a slip of paper handed to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on draft day.
These also could be days that chart Gary Kubiak's coaching course, setting him up as some kind of beloved and brilliant hometown leader. Or a buffoon.
Rudy Tomjanovich? Or Jerry Glanville?
The heat will be on
And for Texans general manager Charley Casserly, the Texans' war room Saturday could be remembered like a hotel ballroom in Buffalo in 1987, Casserly showing us all what former Oilers GM Ladd Herzeg reportedly showed a wedding party before punching out the groom's brother.
Houston knows all about the bizarre, the sad and the disappointing. Houston knows flops, falls and failures.
And once local football fans turn on someone, they turn on him for good. The only thing longer than this city's Super Bowl drought is fans' memories.
These are the days that will be remembered forever in local football annals. Once the Texans are off the clock for the No. 1 pick in Saturday's draft, McNair, Kubiak, Casserly — and Reggie Bush — will be on it.
For you, me and thousands of others, Wednesday's official announcement by Casserly that the Texans will use the NFL draft's No. 1 pick on either Bush or North Carolina State's Mario Williams — and not local hero Vince Young — is mere fodder for debate. It's something to talk about, something to get the football juices flowing.
A decision for the ages
No matter if Young becomes a perennial All-Pro and Bush turns into a Ki-Jana Carter-like No. 1 bust, we'll still be able to go to the grocery store and not hear whispers of discontent following us up and down the aisles. Our kids or grandkids won't be heckled and teased. Our spouses won't sit in the grandstands listening to venom and rage every Sunday.
But for McNair, Kubiak and Casserly, three of the smartest, most diligent and — perhaps most significantly — image-conscious NFL people in the game, this is as much a career choice as a draft choice.
If Bush fails, they fail. And forget the talk about negotiating with Williams. The pick will be Bush.
If Texans quarterback David Carr does not carry this team to the playoffs and beyond, and Young thrives, Texans leadership never will live down the 2006 NFL draft. From the start, this has been as much a referendum on Carr as it has been deciding between Bush and Young.
Long before McNair decided to keep Casserly as GM, before he hired Kubiak and extended his commitment to Carr, he knew this franchise would be defined by this draft. That he would be defined by it.
In the months since Young's marvelous Rose Bowl performance, McNair was and continues to be inundated with e-mails imploring him to draft the Texas Longhorns legend.
Season-ticket holders have threatened to cancel their renewals. Many in the media have fallen in love with Young, putting pressure on the Texans. Full-page advertisements have been published.
Despite it all, the smartest football minds in this city remained steadfast. Their commitment to the best pick has sent a resounding and signficant message: With all due respect, Vince fans, this will be the Texans' finest hour.
They must be right. Or else.
"(The pressure to draft Young) probably has been unprecedented," Casserly said. " Vince Young is a heck of a football player. He's a heck of a young man, and he's a joy to watch. I understand fans' passion. If I was a fan, I would root for Vince Young."
Then Casserly paused.
"But I would root for Reggie Bush, too," he said. "He's pretty exciting."
The Texans know they are right.
The easy thing would have been to play to the crowd. Don't renew Carr's contract. Think marketing first. Give Kubiak a built-in coaching cushion and honeymoon period by drafting Young, starting over, and taking the money of happy fans who surely would be patient as Young developed.
Careers and reputations would be safer that way.
But McNair has been a winner, a thoughtful leader and true to his advisers his entire life. Not every decision he has made on the way to becoming a billionaire was the popular one. You want him to sell out to emotion now?
Kubiak has waited 20 years for a chance to build a winner of his own. You want him to wait some more, pass on two potentially great players in the near future — Bush and Carr — for one whose greatness could come somewhere down the line?
And Casserly has been bashed publicly for the past year. He has made his share of draft-day mistakes. You want him to pass on a player many consider the most gifted to come along in decades?
"When you're on this side of the table, the only thing that counts is winning," Casserly said. "You've got to do what you think is the best way to win. You have to eliminate all of those outside influences — you absolutely have to. At the end of the day, all anybody cares about is the score on Sunday. That is the only thing people are going to remember as you go on."
This was the hardest and riskiest decision any of the Texans' three leaders have made.
The best ones usually are.