No one wants to forgive Deshaun Watson more than Lovie Smith does
New Texans coach says the quarterback, the subject of 22 lawsuits, needs “to be playing somewhere in the NFL.”
The uninitiated might be surprised that Texans coach Lovie Smith seems to attach more importance to Deshaun Watson’s possible return to football than to the women the quarterback allegedly sexually assaulted. Not us. We know that the former Bears coach would support a serial dine-and-dasher if the kid had an extra gear as a receiver.
A reporter asked Smith at the NFL Combine on Wednesday if Watson, who is facing 22 lawsuits, would be on Houston’s roster next season.
“I just know Deshaun is an excellent football player,’’ Smith said. “Excellent football players need to be playing somewhere in the NFL. Hopefully, that will happen, and if it’s not with us, it’s somewhere else. And I’m sure as I see in this situation, both of us eventually are going to benefit from the situation, and I just can’t wait for that to speed up a little bit.’’
Now, as insensitive as those comments are to the 22 women Watson might have taken advantage of while getting massages, those of us who have studied Smith over the years believe they masked the coach’s true feelings: He’d love to have Watson as his quarterback in 2022. The Texans’ front office might want Watson out of Houston. Watson might want out of Houston. But Lovie? I’m not buying that he wants Watson on a plane out of town.
In fact, when the struggling Texans turned to Lovie to replace David Culley last month, my first thought was that he would push hard for the team to keep Watson rather than trade him. His approach has always been the same: Let me mentor the problem child. I can provide the kind of counsel a young man needs, the kind of counsel no one else can offer. Trust me. He applied it time and time again while dealing with former Bears defensive lineman Tank Johnson, whose turbulent life and shady associations never stopped Lovie from believing in him. Mostly, he believed in the idea that Tank was a tank on the defensive line. If Johnson had been an average player, Smith would have said, “Tank? I don’t know any Tanks. What a ridiculous nickname!”
It’s amazing how much leeway a coach can give a player under the guise of caring about him as a human being. Especially if the player is as talented as Watson is. Smith knows he’s not going to succeed in Houston without a good quarterback, in this case a good quarterback who apparently wants his masseuses to rub him the wrong way. This isn’t Aaron Rodgers in terms of potential trade value. How many teams want the PR hit that will come with acquiring Watson? How much will they give in return for the troubled quarterback? As of right now, with Watson still facing the possibility of criminal charges, not much.
Unlike some NFL coaches, Smith has always understood that players win games. The more skilled athletes you have, the better you’ll be as a team. If you consider yourself a father figure, as he does, it doesn’t take much to intellectually or morally work your way around the problem of having a few villainous sons on the roster.
I thought his coach/counselor act would work well when the University of Illinois hired him in 2016 following his ouster as Buccaneers coach. He hadn’t been able to help Jameis Winston, another dodgy character, succeed in Tampa Bay, but perhaps college kids would respond to his steady hand on the tiller. And maybe they did respond as young men, but they couldn’t play football very well, which was the most shocking part of Smith’s five-year stay in Champaign. He couldn’t recruit better than that? Couldn’t lure superior athletes who would gain wisdom and maturity in office chats with the wise coach?
So now he’s running the show in Houston, having been promoted from defensive coordinator. The Watson quandary is the Lovie-est situation of all if the coach indeed is begging for a shot at rehabilitating a player more than a player is begging for another chance with his team. Again, that’s supposition on my part, but a tiger can’t change his stripes and I don’t think this coach can change his permissiveness.
Back to Smith’s comments at the Combine. “Excellent football players need to be playing somewhere in the NFL,’’ he said. Really? Twenty-two lawsuits are on the table alleging sexual assault or inappropriate behavior and your first thought is that Watson needs to get back to playing football because he’s so gifted an athlete? It’s one thing to try to support a player. It’s another to completely ignore 22 women. Eight of them are pursuing criminal charges against the quarterback.
Smith might have been put in a no-win situation when asked the question about Watson and the Texans’ 2022 roster, but he didn’t need to lose as badly as he did. That was his choice. Those were his words.