Ownership patience a virtue — for now

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On the day after the Texans beat the Bengals last Jan. 7 in the AFC wild-card round for the franchise's first postseason victory, the Web site http://www.FireGaryKubiak.com came down as promised.

"We always said if they won a playoff game we'd go away for a while,'' said Robert Whitley, a 31-year-old IT administrator who helped run the site. "We made a lot of noise. We didn't get exactly what we were looking for but I think our voice was heard.''

Only one year earlier outside Reliant Stadium in Houston, the most ticked-off Texans fans organized an anti-Kubiak rally before the last home game of a 6-10 season intended to show ownership how badly they wanted change.

The local unrest resembled feelings around Chicago during Lovie Smith's five seasons before this one — four of which included the Bears missing the playoffs. Remember the billboard Bears Fans United created that urged the McCaskey family to: "Hire an ENTIRELY NEW coaching staff and GM,'' in December 2009 near Arlington Heights?

The Bears went to the NFC championship game the following season and, heading into Sunday's showdown against the Titans, have won 12 of the last 13 games Jay Cutler has started.

"It was fun at the time but in retrospect, Lovie has done a very good job and they made the right choice in keeping him — and getting rid of (former general manager) Jerry Angelo,'' said Bears season-ticket holder Dave Becker of Wheeling, the billboard owner.

In retrospect, if owners of the Texans and Bears had listened to their fan bases and media corps — present company included — Sunday's coaching matchup might be Bill Cowher versus Mike Shanahan. Instead, Kubiak opposing Smith represents a professional sports anomaly; two NFL head coaches who have missed the playoffs more often than made them but held onto their jobs due largely to patience ownership rarely shows. They should give heated seat cushions to fans at Soldier Field to reflect how Smith and Kubiak have spent most of their respective tenures.

Like them or not, credit the McCaskeys and Texans owner Bob McNair for showing uncommon loyalty knowing it would be unpopular. Most NFL owners succumb — the Redskins and Rams, for example, are on their third head coach since Kubiak was hired in '06. Head coaches Ron Rivera in Carolina, hired in 2011, and Romeo Crennel in Kansas City, in his first full season, already face must-win realities. The reality is, most owners would be better off firing themselves.

"It's human nature and happens constantly where decisions to hire and fire are based on outside noise,'' said Ted Sundquist, former Broncos GM who runs TheFootballEducator.com. "It's very unusual to have a case like the Texans and Bears. You can find a lot of owners who overreact but it's rare to find the other. When you do, as a city and fan base, you're pretty darn lucky.''

Sundquist researched 161 head-coaching changes since 1992, a year before NFL free-agency theoretically made quick fixes easier. According to Sundquist's data, only 10 coaches, including Kubiak, kept their jobs after failing to make the postseason by their fourth season but 57 were fired in three years or sooner for missing the playoffs.

The secret to the longevity of Smith and Kubiak lies in similar, understated approaches their bosses appreciate. Neither embarrasses the organization with outrageous, Rex Ryan-like comments or behavior. Both worry more about how they are perceived in the locker room than the media room where they channel their inner Belichick. Interestingly, both made staff moves that quelled external criticism; Smith replacing Mike Martz with Mike Tice last January and Kubiak hiring defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in January '11.

Irony: Phillips was available after the Cowboys fired him for only making the playoffs twice in four years and having a winning percentage (.607, 34-22) better than Kubiak's.

"There's a tremendous parallel between Lovie and Gary in that they're both detail guys and know where they want to go so it's easy for ownership to sit down and get a good feel of the direction they're taking the club,'' Sundquist said. "Both ownerships know who they are. As an organization that makes it easier to make decisions, to stick with a coach or his plan even though it might not be succeeding at the moment.''

At the moment, nobody in Chicago or Houston can complain about anything but perhaps the potential cost of Super Bowl tickets.

"Obviously things have changed for us,'' Whitley said of Texan fans. "From a business perspective, Bob McNair stuck his neck out and we actually wrote a letter thanking him. He deserves to be rewarded for his patience.''

Like the McCaskeys, McNair will watch the game Sunday assured he has been.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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