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DeMeco Ryans’ coaching roots grow from Alabama


By Mark Inabinett | minabinett@al.com

Cal McNair brought DeMeco Ryans back to the Houston Texans to lead the NFL franchise out of its current doldrums. And the team owner knows the Texans got a leader because that’s what Ryans always has been.

Ryans joined Houston as a second-round linebacker from Alabama in 2006 and played the first six of his 10 NFL seasons with the Texans. On Tuesday, Houston hired the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator and, on Thursday, introduced Ryans as its head coach.

“As a leader, it showed up at Alabama,” McNair said. “He was the leader of their defense. The captain of the team, and they called him ‘Coach,’ so this has been in him a long time. We drafted him in ‘06. He took over the defense, stepped into the middle, called the plays, he was captain and they called him ‘Cap,’ so he’s been a leader for a long, long time.”


At Alabama, Ryans earned unanimous All-American recognition, won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year Award and received the Lott IMPACT Trophy as a senior in 2005.

Joe Kines worked as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator for Ryans’ final three college seasons. Ryans credits Kines with kindling the coaching spark inside of him.

“I got inspired for coaching back in college,” Ryans said. “My college coach, coach Joe Kines, he really inspired me. One day he put me on the spot in front of the room and he asked me to make some calls, and I thought I knew what everyone around me was supposed to do, and I didn’t know. At that moment, I was like, ‘Wow, I need to make sure I know what everybody around me what their job is and how I fit into this puzzle.’

“So if he’s trusting to call on me, he believes that there’s something in me that maybe I could be in the coach’s shoes. And from that inspiration from Joe Kines, it led me to truly knowing what every position around me knowing what they had to do, all their assignments and techniques, so if a guy needed help, I could help him out. And that’s where that inspiration for coaching started.”

But the foundation for his coaching, Ryans said, started at home with his mother, Martha Ryans.

“My mother, first and foremost, she taught me to have a relationship with God,” Ryans said, “and that’s the most important thing that she could have given me and instilled in me, and I still carry with me to today.

“And then my mother taught me what hard work, what sacrifice looks like. My mother: We’re going to get it done. No matter how hard it seemed, no matter how far-fetched it may seem, we’re going to get it done. Those principles that I saw her — whether it’s working three jobs, whether it’s walking to work so I can have a car to drive to school — that sacrifice that my mother made has just taught me that if you want it, you got to go work. You got to work hard, and maybe there’s some sacrifices you have to make in life as well to make sure that the others around you are better. And that’s what my mother taught me, and that’s goes into coaching.”

Over the past three seasons, Houston has posted an 11-38-1 record – four fewer victories than San Francisco had for the 2022 campaign when its season ended in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

But Ryans doesn’t need that contrast to see the difference a winning mentality can make. He saw it as an All-State player at Jess Lanier High School in Bessemer.

In Willie Ford’s first season as the Purple Tigers’ coach, Jess Lanier had a 1-8 record. But a year later in Ryans’ senior season, the Tigers finished at 9-3, with the losses coming against two of the state’s best Class 6A teams that season – Hoover with quarterback John Parker Wilson in the season-opener and the third round of the playoffs and Tuscaloosa County with running back Le’Ron McClain.

During his introductory press conference, Ryans had a message for the folks back home.

“What I say to all the people back in Bessemer is whatever you dream, if you believe it, you definitely can achieve that,” Ryans said. “All dreams can come true, and that’s what you see here today. It’s a dream of mine, and it’s coming true, and whatever anybody, any of us, whatever we dream, we believe we can make it happen by putting in the work. By hard work, by sacrifice, you can make it happen.”