Johnny Manziel’s decision to travel to Las Vegas during the final weekend of the 2015 season was a “childish, immature decision,” Manziel said on the ThomaHawk Podcast with former Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins and Browns left tackle Joe Thomas.
“This decision that I made, what a complete lack of respect for guys like Joe T,” Manziel said on the podcast released Wednesday. “What a complete lack of respect for an organization that was trying to stick by me. … What just a completely selfish decision.”
The interview continued Manziel’s efforts to revive his football career. He will play in a spring league in Austin, Texas, and has said therapy and treatment for mental health issues have helped him gain sobriety as well as mental focus.
Hawkins said on the podcast that Manziel texted him and a few other then-teammates about a year ago to apologize for his behavior and lack of professionalism in Cleveland.
“I look back at it now and I’m like, damn, I wasted a little bit of Joe T’s career in Cleveland,” Manziel said.
The Las Vegas trip took place the weekend of Jan. 2-3, 2016, as the Browns were playing the season finale against Pittsburgh. Manziel admitted flying to Vegas the day before the game after a walkthrough, and detailed buying the blond wig to hide his identity.
He said he had planned to take a red eye to be back in time for his concussion treatment Sunday morning, but missed the flight and instead stayed out until early in the morning Vegas time.
Manziel called it a “reckless, reckless plan.”
He said he made the trip because he had three or four friends in Cleveland from Texas “who were in party mode,” and he was having problems at home.
“One of those problems led me to Vegas,” he said. “I felt like I couldn’t solidify or try and fix my home life without going out there.”
Manziel did not detail the exact problem.
On Monday before the trip, Manziel said his friends had arrived and the group spent the night drinking and shooting pool at his home in suburban Cleveland. Manziel arrived Tuesday morning at an offensive line meeting and said the concussion from the previous game (a loss to Kansas City) or the drinking the night before led him to leave the meeting after 15 seconds.
The team trainers and doctors diagnosed the concussion, and placed him in the NFL protocol.
On Saturday, he boarded a noon commercial flight for Vegas, wearing a hood, a hat and sunglasses to hide his identity. When he got to Vegas, he said the blackjack and crap tables “were calling me.”
As he gambled, a Vegas employee checked his ID and looked at the TV and saw Manziel’s name on screen, Manziel said. When a baseball reporter recognized him, “I’m in street damage mode,” Manziel said.
That’s when he decided to get what he called was a “blondish brown, like, mullet” wig. He bought it at a “very, very sketchy” shop off the strip.
“I was like, I need something that makes me not look like this,” Manziel said. “Do you have a mustache? A wig? Do you have anything?”
He wore the wig to Hakkasan, where to him and his friends it was “all fun and games.” The group stayed out until the 3 or 4 a.m. Vegas time, which Manziel pointed out was one hour before he was supposed to be in Cleveland for mandatory treatment for his concussion.
“I just turn my phone off and throw it in the drawer, and I’m like, ‘All right, we’ll figure it out when I wake up,'” Manziel said.
When he turned his phone on Sunday afternoon, he was greeted with a slew of texts and emails.
Manziel said word got out when someone who saw him at Hakkasan relayed the story to the media — where he was, what he ate, what and how much they were drinking. ESPN 1100 Las Vegas, an affiliate radio station in the city, reported at the time that Manziel had the wig and was introducing himself as Billy.
Manziel said on the podcast that he didn’t know about the Billy Manziel phenomenon until he got back to Cleveland and a T-shirt company started selling shirts with a drawing of him in a blond wig and the name Billy Manziel on the shirt.
“After that, crazily enough. I still go back to Cleveland,” said Manziel, who said he has a photo of himself with the wig on his phone. “I sit down with [owner] Jimmy [Haslam] and I sit down with [former VP] Sashi [Brown] and I explain it to them. I explain where I’m at mentally. I explained what was going on in my home life. Just really like was open and honest with them about everything.
“And then I think they were still going to stick with me through it. I think it had rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But at the end of the day, the people who were making the decisions, I feel like looking back at our conversations, they still had faith that if I could get my head right and get where I needed to be mentally that I still had potential and a future there.”
That changed, Manziel said, when Hue Jackson was hired as coach.
Manziel was released in March of 2016, after a tumultuous offseason that Manziel described as “self-sabotage mode.”
“There’s no hard feelings there,” Manziel said of the Browns releasing him.
Ex-Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt to be defensive assistant with New York Giants
In addition, two of Pruitt’s former assistants at Tennessee are also on the move. Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley has taken the defensive backs job with the Los Angeles Chargers and running backs coach Jay Graham is headed to Alabama as the Crimson Tide’s special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
Pruitt, who spent three seasons as the Vols’ coach, was fired for cause on Jan. 18 following an investigation that uncovered what university chancellor Donde Plowman called “serious violations of NCAA rules.”
Pruitt has retained Michael Lyons and the Dallas-based trial firm Lyons & Simmons to represent him and plans to fight the university’s decision to fire him for cause. Lyons accused the university of trying to disparage and destroy Pruitt’s character in an effort to keep from paying Pruitt what the university owes him.
Pruitt was 16-19 overall at Tennessee and 10-16 against SEC opponents. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban and a part of the Crimson Tide’s 2017 national championship staff. Pruitt, 46, also was the defensive coordinator at Florida State in 2013 when the Seminoles won the national championship.
Giants coach Joe Judge and Pruitt worked together under Saban on the Alabama staff from 2009 to ’11.
Tennessee announced Josh Heupel as its new head coach on Wednesday. Heupel was previously at UCF.
Texans coach David Culley tasked with changing culture, but will he have Deshaun Watson?
HOUSTON — Before all of the trade talk, reports about his future and the hiring of new coach David Culley, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked what he was looking for in his next head coach.
“I mean, we just need a whole culture shift,” Watson said earlier in the month. “We just need new energy. We need discipline, we need structure, we need a leader so we can follow that leader as players. That’s what we need. We’ve got to have the love of not just the game of football, because that’s what we do, but the love for people and the people in this organization.”
“… We need someone that stands tall and [says] this is who we’re following and this is the way it goes … and we’re going to do it this way to win.”
Of course, Watson might not be with the Texans to play for Culley, as ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday that the quarterback is expected to still want out of Houston regardless of whom the team hires. Watson wasn’t the only one who felt there needed to be a culture change.
By hiring Culley, the Texans hope they’ve found that person to build the foundation that Watson asked for.
But, for most Texans fans, Culley’s name isn’t a familiar one. So who is he and why did Texans CEO Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio pick him to be the franchise’s next head coach?
Who is David Culley?
Culley, 65, has spent the past three seasons in Baltimore as the Ravens’ assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He just finished his 27th season as an NFL coach after 16 seasons in various college coaching roles. He’ll be the oldest coach in NFL history at the time of his head-coaching debut.
Culley has never been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level, but he has been an assistant head coach before his stint in Baltimore, for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens were a run-first offense in 2020, as they led the NFL in rushing yards and ranked last in passing yards.
What does he bring to Houston?
The Texans were serious about fixing the culture within the organization, and they believe Culley is that person.
After doing a second interview with the Texans — this time in person — the team was impressed by Culley’s energy and believe he has the NFL experience to deliver that cultural shift within the building, even if he hasn’t been a coordinator before.
“The thing I would emphasize about Coach Culley, more than anything, is what an amazing teacher and communicator he is,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in 2019. “He’s probably the best — I would say he’s the best straight-up teacher, communicator, that I’ve seen coaching football one-on-one, not just because he coaches it so well, but because he’s so relentless and he coaches the important things.”
“You can be relentless, but if you’re coaching things that don’t matter, then that’s just a lot of hot air. He’s coaching the things that matter, and you see the guys getting better every day within his position group.”
McNair knew he wanted whomever he hired as general manager to take the lead on the coaching search. That is Caserio, who said the characteristic he was looking for most in a head coach was an ability to “lead people.”
“Because in the end, football is a sport but it’s about people, right?” Caserio said. “You have to make an investment in people. You have to be able to lead people. … Those are some of the things that will be important relative to whether or not they’re a good playcaller on their respective side of the ball. But whoever it is will have some competency in some area.”
“… I would say in our situation, relative to Deshaun, trying to put something in place that’s sustainable for him that can allow him and the rest of the team and the organization to go out there and perform to their maximum capacity on a week-to-week basis. That’s the goal.”
What does this mean for Deshaun Watson?
This is perhaps the most important question that only Watson can answer. If Watson still wants out regardless of whom the Texans hired, as Mortensen reported, then hiring Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy instead wouldn’t have made a difference.
Now that the Texans have hired their new coach, the question is whether Watson will be here to see the culture shift he asked for in Houston. The quarterback hasn’t requested a trade, but he could decide to do so once the hire is officially announced.
While the Texans could agree to trade terms with another team before the start of the new league year on March 17, a trade cannot be executed until then. The key timeframe to pay attention to is before the NFL draft in April, because if the Texans were to trade Watson, they would want to make sure they’re getting 2021 draft capital, when the pick slots are locked in.
What’s next in Houston?
Watson put up the best numbers of his young career in 2020 and the team won only four games. Houston’s defense struggled all season, finishing 30th in Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA. Of course, there are still a lot of holes on a defense that struggled primarily because it lacked young difference-makers, so whomever Culley hires as his defensive coordinator will have a tall task ahead.
Regardless of whether the Texans trade Watson or not, those holes on the roster will remain. The Texans’ first pick in this draft is No. 67, so they won’t be able to add impact talent at a team-friendly price, and they are currently $18 million over the projected 2021 salary cap (although that matters less than the cash they’ve already committed, which gives them some flexibility).
If Houston trades Watson, they will be able to plug in pieces on the defense and upgrade that side of the ball significantly, but then questions will remain at quarterback.
Houston Texans hire Baltimore Ravens’ David Culley as head coach, sources say
Culley, 65, who has spent the past three seasons in Baltimore, just completed his 27nd season as an NFL coach. Along with serving as the team’s assistant head coach, Culley was Baltimore’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. The Ravens finished the 2020 season ranked last in the NFL in passing.
“It’s a great opportunity there,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of the Texans’ opening in the week leading up to Baltimore’s divisional playoff game. “They have a heck of an organization. I do believe that David Culley would be a tremendous hire for any team; maybe, especially, the Texans with Deshaun Watson.”
Culley has never been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level. He was also an assistant head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. When the Ravens hired Culley in 2019, Harbaugh said the coach was highly respected “as a teacher, game-planner and motivator.”
When the Texans fired head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien in October, Houston became the first team with an opening for either position. The Texans hired Nick Caserio as their new general manager earlier this month and gave him the reins to their head-coaching search.
Along with Culley, Houston interviewed Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and current Texans quarterback Josh McCown after Caserio took over. The Texans also interviewed Brandon Staley before he was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Amid the Texans’ coaching search, sources told ESPN that Watson was not happy with the process the organization used to hire Caserio. And sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that regardless of whom the Texans hired as their next head coach, Watson’s desire to be traded was not expected to change.
The Texans are coming off a 4-12 season, one in which Watson played the best football of his NFL career. The fourth-year quarterback set career highs in touchdowns, passing yards and completion percentage. He also threw a career-low seven interceptions.
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