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Keenum & Lin Parallels

Case Keenum elevated as Jeremy Lin wrongly deflated: McHale fails Coaching 101; Kubiak stands strong

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Case Keenum Chiefs Texans sack
Case Keenum took a pounding against the Kansas City Chiefs — and kept making plays. Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Gary Kubiak upset
Gary Kubiak deserves credit for making the right choice for his team. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
Jeremy Lin Manila
It happens to be the kind of choice the Houston Rockets are not making with Jeremy Lin. Photo by Mike Young/Getty Images
Matt Schaub Texans Saints
Matt Schaub is not happy, but he understands his own performance largely caused the switch. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum Texans Cowboys
Case Keenum is in command of the Texans huddle. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum Chiefs Texans sack
Gary Kubiak upset
Jeremy Lin Manila
Matt Schaub Texans Saints
Case Keenum Texans Cowboys
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

Gary Kubiak walks into the interview room and matter-of-factly tells the world he's making the obvious, right call. The fact that so many people seem surprised by it in this town shows how warped Houston sports are threatening to become.

Yes, Case Keenum remains the Houston Texans starting quarterback for the Sunday Night Football NBC showcase against the Indianapolis Colts. No, it doesn't matter that incumbent Matt Schaub is healthy. Next question?

There is no needless drama with Kubiak, no putting his personal feelings above the team. He simply makes the correct call and ensures the Texans have the best absolute chance to win. Somehow, this 52-year-old football lifer makes it all seem almost tidy — though this situation couldn't be any more messy.

"I know it’s very difficult on him," Kubiak says of Schaub, allowing a brief window into the pain that can come with doing the right thing. "It’s very difficult on me too, to be honest with you."

No one should forget the Texans wouldn't have this Keenum hope if it wasn't for Kubiak. 

Kubiak quickly catches himself when hit with a follow-up question wondering if this quarterback decision is the single toughest decision he's ever faced as a coach, though. The football nerd shoots that one down, noting he's made a lot of difficult decisions.

It's all a lesson in how to deliver a decisive, difficult call — and it provides another example of how underrated Gary Kubiak still is as a head coach. Contrast how Kubiak handles Keenum to how Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale is treating Jeremy Lin. Like Keenum, Jeremy Lin clearly deserves to start for his team. Unlike Schaub, Lin's done nothing to lose a role he played well last season.

Instead, he's actually raised his game — shooting better, passing surer and playing even more confident this preseason. Even NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon quickly grasped how well Lin and big money savior Dwight Howard can work together.

So what does McHale do? He creates a point guard controversy out of thin air and deems Patrick Beverley to be Lin's equal if not better. Now, McHale's orchestrated it so he can start Beverley in the Rockets' season opener Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats and reduce Jeremy Lin to a supporting, secondary player.

It almost looks like McHale is determined to prove that he and general manager Daryl Morey weren't all wrong when they cut Jeremy Lin on that infamous Christmas eve after all. Whatever his motivation, McHale clearly cannot see any star potential in Jeremy Lin — evidence be damned.

Gary Kubiak elevates Case Keenum, always having seen the possibilities. Kevin McHale downgrades Jeremy Lin, creating his own doubt.

Kevin McHale's Fail

The difference in coaching couldn't be more striking. Which makes the murmurs that Kubiak's job deserves to be in jeopardy due to the Texans' 2-5 start all the more nonsensical. (To be fair, it's at least a 50-50 bet that the Chronicle's ever-waffling columnist Jerome Solomon will turn around and demand Kubiak be signed to a multi-year extension by Thanksgiving). But that doesn't change the overall false thinking behind the immediate reaction on Kubiak's unworthiness as a coach.

Sure, I'd argue that Kubiak made the switch from Schaub to Keenum two games too late. As I wrote at the time, Schaub needed to be benched after throwing away the Seahawks game. The Texans likely would be in at least a slightly better position coming out of the bye if the trigger had been pulled earlier (with Keenum, the Texans likely beat the Rams). But the bottom line is Gary Kubiak still eventually made the right, difficult call.

 You don't have to play poorly to be downgraded. Not if you're not one of McHale's Chosen Ones. 

No one should forget that the Texans wouldn't have this Case Keenum hope if it wasn't for Gary Kubiak either.

Kubiak is the one who thought enough of Keenum to shepherd a dismissed, undrafted free agent through a practice squad season. Kubiak is the one who trusted his eyes — rather than falling back on the draft guru dismissals of the former University of Houston NCAA record breaker — and gave Keenum a real training camp shot this summer. And Kubiak is the one who switched up his offense and came up with the Pistol formation twists that gave Keenum a fighting shot to be successful in Kansas City.

It's not Kubiak's fault that 99 percent of the Houston media refused to believe him when he insisted that Keenum had grown light years and shown legit NFL talent. As much as anyone, Gary Kubiak's been the guy who's been telling people about Case Keenum all along.

"I went through the exact same thing," Texans all-pro running back (and fellow former undrafted free agent) Arian Foster says. "Me and (Case) had a talk before any of this had happened about dreams, goals, aspirations — all of that stuff."

Think it's coincidence that a Gary Kubiak-coached team is the one that will have undrafted free agents starting at quarterback and running back on the big Sunday Night Football stage?

Kubiak coaches belief into players. If you can play, he'll give you a shot. McHale seems determined to take belief away from Jeremy Lin. You don't have to play poorly to be downgraded. Not if you're not one of McHale's Chosen Ones. Funny, how Omri Casspi having arguably a better preseason than Beverley has never put Chandler Parsons' starting job in jeopardy.

Sure, the Rockets are the hot team of the moment in Houston, getting held up as the starry group that will bring a championship back to town. Never mind that the franchise hasn't made it out of the first round since 2009. The Texans are the tired, dead-end team, deemed certain to disappoint.

Maybe, that is the correct narrative.

Just don't be so sure. Not with Kubiak adding extra belief and McHale bringing in extra doubt.

“I imagine I’ll have a few more goose bumps than I did (starting in Kansas City)," Keenum says of the approaching Sunday night stage. "Obviously, it was a very cool atmosphere last week. But, to play in Houston, to play in Reliant, I know this atmosphere.

"I know what it’s like and I know Sunday night it’s going to be very special."

Never underestimate the power of coaching in professional sports. This year figures to provide a fascinating case study across two different sports in Houston. Undrafted, disregarded free agent Case Keenum is getting every chance to play to his true potential and rescue the Texans. Undrafted, disregarded free agent Jeremy Lin is getting downgraded even after already more than proving he belongs — he's being prevented from leading.

Will you really be surprised if both the Texans and the Rockets end up following the lead set by their coaches in the end? 

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