Bye-bye, Bill O’Brien!

Way back on January 20 of this year (pre-COVID times), yours truly penned an article about the sorry state of the Houston Texans NFL franchise.  The team had just blown a 24-0 first quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs (who would not only win that game but later go on to win the 2020 Super Bowl game).

On Monday, the Houston Texans (now 0-4 in the new season) finally fired their dual purpose head football coach/general manager, Bill O’Brien.  Many bad decisions, both on the field and in the off season, will haunt the Houston football franchise for years to come. 

Since joining the team in 2014, the Bill O’Brien record will show that he finished his tenure as the only Texans’ coach with a winning record (52-48).  That record doesn’t reflect the competition level of the generally weak division which the Texans play in. 

For most of O’Brien’s tenure in Houston, the AFC South division (which features “juggernaut” teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, and Indianapolis Colts) has been weaker than Popeye without a can of spinach.  For many of O’Brien’s years, the Texans were virtually guaranteed to win five out of six games played against these divisional rivals. 

When playing the more competitive NFL teams, the Texans were, at best, an average team under Bill O’Brien.  The team’s 2-4 playoff record under O’Brien confirms that Houston was not ready for football’s annual big dance. 

Offensively, O’Brien (who was supposedly a press-acclaimed genius while serving under Bill Belichick in New England) fielded teams in Houston which regularly struggled to put 20 points on the scoreboard.  The Texans’ defense, anchored by future Hall-of-Fame defensive end J.J. Watt, had to rescue the offense from itself year after year during the team’s best seasons. 

O’Brien, who served as the quarterback coach for a guy named Tom Brady in New England in 2009 and 2010, actually installed a series of quite forgettable quarterbacks as starters in Houston.  Do you remember names like Brock Osweiler, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Tom Savage, and Brian Hoyer?  These quarterbacks started games under center for Bill O’Brien in Houston.  The Texans’ offense was notoriously slow and plodding under O’Brien. 

If you had insomnia, watching the Texans on offense could help solve your problem – by halftime!  

In 2017, the Texans drafted quarterback Deshaun Watson from the national champion Clemson Tigers to throw the football to his former Clemson teammate and four-time NFL All-Pro receiver, DeAndre Hopkins (who had been selected by O’Brien’s predecessor).     

By this time, though, the Texans’ normally-tough defense was starting to show its age and key injuries mounted.  J.J. Watt missed most of the 2017 and 2019 seasons due to injury.  Due to poor draft decisions and bad free agent decisions, Houston’s pass defense had degraded to 28th out of 32 NFL teams last season in 2019.   

After another disappointing season ending in 2019 (getting blown out by Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs), Bill O’Brien made the single worst trade in recent memory by sending DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for oft-injured running back David Johnson.  O’Brien said that he couldn’t afford to pay Hopkins the kind of money that he would be demanding soon. 

As the team’s General Manager, Bill O’Brien was responsible for overpaying the rest of the Houston Texans squad instead of re-working their best player’s contract.  After dealing away DeAndre Hopkins this year, O’Brien went to the free agency market and signed wide receiver Brandin Cooks to an $8 million annual salary. 

Cooks had exactly zero catches last weekend in the Texans’ latest loss to Minnesota.

Houston’s placekicker, Kai’imi Fairbairn, can thank Bill O’Brien for his generous $4.5 million per year salary.  This season, he has only attempted six field goals (making five) in the first four games.  At a cool $281,250 per game, it’s good to be the kicker in Houston!

It’s pretty obvious to all concerned that Bill O’Brien-the-General-Manager was in over his head in Houston.  According to a bio from much earlier in his coaching career, Bill O’Brien was a 1992 Brown University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a double concentration in political science and organizational behavior management.   

Perhaps a few more business classes might have prepared O’Brien better for negotiating the appropriate salaries for his players on the Houston Texans’ roster.    

In addition to having a vastly overpaid team which has underperformed on the field, Bill O’Brien’s legacy will live on for many more years in Houston. 

No matter how the Texans finish this season on the field, the team will not have a first or second round draft pick in 2021 to help rebuild again.  That’s because Bill O’Brien traded away his Round 1 and Round 2 draft picks next year as part of making a deal to obtain a veteran offensive lineman.   

In the interim, the Texans have installed defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (age 73) as the team’s head coach.  Crennel is generally well-liked and respected, but he hasn’t been very successful as the top man, either.  While head coach in Cleveland and Kansas City, his record was 28-55.   

However, the expectations in Houston for the remainder of this year will be quite low.  Who knows?  Romeo Crennel might just be the spark needed to get this team focused on winning and moving in the right direction. 

In my opening remarks, I mentioned an article I penned on January 20, 2020 about the state of the Houston Texans football team and outlined three things which were needed to jumpstart this franchise.  Let’s review the conclusion to that story:

Now that Dr. SwampSwami has heard the 50-year complaint from Houston’s professional football fans, I would like to offer a little professional therapy and advice.

  1. Fire the coach.  (DONE – Mission accomplished!). 
  2. Rename the teamLet’s face it.  The nickname “Texans” was simply adopted to appeal to the legion of the state of Texas’ Dallas Cowboys fans.  At least north Texans can say that “Cowboys” were a big part of their history.  Houston needs an identity which reflects the uniqueness of the city.  How about the “Houston Hurricanes”?  Perhaps the “Houston Traffic”.  Nothing sends fear into the hearts of visitors faster than the unrelenting mountain of cars on the freeways of Houston 24/7.  You get the idea.
  3. Count your blessingsYes, it’s hard to do, especially after experiencing yet another “thud” and national embarrassment with Sunday’s meltdown loss at Kansas City.  However, it’s important to remember that Houston’s professional football failings are shared by three other cities whose football teams haven’t been to a Super Bowl, either.  Cleveland, Detroit, and Jacksonville have yet to experience a Super Bowl appearance.  At least the Texans made it to the playoffs this season.  For Cleveland, it has been 18 years (2002).   Detroit made a wild-card appearance in 2016, while Jacksonville made it into the AFC championship game (and lost to New England) in 2017.

One down, two to go! 

It’s a lovely October day in Houston under “Luv’ ya Blue” skies!