The news on Monday that the Texans would be firing head coach / general manager Bill O’Brien after a 0-4 start was somewhat astounding and not at all surprising. I’ve been skeptical of O’Brien’s decision-making process since he took over staff power in 2019, with move after move appearing to betray either a lack of long-term vision or an inability to understand how the rest of the league values players. . I can understand why the Texan ownership will consider these moves and plan to find a solution to replace O’Brien as the team’s general manager in the years to come.
Firing O’Brien from the manager right now, however, makes absolutely no sense. The Texans are 0-4 and agitated in AFC South, but have played the toughest schedule in the league, with games against the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers before Sunday̵
Let’s split the decision between O’Brien’s two different roles, because I look at them differently:
Dismissal of Bill O’Brien the GM
How much could it really have changed between now and the end of August? Sure, O’Brien’s decision to swap wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick doesn’t sound great, but it looked bad in March when ownership allegedly signed off on the idea of swapping their star. . Other commercial acquisitions like running back Duke Johnson and cornerback Gareon Conley were injured. Overpayments for low-ceilinged free agents like offshore Randall Cobb and security Eric Murray didn’t go well – Texans were interested in free agent Earl Thomas to replace Murray in the starting lineup, with Justin Reid playing more security , before Reportedly, O’Brien’s players said it by the move, but those were decisions that looked horrible at the time.
O’Brien paid beyond the odds to lock up key young players like the quarterback Deshaun Watson, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and linebacker Zach Cunningham, distributing contracts more generous than the market value, but even this is not a firable offense. In any case, the level of control by the Texan property is staggering. There was a time to pull the reins on O’Brien, but that was a while ago. His 2019 moves suggested he was overrated when it came to trade and contract negotiations. Allowing him to have a second offseason responsible for staffing decisions was the mistake made by the property.
OK, so with the Texans spending $ 249.3 million on players this season as they start 0-4, why not correct the mistake as soon as possible and get O’Brien out of the GM chair? For one thing, they can’t go out and get an immediate replacement. Early reports suggest Houston will hand things over to former Patriots chaplain Jack Easterby, who was brought by O’Brien to Houston in 2019 and became vice president of football operations in 2020. Virtually every wrong move O’Brien has made in the last two years have passed with Easterby in the photo, so the idea that Easterby will somehow solve the problems left with this organization after O’Brien’s departure seems curious.
Also, while the Texans have Watson and several other promising young players, this will be one of the least attractive jobs in the league. The Texans didn’t have their picks in the first or second round in 2018 after trading for Watson and abandoning Brock Osweiler’s contract. They’ve sent away the 2020 first and second round selections as part of the exchanges for Tunsil and the vast Brandin Cooks, and while they’ve gotten one back in the Hopkins deal, they don’t have their choices for the first or second round in the 2021.
Any general manager who accepts this job will feel the pinch of those missing choices and won’t get another crack with a high choice until 2022. The property just pledged a lot of money on contracts, which means Texans won’t. being aggressive in free agency in the next year or two. Also, while some would-be CEOs may be interested if they can take the time to rearrange the list and replenish the project’s capital, Houston has been wildly erratic with its deadlines. Since owner Cal McNair took over following his father’s death in 2018, he fired general manager Brian Gaine after winning a division title in his one year on the job, letting O’Brien reform the organization to his liking, so he fired the former Penn State manager after a 0-4 start. Why would a promising executive with options elsewhere want to take on this role?
In fact, when the Texans allowed O’Brien to trade a ship loaded with pickaxes to acquire Tunsil and switched to Hopkins, they should have committed to seeing the O’Brien experiment until the end of 2021. That would have been the the time to reevaluate things, and if the Texans were going to switch to their manager / GM at that point, they could hire someone with a well-stocked cabinet of draft picks and the ability to come out from under several O “The questionable contracts of Brien.
Firing O’Brien now acknowledges the Texans were wrong to give him that kind of power, but does nothing to alleviate the problems. A more realistic path would have been to use the property’s veto power to block something particularly egregious that O’Brien had planned and tell him he would need to win with the roster he had built for months. It may not have gone well – and it’s possible O’Brien wasn’t willing to work as a manager if he didn’t have full powers as general manager – but the team has made up for itself in the past couple of years. A 0-4 start shouldn’t have been what made them realize their mistake.
Firing Bill O’Brien as head coach
Let’s add the offensive playcaller to his list of tasks following reports that O’Brien took over in week 4. At times, however, his solution to any plan seemed to be more rubbing. Bill about it and hoping it would fix the problem, which seemed reckless given O’Brien had only handed playcalling duties to Tim Kelly in February.
Leave O’Brien the general manager aside and think strictly on the side of the coach. Can you really justify this move? O’Brien took on a 2-14 team with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and recorded five winning seasons in six years at the helm. The only losing season was when Watson ripped his ACL in 2017. The Texans were 52-48 over more than six years at O’Brien’s helm, but they have won four division titles in five years.
I wasn’t optimistic about their chances of succeeding in 2020, and O’Brien hadn’t been able to push them towards an AFC title match, but how many coaches are fired after a 0-4 start against a brutally tough schedule with that kind of of curriculum? It seems impossible that O’Brien was fired while both Matt Patricia of Lions and Adam Gase of the Jets still have their jobs.
It would be one thing if the Texans fired O’Brien after the season and had a high-profile replacement for the job like Lincoln Riley or Dabo Swinney. Firing him with a plan after a disappointing campaign would have been more defensible, although I think it would have been a little tough given the years of relative success. Without a CEO, Easterby also looks set to play a significant role in the hiring process.
Instead, the Texans are promoting 73-year-old Romeo Crennel to take over as the team’s interim manager. Crennel, who was promoted upstairs after the bosses set his defense on fire in the division round, has no plans to reshape the Texans. He has 28-55 as head coach in his career. The worst thing that could happen now is that they could improve on a simpler schedule and get McNair to keep Crennel as a full-time coach.
That’s exactly what happened in 2011, when the Chiefs ended a complicated relationship with Todd Haley after a 5-8 start and promoted Crennel to the role. He finished 2-1, with the Chiefs shocking an undefeated team of Packers on their debut. Kansas City turned over the full-time job to Crennel, who … promptly went 2-14 and lost his job after a year. In the long run, it worked brilliantly for Kansas City, who was then able to hire Andy Reid after the Eagles moved on from future Hall of Fame coach, but Crennel’s luck in a small champion brought back the franchise of the Chiefs back a year.
The Texans will be better off for the rest of the season, but I suspect it will be mostly a product of the program getting easier. The problems in this team still exist. The trades left them with little depth. Too many of the main players (David Johnson, Will Fuller, J.J. Watt and even Watson) have serious injury problems from season to season. The secondary is a disaster and Texans don’t have a clear path to fix it. The contracts delivered and the exchanges made by O’Brien, the general manager, limit the flexibility that any new manager will have in reshaping the roster.
Again, it’s hard to believe ownership allowed O’Brien to remodel the roster this spring, saw what the first month of their season would be like, and then fired their football czar after starting 0-4. Sunday’s game could have taken a different direction if Fuller had come down with a one-handed hold in the end zone in the fourth quarter, which would have given the Texans a chance to equalize with a double brace. If Fuller went down with that hold and the Texans came back to win the soccer game, would the property give O’Brien a respite? Would his plans over the past 18 months suddenly make more sense? Did it take a defeat for the Vikings for McNair to pay attention to what was wrong with his football team?
Before the season I compared O’Brien to Chip Kelly. Like O’Brien, the Eagles coach leveraged his college success for a role as NFL head coach, then used his success as a coach to win a power struggle and take on staffing duties. Kelly then made a series of bizarre decisions in free will and via trade, and when his team failed to live up to expectations, the Eagles fired Kelly.
Kelly at least had a full season to prove her choices were as silly as they seemed. O’Brien had a year and four games, but made it to the playoffs in his first season with both roles before the bad start of 2020. Both seem subject to the Peter Principle, the idea that people in a company will rise to the level at which they can prove that they have passed. O’Brien will find another job as a manager, but it’s hard to imagine another team handing him over staffing duties after making nearly two years of widely slashed moves.
In the end, there was no longer anyone to use as an excuse for O’Brien, no power to take and no promotion to get. The only person more powerful than O’Brien in the organization, McNair, is the one who made the decision to cut ties with O’Brien and his plan for the team after a month of bad football. I can understand why McNair made his decision, but it seems impossible to separate what O’Brien did from the opportunity McNair gave him to make those decisions. McNair can straighten the ship and turn things around if Texans make the right hires for O’Brien’s old positions this off-season, but neither job looks particularly tempting. McNair has also proven he’s not up to par for the past couple of years, but as O’Brien recalled on Monday, you can’t fire an owner.