Is Bill O'Brien what’s wrong with the Houston Texans?
By Derek Brown
Special to Pro Football Guru
Bill O'Brien was named the head coach of the Houston Texans in 2014. He was hired to turn around a team that had finished the previous season with two wins and losers of their last 14 games.
O’Brien had shown that he had what it took to turn a football program around. In 2012, Penn State was looking for a new head coach after the school was hit hard by scandal. They decided on O'Brien, who at the time was the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. In the first season, he led the Nittany Lions to a very-respectable 8-4 record. That earned him Big 10 Coach of the Year honors, as well as ESPN’s Coach of the Year.
After his first season, he garnered attention from NFL teams. O’Brien decided to keep on coaching at Penn State, feeling that leaving after one year would send a bad message. At the end of the 2013 season he was ready to move on and accepted the job as the Texans’ head coach.
After three straight 9-7 finishes, which included a pair of AFC South titles in 2015 and ’16, there appeared to be some rumors suggesting that there could be some tension between longtime then-Texans’ general manager Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien. Some of those issues seemed to surround Smith bringing in former Denver Broncos’ quarterback Brock Osweiler without fully consulting with O'Brien.
After the 2016 season, Osweiler was traded to the Cleveland Browns but the Texans still had quarterback Tom Savage left on the roster. The latter was a pick that O'Brien had want and he stated that he was comfortable with when it came to leading the team. Even with that, Smith made the move in the 2017 draft and traded up to grab the 12th overall pick and select former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
It didn’t take long for the rookie to impress and it was later reported (via Sports Radio 610) that the head coach was ready to give Watson – off an impressive showing in the preseason against the Panthers – the Week 1 start vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Smith reportedly talked O’Brien out of the decision. But after a first half vs. the eventual AFC South champions that saw Savage sacked six times, Watson got the nod in the second half and then went onto start the next six games before going down with that knee injury in practice. Houston would eventually lose its final six games, finish 4-12 and land in the divisional basement.
Amid growing tensions, Smith was moved from the general manager position due to a family illness. And with high expectation for the 2018 season with a fully healthy team. Those expectations have not been achieved as the Texans lost their first three games before finally breaking through last week in overtime at Indianapolis.
This year, O'Brien made the choice not to play Watson very much in the preseason to avoid the risk of injury. And the second-year player looked very rusty early on. In the Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots, O'Brien looked outcoached and unable to make adjustments. Then came setbacks to the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants and while the team played better, it was the little things that cost the club dearly.
This Sunday night, the Houston Texans host the Dallas Cowboys and then face the struggling Buffalo Bills, also at home. It’s an opportunity for the team to get its act together. But is O’Brien the solution or part of the early-season problems? One thing is for sure. A 5-15 record since 2017, including a 1-3 start this year, has this sideline leader firmly on the hot seat.