After a tumultuous year and change operating as both the Texans’ head coach and GM, Bill O’Brien will return to the college ranks — for the highest-profile team.
Alabama hired O’Brien as its offensive coordinator Thursday. O’Brien is back at the Division I-FBS level for the first time since 2013, when he was Penn State’s initial post-Joe Paterno head coach. In between his Patriots and Texans stays, O’Brien led the Nittany Lions for two seasons.
Nick Saban has been big on hiring NFL coaches to run his offense in recent years. Bills OC Brian Daboll rebounded while working as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator in 2017, and short-tenured Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian served in that capacity for the past two seasons. Sarkisian recently became the Texas Longhorns’ head coach.
“Bill is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, an outstanding teacher and excellent recruiter,” Saban said. “He will strengthen our coaching staff and give our players the best possible chance to be successful.”
While O’Brien took considerable heat for his moves while in the Texans’ GM chair, he did lead the team to four playoff berths in six full seasons. O’Brien piloted Houston to the postseason with Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler as his primary quarterbacks in 2015 and ’16, though the Texans went just 9-7 in each season, and had the 2018 and ’19 Deshaun Watson-driven squads in the postseason as well. Houston won two playoff games under O’Brien, the most recent coming in 2019, but was fired early this past season.
October 5th, 2020 at 3:57pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
Well we certainly didn’t see this one coming. The Texans have fired head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link).
The Texans of course are 0-4, but it’s still a pretty shocking development since there hadn’t been any recent reports that O’Brien’s job was in imminent danger. Schefter noted in a follow-up tweet that a source told him Romeo Crennel is the likely interim head coach. O’Brien clearly wasn’t expecting to get canned, as we heard just yesterday that he was taking over offensive play-calling duties and taking a more active role in the game-planning.
The Texans are a trainwreck at the moment, as not only are they winless but they’re also without their first and second-round picks in next year’s draft due to trades O’Brien made. O’Brien had recently clashed with prominent players at practice and executive Jack Easterby is now in charge of the organization for the time being, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets.
O’Brien now becomes the first head coach fired during the 2020 season, beating out contenders like Adam Gase and Dan Quinn for the honor. GM Brian Gaine was fired back in June of 2019, and O’Brien has been in complete control of the team ever since. He was formally named the general manager back in January.
The former Penn State coach and Patriots offensive coordinator made a slew of controversial moves, most notably trading away superstar DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals this offseason for relatively little in return. The Texans have a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, but things are pretty bleak outside of him due to the lack of draft capital.
It’s been a rapid collapse for Houston after they advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year and had a huge lead over the Chiefs in the first half. O’Brien became the head coach in 2014 and while he’s earned a lot of the criticism he’s gotten, he did lead the team to the playoffs in four of his six full seasons.
The Texans started with an absolutely brutal schedule of the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers in their first three games, and are running out of time to turn things around. Crennel has been with the team in varying capacities since 2014 as well. He’ll take over a team with some real talent, and he has head coaching experience. He coached the Browns from 2005-08, and was more recently the Chiefs’ head coach from 2011-12.
As for their next full time head coach, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is sure to get consideration. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report tweets to keep an eye on current defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver, writing that the “team loves him and he’s seen as a serious contender for a HC job this offseason.” Meanwhile Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets that Easterby is on a “very long-term contract,” and notes that he is close with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as well as Pats exec Nick Caserio, who the Texans originally wanted to be their GM last year.Easterby is going to be heavily involved in the ensuing search process alongside owner Cal McNair, according to multiple reports.
McDaniels’ name is brought up annually in head coaching searches, and it sounds like that will be the case once again here. A handful of reporters immediately began speculating on Twitter that there could be interest in Dabo Swinney, Watson’s former coach at Clemson. That was all just spitballing and nothing sourced, but it’s fun to think about nonetheless. Watson isn’t the only connection there, as Albert Breer of SI.com tweets he’s been told Easterby is also “very friendly” with Swinney.
As for O’Brien, it’s anyone’s guess what his next move will be. Today ends a tumultuous era of Texans football, and it’ll be very interesting to see if Watson can lead the team out of the hole they currently find themselves in.
Texans head coach/GM Bill O’Brien has come under intense scrutiny for his management of his club’s roster, especially after this offseason’s infamous DeAndre Hopkins trade. O’Brien did cede play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, but in the wake of Houston’s 0-3 start to the season, the head coach is renewing his involvement in that side of the operation.
As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, O’Brien will take on an increased role in game-planning and play-calling. Kelly will continue to relay the plays to QB Deshaun Watson, but O’Brien will have significant input into which plays are called. That means that Houston’s offense will run more like it did in 2019, which ended in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Texans’ offense has sputtered without Hopkins, and the team currently ranks near the bottom of the league in terms of total offense and yards per game. Still, the club has more offensive talent than that showing would suggest, and O’Brien apparently believes he can help get more production out of that unit.
Houston has started the season in an 0-3 hole, but since its first three opponents have a combined 8-1 record, no one is panicking just yet. Still, an 0-4 start would put an even bigger damper on the Texans’ playoff aspirations, and O’Brien is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. His club will take on the Vikings this afternoon in a battle of talented but winless outfits.
It wouldn’t be a true NFL Draft if there wasn’t a bit of drama between two teams. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tweets that Texans head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien was “furious” at the Lions for backing out of a trade.
According to McClain, the Texans “had a deal” to send the No. 90 pick to the Lions. Detroit ended up backing out at the “last instant,” and cameras caught O’Brien’s visible frustration. Houston ultimately kept the pick and settled for Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard.
Predictably, Lions general manager BobQuinn has already said that he was never close to a trade with the Texans.
“Listen, we talk to a lot of teams,” Quinn told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “When we’re not on the clock, we talk to a bunch of teams, and it’s not just myself. We’ve got four or five people that make calls, so I’m not sure what that was about. But we didn’t have a trade.”
As Smith points out, Quinn and O’Brien were both on the Patriots staff between 2007 and 2011.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com writes that the NFL makes it abundantly clear that a trade isn’t finalized until it’s made official. Trade talks are currently made even tougher thanks to the unconventional draft setup.
Saints coach Sean Payton might’ve accidentally let some big news slip this week. Appearing on ESPN’s ‘Get Up,’ Payton said “the unique situation with our team and quarterback Drew Brees, he’s announced he’s coming back for his final season,” via Katherine Terrell of The Athletic. When Brees elected not to retire this offseason, he said he’d be taking things year by year and didn’t make any official proclamations about this being his last campaign.
Either Payton misspoke, or he let the cat out of the bag. We’ve heard for a while now that the Saints eventually want Taysom Hill to take over as the starting quarterback, and that they plan on utilizing Hill even more this coming season. All the moves they’ve made so far point to one last run with Brees, so it would make sense if he has in fact told them this is his final ride. They’ve signed a 32-year-old Malcolm Jenkins and a 33-year-old Emmanuel Sanders, so they’re clearly all-in on 2020.
Here’s more from around the league:
Speaking of NFC South retirements, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly surprisingly decided to hang up his cleats this offseason. Interestingly, Carolina still hasn’t officially placed him on the reserve/retired list, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic. Before fans get excited, that’s likely because the Panthers can add $6MM in cap space by waiting until after June 1st to make the move, Person notes. Additionally, a source close to the former Defensive Player of the Year told Person that he has had “no second thoughts” about his decision to retire. We’ve heard the former All-Pro could be eyeing a coaching/consulting gig, and Person writes he has also explored broadcasting opportunities. Kuechly is still only 28, so there’s plenty of time for him to change his mind about his playing career.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien caught a lot of flak for his trade of Deandre Hopkins and what he was able to get back in return, and he sought to explain himself a bit Friday. “It was in the best interest of our team. DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player. We loved DeAndre Hopkins He had three years left on his deal and he wanted a raise. David Johnson is going to be a great addition to our football team,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). O’Brien seemed to confirm that Hopkins’ desire to sweeten his deal was a driving force behind the shocking trade. It’ll be very interesting to see how O’Brien handles the locker room and growing backlash from the fanbase.
The Texans recognized that they would have to renegotiate Hopkins’ contract at some point if they wanted to keep him, but they’re prioritizing new deals for Deshaun Watson and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, Yahoo’s Charles Robinson tweets. Hopkins had three years remaining on his team-friendly contract, so the Texans felt that a fresh deal was premature. Meanwhile, they see opportunities to replenish at wide receiver via the draft, as well as some options for trades. All in all, the Texans viewed the Hopkins trade as the first step towards a larger plan that will cover them on both sides of the ball.
Another contributing factor: Ongoing friction between Hopkins and head coach Bill O’Brien, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets.
February 26th, 2020 at 12:37pm CST by Zachary Links
Bill O’Brien decided that he already wears enough hats for the Texans. This week, the team’s head coach and GM announced that offensive coordinator Tim Kelly will take over play calling in 2020.
“[Kelly is] a really bright guy,” O’Brien said (via ESPN.com’s Mike Wells). “He’s a really good coach. Players really respect him. He just does a great job. Great knowledge of the whole offense from the passing game to the running game.”
O’Brien, who has served as the Texans’ HC since 2014, acted as the OC initially, then later gave those responsibilities to George Godsey. Early on in 2016, he took the headset back from Godsey and parted ways with him after the season.
Last year, the Texans finished 13th in yards per game and 14th in points per contest (23.6, on average). They’ll look to push further with Kelly at the helm.
Kelly and O’Brien go back a long ways, dating to their time together at Penn State. This will be Kelly’s second year as the OC, but his first with full control. O’Brien expressed complete confidence in the soon-to-be 34-year-old and also cited his relationship with Deshaun Watson as a major positive.
The Texans have given head coach Bill O’Brien the title of general manager, per a club announcement. O’Brien has effectively been in charge of the roster for a while, but Tuesday’s announcement makes it official. Meanwhile, they’ve promoted executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby to executive vice president of football operations.
“Preparations are underway for the 2020 season and I thought it was important to update titles, roles and responsibilities for Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby so they more accurately reflect the way we have been operating for the past eight months,” said owner Cal McNair. “I was encouraged by the progress that our team made on the field this year which was due in part to our new structure, operating approach and the leaders within our football operations group. I am proud that we provided our fans with many thrilling victories at home, including a playoff win, and we delivered another double-digit win season. Our fans deserve that, but now it is time for the organization to get back to work toward our pursuit of a world championship for the city of Houston.”
Last summer, the Texans fired GM Brian Gaine after just one year at the helm. Since then, they’ve taken a GM-by-committee approach, with O’Brien leading the charge and Easterby holding significant influence over the roster. Execs Matt Bazirgan, James Liipfert, and Chris Olsen were also instrumental in the revamped configuration.
With O’Brien as the de facto GM, the Texans went 10-6, captured the AFC South title, and reached the divisional round for the fourth time in franchise history.
January 19th, 2020 at 7:20pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
The Texans’ strange front office situation just got even more muddled. Houston has fired executive Chris Olsen, sources told Mark Berman of Fox 26 (Twitter link).
He might not be a household name, but this is a highly significant move. Olsen, who had the official title of senior VP for football administration, had been with the organization for the past 13 years. When the Texans originally fired general manager Brian Gaine last summer, Olsen took over on an interim basis. As their unusual plan developed, Olsen became one of a few key execs who split front office duties with head coach Bill O’Brien. O’Brien has been consolidating his power lately, and we recently received confirmation that Houston wouldn’t be hiring a new GM anytime soon.
Olsen had been handling contract negotiations and salary cap matters before getting canned. It’s unclear exactly why he was fired now, or if he clashed with O’Brien. Texans owner Cal McNair has been putting all his chips in the B’OB basket, even though the playoff results have been underwhelming. Most recently, the Texans blew a 24-point lead over the Chiefs in the divisional round. O’Brien appears to have full control over the team, and will continue to remake it in his image.
Though the Texans failed in their efforts to hire Patriots exec Nick Caserio as their GM this spring, recent reports indicated that Houston — which has operated without a GM in 2019 — would simply hire Caserio in 2020, when his contract with New England is up. However, that no longer appears to be the case.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Texans plan to go without a true GM in 2020 as well. Currently, head coach Bill O’Brien has final say over football operations, though he works closely with vice president of team development Jack Easterby in that regard. Meanwhile, VP of Football Administration, Chris Olsen, handles contracts and salary cap matters, and Matt Bazirgan is in charge of player personnel.
The Texans are sitting at 7-4 and are in the driver’s seat for the AFC South title, so as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk suggests, owner Cal McNair simply may be saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But while the major personnel moves the club has made without a GM — trading two first-round picks for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills and trading a third-round pick for Duke Johnson, for example — have worked out relatively well in the short term, they will significantly handicap the team down the road. Those moves, combined with the team’s misplay of the Jadeveon Clowney situation, suggest to Florio that the Texans really do need a GM.
Indeed, the club interviewed GM candidates after the Caserio fiasco before electing to move forward with its current power structure. It could be that, given their dearth of high-end draft capital and the outside uncertainty as to how much power Easterby would wield over a new GM, the Texans may have a tough time attracting top candidates, so they will simply forego making the effort for now.
Whoever is calling the shots in 2020 will need to engage in extension talks with star QB Deshaun Watson, which may be tough to navigate with a true GM.