Thoughts On A Loss, And On Bob McNair

Here is the rule to remember in the future, When anything tempts you to be bitter: not, "This is a misfortune" but "To bear this worthily is good fortune."

I will admit up front that I don't follow the gameday threads. Not, gentle readers, because I dislike you. And not, I wish to assure our corporate overlords, because I dislike our wonderful sponsors, without whom, yours truly Ashton Kutcher could not reap the rewards of SB Nation's largesse. No, the reason that I don't follow the gameday threads is that I watch my Texans via an internet stream (NFL GamePass, if you're wondering) which usually follows reality by about thirty seconds. Following the gameday threads, then, is like following a three-and-a-half hour spoiler. Not really worth it.

The unfortunate part about that is that I actually enjoy much of the instantaneous discussion and banter that goes back and forth on the threads. I really like the spontaneity, and when you are surrounded by wits such as the usual cast of characters around here, you can create a lot of fun. On the other hand, the gameday threads tend to become an exercise in hand-wringing and collective self-flogging that can bring a brother down from time to time. And who needs that when NFL games are already as cathartic as a Sophoclean tragedy?

The one advantage about this is that I can watch the games with a little more detachment. When Arian Foster fumbles on the first play from scrimmage, I get upset, but it is a lot easier to keep my emotions in check, especially since I watch games at home with no one else around. As a massively extraverted individual, I get energized in the presence of others, so watching games with people is often a bad idea, especially if we're losing, because I tend to lose control of my emotions. In essence, what I'm trying to say is that, because of the way I watch games, I feel like I can look at any given Texans game from a bit more of a neutral perspective than I otherwise might, considering I'm a total tragic when it comes to fandom.

So, with that in mind, why don't you all hit the jump for some perspective on the loss?

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This is where we are now. (via v4.cache5.c.bigcache.googleapis.com)

I have a picture on the wall in my office. I change jobs every 2-3 years, but with every new job, one of the first things I do is to put the picture somewhere prominent in my office so that I and anyone else who comes in can see it. The picture was taken nearly fifteen years ago. It is of a car that I once owned driving down a desert highway with nothing but a long stretch of road ahead of it. The road goes on forever and the party never ends straight for miles and then zags left at the base of a large rock formation that stands there, stark and orange. The grass is a light green sagebrush. There are no other cars on the road. The sun is bright, the sky blue.

I used to work as a backpacking guide, and this particular picture came into being because I took a group of guides that worked for me on a spontaneous trip from the Rockies (where we worked) to the Moab area. We took two cars, and someone in the rear car snapped the picture as we drove through a particularly desolate stretch of desert. I keep the picture for a few reasons. Part of it is the fact that it reminds me of a fun time in my younger days when I was still carefree and, while I didn't have a lot of money, I was a pretty content guy. The main reason, however, is that the picture reminds me that there is always something in my life ahead: an open road, an obstacle, a detour and - finally - the great unkown. What's behind that awesome rock formation? Don't know. Let's wait until we get there.

And this is the perfect metaphor for an NFL season. Especially for your Houston Texans.

The loss to the Panthers put me in an unusual position. This is the first Texans loss that I can remember that I didn't feel all that bad about. It wasn't gut-wrenching. I hadn't reached the state of apathy, of not caring, that came with losses last year after the team had wrung the last drop of emotion out of me as a result of the aforementioned gut-wrenching losses. This wasn't a loss that hurt because you knew that, even though the Texans were an expansion team, there were other expansion teams that had been successful and the Texans were nowhere close to that. This loss didn't involve the David Carr checkdown-or-turtle phenomenon or Petey Faggins committing multiple penalties in a single play while still conceding a reception.

This was just a loss that happened because football, especially NFL football, is a tough game. Because, as we learned, not even the greatest team ever (as a few of the more excitable NFL pundits had taken to calling the Packers recently) can win every game. There is no doubt that the Texans shit the bed, especially in the first half. There is no point in denying that. But NFL football is a game of such small margins that a few mistakes can make a big difference. The reality is, however, that this team is still much more like the team that won seven in a row - even without Schaub - than the team that lost one in a row.

Another reality is that this team is built on a solid foundation. We can talk as much as we want about the importance of Wade Phillips, but it seems to me that the person who should really step forward to be identified as the person most important to the Texans is Mr Bob McNair. McNair has had to endure a whole lot of outrageous fortune's slings and arrows in his spell as Texans' owner. Some of them are definitely deserved. But a lot of the pundits and members of the commentariat tend to miss the mark as well.

Let's take the most galling criticism I've heard of Bob McNair: that he doesn't want to win. Can we think through this logic for a minute? Dude paid $700 million dollars to bring a team to his hometown. $700 million dollars. To put that in perspective, if you adjust that for inflation, that is approximately an amount of money equivalent to the 2011 GDP of Liberia. Yes, Bob McNair stumped up money equal to the output of an entire nation to buy the Texans (or, if you want to be clever, the combined value of East Timor and Tonga). The man has succeeded at everything he has done and now, after he plunks down a mountain of pennies, he is suddenly content to let the team suck? Does that make any kind of sense at all?

I think the problem stems from McNair's frustrating tendency to hold on to people too long. We can all recite the examples in chapter and verse by now. Capers, Casserly, Carr, Richard Smith, Frank Bush. And this can be a weakness in certain circumstances. But not when it comes to Bob McNair and his particular management style. And I think a lot of the pundits who criticize McNair don't understand management. Why would they? They are media figures. They are paid to write, not to actually do things like manage complex organizations.

When I look at McNair, on the other hand, I see an effective manager. There is no one way to be successful as a manager. An effective manager does so based on his own personality. Therefore you have managers who are more hands-off and managers who are more hands-on. Either way can be effective. McNair's strategy clearly tends towards the hands-off approach. McNair puts people in positions of authority and allows them to exercise that authority, for good or ill, and reserves judgment until the end of the season. When you're stuck with Frank Bush, it sucks. It's kind of a hit-or-miss operation (just like everything else) but over time, your successes tend to stick around and your failures tend to get ejected.

It's frustrating as hell when you have to endure an entire season (or more) of Richard Smith, but Bob's management style is responsible for creating the conditions that have turned the Texans into what is, by some distance, the most resilient team in the league. Because Bob's style breeds self-reliance by allowing people room to fail or succeed. An organization that works by those rules is by definition going to be more resilient than one managed from the top down because its foundation is stronger. So it may have taken McNair a little longer to get there than we all would have liked, but my prediction is that we're going to stay near the summit longer than the average NFL team does. And that's all down to Bob.

So we've hit an obstacle on our team's path to word domination. It's just a detour. What lies beyond that rock formation? We're about to find out.

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