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Where Would You Rank Bill O'Brien Among NFL Head Coaches?

This is a very important question.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans had an OTA session on Monday, so there kind of sort of was football this week for the first time since the Pro Bowl. And after one day of Bill O'Brien being on top of and all over Brock Osweiler, which is just how Osweiler wanted it, football has receded back into the offseason abyss. To help trudge through the footballless slog, articles like this from USA Today's FTW! are written that rank every NFL head coach from 32nd to first.

In it, author Steven Ruiz ranked Bill O'Brien as the 13th best head coach in the NFL. He had this to say:

O’Brien earned his spot on this list after leading the Texans to consecutive winning records despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden making starts at quarterback. Brock Osweiler may not be a franchise passer, but he’s better than anyone O’Brien has had to work with since coming to Houston.

I'm not going to belittle some scant analysis.  Instead, I'll offer my opinion on Bill O'Brien.

O'Brien shouldn't be praised for getting wins with a top ten defense and terrible quarterbacks when it was his fault to begin with that the Texans started the quarterbacks they did. O'Brien and the Texans had the chance to take a quarterback in 2014 NFL Draft when they had the draft capital to do so. They opted not to. This led them down the path they were on until Brock Osweiler fell out of the sky. O'Brien shouldn't be praised for making something out of nothing when he chose the nothing, wasting the last two seasons because he ignored the most important position in football.

In addition, O'Brien has problems with timeouts, when and when not to kick field goals, and when to go for it. The end of the Dallas Cowboys game from 2014 comes to mind; if I wasn't at work, I could go through my old notebooks and find more examples.

He's also done terrible things like playing his starters in meaningless situations to fudge the numbers to trick someone on Pro Football Reference in 2025 into thinking that no, Houston wasn't blown out against Miami or Atlanta. These decisions led to an injury to Cecil Shorts III in Atlanta that nobody cared about. That led Arian Foster suffering a season-ending injury against Miami that ended Foster's Texans career; that's something many fans still care about.

Oh, and I'll never forget that 57 yard Nick Novak field goal attempt at the end of the half against Atlanta in a game where Houston was down 35-0.

These are all just a few of the many head-scratching examples that have occurred during the O'Brien tenure.

What I do like about Bill O'Brien is that he is fluid. He changes things when they don't work. He was able to flip turn the defense upside down by benching veterans for more athletic younger players. O'Brien  won games by playing defense, running the ball and keeping the game out of his quarterback's hands; he is now changing course with the Osweiler signing and the skill players they've added to the roster. Whatever is happening now or this week probably won't be happening the next. Bill O'Brien isn't tied to a system and is constantly looking for ways to improve.

In my opinion, somewhere around the middle of the league is where O'Brien deserves to rank as a head coach. The Texans are a barely more than .500 team since he took over a talented roster whose core is from the Kubiak era. O'Brien has won games in a bad division by spinning the revolver at the quarterback position, running the ball a lot, and letting the defense do its thing. He's made enough bad decisions to match the good ones. All in all, O'Brien has been pretty alright, but he hasn't been the tactical genius everyone envisioned when he first came to Houston. It's only been two years and people learn and grow and evolve. For O'Brien, it just hasn't happened yet.

Who cares what I think? I don't really even care about what I think most of the time. What about YOU? Where would you rank Bill O'Brien?