There’s a series of current AT&T commercials where they highlight the importance of not settling for okay. In one such commercial, a man is getting ready to skydive and the instructor mentions it’s only his second jump. In another, a man is preparing for surgery when the nurse mentions that the doctor is okay. The doctor walks in and says, “Guess who just got reinstated!” Their next commercial should feature a behind the scenes look at Bill O’Brien game management before reminding us that just okay is not okay.
Yet despite mounting evidence that Bill O’Brien is simply an okay coach, there seems to be little concern within the Texans’ organization about the state of the franchise. This reminds me of a very similar situation that took place just north of Houston. One in which an organization settled and cost themselves a few years of ‘their’ fabled Super Bowl window. Perhaps by comparing the two, as fans, we will see that settling is never a good decision and that just okay is not okay.
I’m speaking, of course, about the Dallas Cowboys and their milquetoast former head coach, Jason Garrett. Garrett’s lack of results eventually led to him being let go by the Cowboys after a disastrous attempt by the organization to find his replacement. Call it what you may, but anytime you’re interviewing a new coach while the other one hasn’t officially been let go, it can be labeled as disastrous.
The Cowboys have been mired in mediocrity for years under Garrett’s leadership. Many in Houston, myself included, have found this to be hilarious. It was blatant and obvious that Garrett was the problem and yet the Cowboys went into this season hoping that he would have a miracle year and lead them to the Super Bowl. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.
The Texans will be heading for a similar fate unless the Texans learn from the Cowboys’ mistakes. Maybe not as ugly or messy as the Garrett split, but assuredly, it will be just as large a waste of time. How are Bill O’Brien and Jason Garrett similar? Let me point out a couple of ways these situations seem to mirror each other.
1. Bill O’Brien and Jason Garrett are beloved by ownership.
The not-so-secret secret in the NFL was that Jerry Jones loved Jason Garrett. He had invested copious amounts of time and energy into Garrett’s career and wanted him to succeed in Dallas. This led to Garrett taking over as the interim head coach for the Cowboys in 2010 after Wade Phillips started the season 1-7. Garrett was named the permanent head coach in 2011. From 2011 to 2019, Garrett received nothing but unwavering support from Jerry Jones. Mr. Jones had found his head coach and he was sticking with him through thick or thin.
In 2018, rumors begin to circulate that Jones was unhappy with the lack of production from the franchise. The Cowboys had won the NFC East, but lost to the Rams in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. Common sense indicated that Jason Garrett needed playoff success in 2019 if he wanted to keep his job.
The Cowboys failed to make the postseason this year, and as much as it broke Jerry Jones’s heart, he had to fire Garrett. Someone had to be held responsible for the Cowboys lack of success. For years and years, Jerry Jones had stood by and supported his man, but there comes a time when decisions must be made for the good of the organization.
Similarly, Bill O’Brien is loved by the McNairs.
The McNairs believe that he will be the head coach capable of leading their franchise to the elite of the NFL. They believe this so much they jettisoned two different general managers during O’Brien’s time and have permitted him to be not only the head coach, but the de facto general manager as well. It is the reign of Bill O’Brien.
Despite his lack of playoff success, there has been zero indication that Houston ownership is displeased with O’Brien. He was given the keys to the kingdom and complete control over all football decisions. Even after a season-ending 51-31 shelling at the hands of the Chiefs, the McNairs seem content to ride with O’Brien. They may not be as vocal about their love for O’Brien as Jerry Jones was about his love for Garrett, but make no mistake, you don’t give this much power to a man in the NFL unless you are committed to him.
2) Different Styles, Similar Results
Both coaches have their own style. Garrett was supposedly a players’ coach. He was low key and preferred clapping his team to victory or defeat. O’Brien, on the other hand, is much more in your face. There are rumors that he is difficult to work with, struggles with anger management (see the video of him yelling at a fan), and that players sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye (Jadeveon Clowney). It would seem that Garrett and O’Brien don’t have much in common. However, they have very similar records.
Jason Garrett was 85-67 in nine seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. He had a winning percentage of .559 and won the NFC East title three times. Despite winning the division three times, he never made it past the divisional round of the playoffs, including during a season when the Cowboys went 13-3.
Bill O’Brien is now 52-44 in six seasons. He has a winning percentage of .542 and has won the AFC South title four times. Despite winning four AFC South titles, he has never made it past the divisional round.
Fun Fact: While O’Brien has been head coach of the Houston Texans, all other AFC South teams except Houston have appeared in the AFC Championship Game.
The winning percentages are similar and the end results are similar. Both coaches had great quarterbacks and various above-average team pieces to plug in. It’s not a lack of player talent. The division titles are a nice feather in the cap for coaches, but both O’Brien and Garrett have a lack of postseason success to strengthen their resume.
Many people will hate pointing out the similarities between these two coaches, but the results speak for themselves. Many will point out that Bill O’Brien has been able to work with ‘lesser’ talent at times. Many people will defend him to the point of death. I’m bringing this up for one simple reason. The results speak for themselves. You may have a high or low opinion of O’Brien, and that is fine, but let me ask you: What exactly has O’Brien accomplished? The AFC South titles don’t mean much if you continue to settle for that, and Houston will end up in a situation similar to Dallas’s 2019 season—a team full of talent that doesn’t have the coaching to get them to the next level.
Jason Garrett lasted nine seasons in Dallas. He never got the Cowboys to an NFC Championship Game. He had Tony Romo, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Sean Lee, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Byron Jones, an elite offensive line, Amari Cooper, and Leighton Vander Esch during that time. He had talent. He didn’t have the ability. His legacy is one of underachieving. He was lauded as an excellent offensive coach when he took over as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but he never had next level success.
Bill O’Brien has been the head coach of the Houston Texans for six seasons now. Current reports suggest that he is not going anywhere anytime soon. After taking over as general manager, he made short-sighted trades in an effort to go all-in for this season and probably next season. In doing so, he has severely hampered the Texans’ ability to find young, cost-effective talent in the next two drafts. He has Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Justin Reid, and other talent to work with. Despite his complete control and his best efforts, the Texans once again fell short this year.
It is becoming harder and harder to defend O’Brien as an elite coach in the NFL, or dare I say, even a truly successful one. The Texans should pay attention and quickly learn the lesson that the Cowboys had to choke on this year.
Never settle in the NFL just because it’s okay. Just OK is not OK.