An old belief ‘round football circles was if you had three Pro Bowl players, a good quarterback, solid supporting cast and a good scheme, you could win on any given Sunday. Along those same lines, teams often find success with the “triplets” line-up, where they have a top flight quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Having at least one great player on either side of the ball is a benchmark for a team’s health. Don’t have these guys? Better find them and build around them. If you have 3 or more, the odds of success greatly rise.
These are the kinds of players that turn the tide of games at crucial moments. Guys that end up on Sportscenter earning all the “WOW!” football fans exclaim when they see a freakishly amazing play by a freakishly amazing player.
When you have J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller you tick all those boxes. When you surround them with Whitney Mercilus, Will Fuller V, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Reid, you’re building something great.
The one key you need to make these formulas work is a true leader of men who not only understands Xs and Os, but how to be a leader and not a boss.
A leader gets the most out of their team by motivating the personnel to win. A boss casts off people perceived as ‘not team players’.
A leader is a guy like Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, John Madden, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, or Bill Belichick. A boss is a guy like Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien played defensive end and linebacker for the Brown Bears from 1990-1992 before transitioning to tight ends coach in ‘93. He moved to inside linebackers in ‘94, then jumped over to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in ‘95, eventually working his way up to running backs coach in ‘98. In 2001, O’Brien was named offensive coordinator at GT and the following season he became assistant head coach. In less than ten years, O’Brien rose from assistant coach at a school hardly known as a pro-football factory to assistant head coach at Georgia Tech - a definite step up, football program-wise.
O’Brien bounced around some more before landing at Duke as the offensive coordinator for the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
Then the New England Patriots came calling and O’Brien took his first step into the NFL ranks. From 2007 to 2011, O’Brien rose in New England from offensive assistant to offensive coordinator. It was there, amidst interview requests to be the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Penn State Nittany Lions, that O’Brien landed his one and only championship, albeit on the coattails of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
O’Brien then signed a four-year contract with Penn State to take over amidst one of the most horrific scandals in NCAA football history that saw Penn State legend Joe Paterno retire and pass away. O’Brien’s keen decision to move from Bill Belichick, one of - if not the - best coaches in NFL history to a job shaped by Paterno - one of the NCAA’s historically best coaches, seemed a shrewd gamble. If O’Brien could turn this awful scenario into a winning program once again, he’d certainly leave his mark on the football world.
Not long after taking the Penn State gig, the NCAA slapped the program with harsh sanctions over the detestable Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Today we received a very harsh penalty from the NCAA and as head coach of the Nittany Lions football program, I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the University forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence. I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.
I was then and I remain convinced that our student athletes are the best in the country. I could not be more proud to lead this team and these courageous and humble young men into the upcoming 2012 season. Together we are committed to building a better athletic program and university.
O’Brien took the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record, earning Big Ten Coach of the Year, which brought with it requests to interview with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles for open head coaching positions.
I’m not a one-and-done guy. I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that’s what I am going to do. I’m not gonna cut and run after one year, that’s for sure.
Less than a year later, O’Brien accepted an offer to become the head coach for the Houston Texans.
As head coach of the Texans, O’Brien inherited a team that had gone 12-4 in 2012 before the wheels fell off in 2013 during the final season of Gary Kubiak’s tenure.
Over the course of his head coaching career in Texas, O’Brien has averaged a 9-7 record, won the AFC South Championship four times, and presided over some of the worst playoff blowouts in recent NFL history. While each of the other three teams in the AFC South have advanced to AFC Championship Game during O’Brien’s tenure, the closest he’s managed to get his team is the 24-0 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs last season, a game the Texans lost 51-31.
Let’s compare O’Brien to the most important player on his team.
Houston phenom quarterback Deshaun Watson won a Georgia High School State Championship in his junior year. Watson then led the Clemson Tigers to defeat perennial NCAA powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 NCAA College Football Playoff Championship Game before being drafted by the Texans in April.
What happens when the unstoppable force of a winning quarterback meets the immovable object of a coach who has never led his team to a championship? Particularly when the coach goes against all common sense of building around Pro Bowl players, leading those guys to leave it all on the field and instead kicks them to the curb via poor roster, salary cap, and draft asset management?
The NFL history books are full of coaches who were promoted beyond their competency. Men like Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels, Todd Haley, Cam Cameron, Ken Wisenhunt, and Chip Kelly. Bill O’Brien belongs on that list far more than he does the list of all-time greatest head coaches. Honestly, most teams might take a prime Todd Haley over Bill O’Brien as their offensive coordinator every day of the week.
What does this mean for Texans fans? The folks dying for a ray of sunshine in our current world of social distancing, horrific Texans trades, and dread of what the impending NFL Draft will bring?
Just as with the reigns of the coordinators listed above, O’Brien’s run as the Texans head coach/general manager will come to an end sooner or later.
Until then, just remember—Houston Texans Fans: Waiting For Next Season Since 2002.