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Bill O’Brien’s Long Con, Part 1: The Past

A three-part series examining how Bill O’Brien got to where he is with the Texans.

Houston Texans v Los Angeles Chargers
Bill O’Brien yells at somebody, which seems to be his only coaching skill.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

When the Houston Texans hired Bill O’Brien back on December 31, 2013, he was considered to be an offensive genius, and especially, a quarterback (QB) whisperer. After all, he’d been mostly coaching on the offensive side of the ball after becoming the tight ends (TE) coach for Brown in 1993.

For the Texans, however, O’Brien’s offensive intelligence has never come to light for a number of reasons. In the five seasons since he became the Head Coach (HC) for the Texans, O’Brien’s offenses have never been better than 21st in Football Outsiders’ (FO) DVOA rankings, regardless of who his QB was. It’s not often that a HC/Offensive Coordinator (OC) can have a QB like Deshaun Watson, who was ranked 10th in DYAR by FO in 2018, and still have the 21st best offense in football. That, truly, is (un)talent.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Texans were sold a false bill of goods, one that continues to permeate through today.

Somehow, after “leading” the Duke offense to a whopping 16.1 and 14.9 points per game in 2005 and 2006, respectively, O’Brien was hired as an offensive assistant by the New England Patriots for the 2007 season.

Now, if you aren’t old enough to remember the 2007 Patriots, they were quite good. In fact, they put up the best offensive DVOA in the NFL going back to 1986 at 43.5%. To put that into perspective, the incredibly explosive 2018 Kansas City Chiefs put up a DVOA of 34.2%. Yes, the 2007 Patriots were that good.

And with good reason! Tom Brady was brutally efficient with a 398/578/50/8 line. Running backs (RBs) included Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, and the wide receivers (WRs) included Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth, and old Texans fave Jabar Gaffney.

The Patriots went 16-0 during the regular season, losing only to the New York Giants (NYG) in the Super Bowl. The Patriots were pretty good.

For 2008, BOB was promoted to be the WR coach. 2008 was the year that Tom Brady was injured, and Matt Cassel was forced to play. Before the 2009 season, BOB was promoted again to be the quarterbacks coach, where he somehow gets credit for improving the best QB of all-time, Tom Brady, successfully. /shrug emoji

After two years of being made to look good by Brady, BOB was promoted to be the OC. BOB did as well as he could, I guess, with an offense that “only” included guys like Brady, Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, and an elite offensive line. What’s a fella to do?

In 2012, BOB was hired to coach Penn State (which should have been burned to the ground anyway). BOB was named the Coach of the Year by several organizations after the team went 8-4. In 2013, Penn State went a soon-to-be familiar 7-5 (well, that’s close to 9-7!), and BOB was hired to be the head coach of your Houston Texans.

When hired by the Texans, O’Brien was considered to be an elite offensive mind after his time...*checks notes*...of coaching several Hall of Famers with the Patriots and getting a decent season from future colossal draft bust Christian Hackenberg.

In retrospect, most of O’Brien’s reputation was earned by simply being in the same locker room as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. From a what-did-he-actually-do perspective, there is little concrete proof Bill O’Brien was ready to be the head coach for an NFL team.

Up next: Bill O’Brien’s Long Con, Part 2: The Texans.