It all began with the sudden firing of our general manager and ended with me wishing I was eaten by a large carnivorous plant.
In a sentence, that was the Houston Texans’ 2019 season.
The first noteworthy thing to happen for the Texans was the firing of Brian Gaine under questionable circumstances little more than one month after the 2019 NFL Draft. Nobody knew why he was fired. Some believed it was because of a bad draft, including but not limited to getting jumped by the Eagles in the first round for Andre Dillard. Some believed it was because there had been a rift between Bill O’Brien and Gaine that couldn’t be remedied. It might even be because the Texans let go of a lot of free agents, signed replacement-level players despite the large amount of money they had available under the salary cap, and decided the team was fine the way it was (it wasn’t).
The official word from on high in the organization, as with most messages from on high in the Texans, was vague and used only the most favorite cliches that we’ve come to expect. It was done in “the best interest of the organization.”
Then, in their merry quest to find a new general manager, the Texans pretended to interview Martin Mayhew and Ray Farmer for the open general manager position. Having pretended to abide by the Rooney Rule (because nobody in the NFL really cares about truly embracing the spirit and not just the letter of the Rooney Rule), they attempted to poach Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio. The Texans did this despite nobody, not even Caserio himself, bringing up the fact that Caserio had a “no poachy-poachy” clause (that’s a technical term, any lawyer will tell you that) in his contract. The Patriots then filed tampering charges against our favorite coach and his band of misfits, forcing the Texans to run away like medieval knights confronted by a rabbit.
This all happened in a single week in June.
Fast forward to July, where the Texans announced a general manager won’t be hired for the 2019 season, presumably to leave the seat open for Caserio in 2020. In the meantime, the GM gig would effectively be occupied by Bill O’Brien, who has never so much as managed a pizza place, let alone a professional football team.
As the season grew closer, players remained unsigned, most notably big time pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney; presumed to be one of the cornerstones of the Texans’ defense. Training camp began and no progress had been made between Clowney and the team (read: Bill O’Brien).
The Texans, specifically Cal McNair, boasted about how much “flatter” their management system was now, meaning less oversight from the people at the top (like ownership) and freer rein for management (again, O’Brien). Guys like Angelo Blackson and Johnathan Joseph get paid, but Clowney remains unsigned.
August rolled around. Andrew Luck retired suddenly, opening the possibility of a competitive AFC South. With a solid defense led by its pass rush, the Texans might have a shot at winning the division again.
Then madness ensued. It started with a sending a third round pick to get Duke Johnson from the Browns, which one can only assume gave Bill O’Brien the same thrill a Tennessean gets with that first hit of meth. Because three weeks later, O’Brien goes WILD with trades. Clowney was traded to the Seahawks for magic beans (otherwise known as Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo) and a third round pick. That landed with a thud, like dropping a piano onto a heap of other pianos.
Following the rousing success of Clowney’s forced departure, the Texans traded a boatload of high draft picks to the Dolphins to get Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. But wait, there’s more! Then O’Brien traded former third round pick Martinas Rankin so he could run Carlos Hyde into a brick wall over and over again for little benefit. Then O’Brien traded a sixth round pick to the Patriots for Keion Crossen to do Durga only knows what with.
Still with me? Good.
Later in the season, when it became blindingly obvious to everyone who had seen the Texans’ secondary that something might be missing, O’Brien traded the third round pick he received from the Seahawks in the Clowney trade for Oakland’s Gareon Conley.
What does all this trading mean for our general manager, who absolutely knows what he’s doing? Why are you even worried about it? Back to that in a minute.
Then there’s the 2019 season, which was unspectacular in that we all knew what was going to happen: BOB would make some boneheaded challenges. The team would come out sloppy and unprepared in one half and then come back and fight to win (usually) in the second half. They’d beat up on the garbage in our division and the rest of the league, struggle against legitimate contenders (I still can’t explain what happened against Kansas City and New England during the regular season), and win the division sometime before Christmas, only to see playoff teams expose the gi-NORMOUS holes in the secondary, the bad offensive line play, and downright incompetent coaching to send the Texans back to Houston with their tails between their legs in humiliating fashion...again.
On top of all that, the crowning [kitten] in the punch bowl, if you will, the Texans (O’Brien) fired salary cap expert Chris Olsen for unspecified reasons; meaning, unless the Texans do sign Nick Caserio in the offseason (which they won’t, according to John McClain), that O’Brien will also be in charge of how to spend at least $55 million in salary cap space to remake the team in his own image.
Did I miss anything so far?
Oh, and the removal of Romeo Crennel as defensive coordinator, leading to a frantic search that must have taken at least 15 minutes and culminated in the promotion of Anthony Weaver from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator. Now we’re caught up.
Remember those players that O’Brien picked up like they were the last groceries in the store before a hurricane? When he was trading like the Texans were in “win-now” mode and all it cost him was premium draft picks and a major piece of the defense?
The 2020 NFL Draft is three months away. The bill for all those trades in August just came due. Here’s what the Texans have left in terms of draft capital before compensatory picks are announced:
1st (GONE - Tunsil)
3rd (GONE - Johnson)
3rd (GONE - Conley)
4th (GONE - Tunsil again)
6th (GONE - Crossen)
One year of Bill O’Brien as coach/general manager, and what do the Texans have left to rebuild with? One second round pick and three third-day picks to rebuild a defense that spectacularly crapped the bed in Kansas City. A ton of salary cap space, but a sizable portion of which will now have to go toward Deshaun Watson because the Texans more or less wasted his rookie contract. That’s not even getting into the uncertainty around whether Bill O’Brien will be general manager next year or if they try and get Caserio again.
We’re going into year seven of the Houston Texans under Bill O’Brien. What do we have to show for it? Do we have the juggernaut offense that we were promised upon O’Brien’s hiring? Do we have a Super Bowl victory under the team’s belt? An appearance? A conference championship game berth? No. We have a handful of division titles that mean little when the playoff appearances that accompany those division titles are at best quiet exits and at worst loud, dropping-a-piano-from-Williams-Tower-level crashes. In that same span, every other team in the AFC South has made the AFC championship Game. Is this cycle the best we can hope for under the Bill O’Brien regime? It sure looks that way.
It would be easy (and accurate) to blame O’Brien for this, to say that he’s out of his depth, that he should’ve been fired a long time ago. I’ve said that before. I still believe that, and I’ll more than likely say it again several more times. But at some point, you have to wonder if the near-absolute power of Bill O’Brien is perhaps a symptom of a much bigger problem within the organization.
That’s when I look back at the “flat” organization announcement back in July. While Bill O’Brien controls everything that happens on field, there is still one person who outranks him, one who has been volubly silent this year: Cal McNair, the chairman and CEO of the Texans. As chairman and vice chairman of the team, he has seen firsthand the entire Bill O’Brien experience since 2014, just as most of us have. Every bad challenge, every bad offensive scheme, every game where the Texans look unprepared, every playoff embarrassment, and Cal McNair is fine with it? Not only fine with it, but he’s fine with it to the point of giving O’Brien power over an organization rivaling that of Bill Belichick despite the lack of six Super Bowl rings to show why he deserves it? It’s nothing short of lunacy.
There is only one rational explanation for why Bill O’Brien has the power he does over the organization, one reason why Bill O’Brien will continue have a job tomorrow and the day after that and after that and possibly for the rest of my existence on this planet, irrespective of the Texans’ performance on the field:
Cal McNair does not care.
Think about it. In a flat organization, autonomy and decision-making power are given to managers who oversee a large number of employees while the chain of command above them is small. With the Texans, Bill O’Brien, Jack Easterby (who has also been notably silent), and assuming they hire Caserio in the offseason (which is not a given), are the managers in this flat organization with one person above them—Cal McNair. Each decision made by Bill O’Brien is a decision that doesn’t need to be made by Cal McNair. A flat organization means that Cal McNair doesn’t even have to be at the meetings to learn what is being done with the team he is purportedly the chairman of.
That means Cal McNair doesn’t have to pay attention to how his team is being managed. He can swim in his giant money bin like Scrooge McDuck (which he absolutely has and does in my imagination), watching as his servants, dressed like the Beagle Boys, dump in wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of the hard-earned money that you spend on tickets, gear, concessions, parking, etc. McNair does this knowing that as long as there’s someone at the wheel, someone to keep the money bin flush with cash for a noontime (central time) dip every week for five months, he’ll be just fine. “Are the Texans winning? Who knows? Who cares, really? As long as they keep giving me, Cal McNair, money, none of it really matters.”
And it doesn’t matter. Not to him. If Cal McNair doesn’t care, it would not matter one bit to him that the Texans got destroyed by 20 points after going up by 24 in the first quarter. It wouldn’t matter to him that Bill O’Brien’s teams look unprepared to start games on a depressingly regular basis. It wouldn’t even matter that at no point in the Bill O’Brien era has O’Brien ever lived up to the expectations that he is some kind of offensive mastermind.
Cal McNair is an empty suit. He has been since the start of the franchise, and now that it’s his team to run, you can start to see just how little there is to him as a leader. How he hasn’t held a job in any company that wasn’t owned by his father at one point or another. The only time he has spoken to the public about the Texans as chairman was to tout the flat organization of the team, to brag about how little he would have to do as chairman, in essence. Cal McNair is just another failson in a league overwhelmingly populated by failsons and faildaughters.
As long as the money keeps pouring in, as long as he doesn’t have to listen to the discontent of loyal Texans fans or answer any kind of meaningful questions from mewling Houston sports media outlets who don’t dare say “boo” to the scion of the man who brought football back to Houston, Cal McNair won’t have to care. All Bill O’Brien has to do is look vaguely competent and the wheels will keep turning as they have for the last six years, and the level of cash in McNair’s money bin will not drop a single inch.
So here we are, fresh off of a new and uniquely awful way to blow a game, which will almost certainly not be talked about for the next twenty years uninterrupted, with me staring at a 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl match-up and wishing there was a yateveo tree in the backyard I could step in front of and make all the pain and frustration go away.
The Houston Texans are a team coached by the incompetent and owned by the indifferent. Unless one of these conditions change, we will not see the Texans take the next step we all want to see them make. It is genuinely painful for me to put this sentiment to words, but it’s the only logical conclusion one can make with these results.
What is to be done? I’ll be honest, I don’t have an answer for you. I won’t lie and say the answer is to boycott the Texans because all the boycotts in the world don’t work on a team with a 25,000+ person wait list for season tickets and a profit-sharing system that ensures that even the most incompetent owners don’t lose money on their “investment.”
I won’t say to stop watching the Texans because that would make me a hypocrite. I’ll continue to watch the team I love and desperately want to succeed every Sunday, for I am a very stupid person.
The only thing I can think of would be to agitate Houston sports media outlets. Every beat reporter. Every call-in radio show. Whether they have a relationship with the Texans or not, demand they hold the team accountable to a degree they’ve never really held a sports team accountable before. Get them to stop lobbing softballs to O’Brien. He will give the same predictable answers if that doesn’t stop. Have them demand some real answers from management. Will it work? I don’t know. But I’m out of ideas. If anyone else has one, I really am all ears. The only other suggestion I would have is to adjust your expectations accordingly as long as Cal McNair owns the team and Bill O’Brien does everything else.
The simple truth of the matter is Bill O’Brien should have been let go a long time ago, but he’s still here. He’s still the head coach. He’s also the general manager, with complete control over the roster, over the draft, and now over the salary cap and contract negotiations. Bill O’Brien is only growing more powerful. And nothing O’Brien has accomplished to this point, not even four AFC South titles, justifies his infallible position within this organization. The only possible justification for O’Brien’s lofty status is Cal McNair washing his hands of the team we all love.
Cal McNair does not care.