Let’s be honest. This week, and the past several weeks for that matter, have had very little impact on the Texans as a team and a franchise. The season has been lost since Deshaun Watson went down. We’ve just watched the 2017 season drag on, and now we’re close to it all being over.
Things could be ending in more ways than one. Perhaps as early as Sunday evening or Monday morning, Bill O’Brien’s future as head coach in Houston for 2018 could be determined (if it hasn’t already). With the Texans at 4-11, easily O’Brien’s worst season to date, many Texans fans have determined that O’Brien’s tenure as head coach in Houston should come to an end.
When a team looks as bad as the Texans do, it’s very easy to point the finger at the head coach. In fact, if you ask O’Brien, as the media has as the losses have piled up, he would tell you that the blame begins and ends with him.
I’m here to disagree with that assessment. I’m here to tell you why Bill O’Brien needs to be the head coach of the Houston Texans in 2018.
The argument that O’Brien needs to be fired is a fair one. Wins and losses are the name of the game, and O’Brien is 31-32 after almost four full seasons as a head coach in Houston. What this attack fails to address is who O’Brien’s replacement in Houston would be. Nobody thought to be on this coaching market screams “immediate and sizable upgrade.”
If we examine potential new head coaches, remember what Bob McNair demanded from candidates when he last searched in late 2013. McNair will presumably want someone with prior head coaching experience and prior NFL experience, though not necessarily prior NFL head coaching experience.
Here are some coaches who would fit that mold:
Steelers OL coach and Oilers Hall of Famer Mike Munchak, who led the Titans to a 22-26 record from 2011-2013.
Are any of those five truly a better fit than O’Brien, who I might mention, still has a year left on his five-year contract?
If the Texans fire O’Brien, it means they think someone out there is better. I’m sure that the team has studied who may be on available, and that could be the ultimate factor in whether O’Brien stays or is shown the door.
Notably, if O’Brien does become a free agent, he will be the top name on the market. Several teams would love to have him as their head coach and would consider him an upgrade over their current coach. Bill O’Brien will be a head coach in the NFL next season; it’s just a question as to whether it is in Houston or in a different city. For what it’s worth, if he is fired, I would put my money on O’Brien becoming the next head coach of the New York Giants, but that’s not the point of this article.
Another reason the Texans should keep O’Brien is that if he goes, likely everyone else on the staff everybody leaves as well.
When O’Brien came down to Texas in 2014, he brought Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel among others to join his staff. If those guys leave, you basically are asking for a total revamp of the staff and scheme. It’s easier said than done to replace an entire staff, not to mention that many of the current coaches may not be at the end of their contracts either, which would mean more money for McNair to dole out if he made a change.
4-11 stinks. But I don’t think 4-11 is due to O’Brien. The 2017 season was a disaster for three reasons—injuries, the secondary, and the offensive line.
Injuries to numerous starters were ultimately what did the Texans in. The Texans have played 77 players through 15 games this season, the most any team has fielded in NFL history. Here’s a list of Texans currently on Injured Reserve:
That list features 13 players who have started a game this season for the Texans, the most of any team in the league this year.
Now, guys like J.J. Watt have been hurt in the past, and O’Brien is no stranger to quarterback troubles. The difference this year is that these injuries have horribly exposed the two biggest weaknesses of the team: secondary and offensive line. There’s no question that those two position groups have performed worse than usual.
With regard to the secondary, it’s safe to say that top cornerback Johnathan Joseph has lost a step and is far from the shutdown corner he used to be. And of course, letting A.J. Bouye go in free agency was the wrong decision.
The offensive line has been a revolving door all season long. Duane Brown’s holdout, plus Derek Newton’s career-threatening injury in October of 2016, and poor performances from the interior of the line has exposed the weakness of that part of the offense. Plus, when the team is protecting career backup quarterbacks, it makes it very difficult to win games.
If the Texans sign the right guys in the trenches and in the secondary via free agency, it’s not crazy to think that this team can turn it around in 2018. If Deshaun Watson gets a full offseason of work in, knowing that this is his team with the head coach that he wants, the team can expect much better results next season.
Keep in mind Houston’s offense ranked at the top of the league in points per game when Watson tore his ACL. It’s hard to beat the top offense in the league. Whatever you think of how he handled the quarterback position before the season began or how he’s handled things since DW4 went down, O’Brien deserves credit for getting the offense humming with Watson under center
It’s also important to note that Deshaun Watson has publicly and repeatedly voiced his support for O’Brien. In terms of their public comments, it seems safe to say that the team, composed of many veteran guys, want O’Brien to stay.
The only point left to reasonably argue is if whether the Texans are in need of a total rebuild. The answer is no. The Texans have made the playoffs twice in O’Brien’s four years here, and many of the players on those teams are still here and worth keeping moving forward.
The Houston Texans need tweaks at offensive line and secondary, but not at the head coaching position. Starting things over with a new head coach is a massive risk, and one that does not need to be taken right now. Sometimes the flashiest move or the biggest move is not the best move, and that’s the case here.
Like Weston, I’m not suggesting the team sign OB to an extension. Tightening the proverbial leash is necessary, and next year will be the judgment season for O’Brien in Houston. If the Texans don’t make the playoffs in 2018, then he shouldn’t return in 2019 on a new deal.
But now? Give him a mulligan on 2017 and let’s move on to 2018.