- The Texans are searching for their third general manager in five years after firing Brian Gaine 17 months in. What is going on down in Houston?
Brian Gaine is out as Houston’s general manager, so on this week’s episode of the The MMQB NFL Podcast, Albert Breer, Jenny Vrentas and Conor Orr discuss why the Texans decided to move on from him after just 17 months, and whether or not they’re trying to replicate New England’s winning methods down in Houston.
Note: This podcast was recorded before the Patriots filed tampering charges against the Texans.
(Listen to the latest The MMQB NFL Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Breer: I don’t think it’s necessarily right what happened to Brian Gaine. I don’t think he deserved to be fired. But at the same time, what we’re seeing in the NFL over the years, which is that the NFL is a coaches league, and owners empower their coaches if they think they have good head coaches. In this case, if you’re Cal McNair and you really believe in Bill O’Brien, or you’re Chris Johnson, and you really believe in Adam Gase, this is just sort of what you do. Again, I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but history tells us that teams that win biggest are the ones with the strongest head coaches—or at least that’s a common result.
Vrentas: I feel like the Jets situation is different from the Texans though because Adam Gase is hired and entered into this arranged marriage with Maccagnan, and O’Brien is going into his third general manager, and just a little over a year ago he had a hand in picking Brian Gaine. How do you go to the owner and say, “this decision that I played a role in a year ago, I’m going to reverse course on and try to bring in someone new.” When a year isn’t a good length of time on which to evaluate a general manger on performance you have no idea what this year’s draft picks will look like. Obviously didn’t have a chance really in last year’s draft because of how much they gave up previously to get Watson. That’s an interesting conversation—what do they say when O’Brien says I want to get a new guy?
Orr: I’m going to disagree with the premise of being a coaches’ league just a little bit and make two points here. I don’t think it’s a coaches’ league as much as an owners’ league, and then whoever has the power is the person who convinces the owner that they are the most indispensible person. In a lot of cases that is a coach, because they are trained to have that bravado, that leadership, that salesman experience. In other organizations, maybe not good organizations, there have been other people who have a stranglehold on the power because they are in the owner’s ear. And maybe that shifts and maybe that moves and changes.
To Jenny’s point, that entire thing with Houston is ridiculous. Bill O’Brien not only had a hand in picking Brian Gaine, but you go back to the videos of the Texans war room, how excited they were about their first-round draft pick. Everybody was nodding, everybody was high-fiving, and everybody was all-in on this. And two weeks later, you’re deemed not good enough perhaps by this Patriots character coach? The whole thing seems insane to me, and now your strategy is to get more Patriots people in Houston? Show me any other organization in the NFL where that has worked. I think a bunch of teams have tried that, and none of the have won a Super Bowl.
Breer: Let’s jump right into the news topics of the week. This dovetails into news item No. 1, which is the Texans become the second team in a few weeks to fire their general manager post-draft, deep-sixing Brian Gaine because an internal investigation found that he just wasn’t good enough. Houston is now doing the same thing that many successful organizations do—plucking more members of the Patriots organization in the belief that they can replicate their winning ways. Conor, I know what you’re getting at here and I agree with that. I think it’s impossible to replicate what Bill Belichick has built in New England because Belichick is an outlier. People that I know who have worked there and who have seen it operate from the inside. But what so many of them tell you is it’s almost like there is like four or five of them. It’s hard for other people in the organization to comprehend how he gets everything done so efficiently, but they turn around and everything is done. I think because of that there is alternately, on one end a it’s hard to replicate that because Bill is such an outlier and he is so different. On the other end, you have coaches who come out of that place and believe that’s the right way to do things because their experience was that that worked. They saw, OK we’re acquiring players to fit what the head coach wants because the head coach is is bringing in the players in and the buck stops with him.
I think trying to replicate what the Patriots have is a fool’s errand. And I think if that’s what the Texans are doing here that's the wrong approach because it’s just impossible to replicate what they’ve got in Foxboro. If this is about getting Nick Caserio, it makes it a little more understandable, and I think that that’s what this is about. So if this is about getting Nick Caserio out of Foxboro, if this is about Jack Easterby knowing that he’s going to be able to pry Nick Caserio out of there, then it makes a little bit more sense. If this is about replicating the Patriot model, then Conor I'm with you—then that doesn’t make as much sense.
Vrentas: Well, you sort of alluded to this on Monday, Albert, when you said is there some kind of agreement already in place right. Do you make this move with Brian Gaine. Do you have to know that you can get somebody that you really covet. And I think that's going to be interesting. Obviously we're recording this on Tuesday and who knows what happens over the next 24 hours before the podcast posts but I think that's going to be the interesting wildcard here—how much of this was set up before they made that move?
Orr: Is Caserio a home-run hire or what? I mean, do we consider this a slam dunk because if you talk to scouts that work from other teams or scouts that know Patriot scouts... I mean this isn’t exactly like you know a team that people are dying to go scout for. It’s not like the Seahawks ...
Breer: We all know taking from the coaching side hasn’t really worked out, right. You know if you’re poaching coaches like that's been kind of treacherous for other teams to go into New England and take coaches out of there that going and getting GM candidates out of there actually hasn’t been so bad. Scott Pioli won a division title in a second year, and obviously it went the wrong way. That was largely related or connected to the quarterback decision they made in bringing him Matt Cassel and obviously his relationship with Todd Haley, but there were some good players on the roster when he was there, and he was able to kind of set the table for Andy Reid. Thomas Dimitrov in Atlanta, he's been to a Super Bowl. Jon Robinson seems to be doing a decent job in Tennessee. I understand where it's kind of scary for another team to go in and poach a coach out of New England. I don't know do you guys think it's maybe a little different on the personnel side because maybe there's less of less of a tendency to just emulate whatever Bill did?
Vrentas: But I think that the challenge right is that you’re charged with building a team and Belichick’s image—how he wants it to be built in New England right. And he lays out specifically we want players in this role and this is where the game is going and these are the kinds of things that we need. And so I think trying to replicate that somewhere else is difficult because what is O’Brien’s vision for the team and how it's built? And you can’t match Belichick’s knowledge and understanding of how to put pieces together on the field. So without that sort of guiding force would you be as effective? And maybe you would be. Listen, I’m not saying you wouldn’t. I just think that that is still it's it’s still a big leap.
Orr: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sold on this. I think this is just crazy. This is not just unique to the Texans, but it seems like any of these power plays that have happened recently are people just hiring people who they’re friendly with or who they have a previous working relationship with. How many good ideas in football, back when you know all this stuff was coming out and everybody was coming up, came from working with people you know? Look at the documentary on that they did on the Browns coaching staff when they had like Jim Schwartz and Nick Saban and all those guys. I mean, they all hated each other, and they didn’t agree with each other, and Bill Belichick hated Bill Parcells. You put all these people in a room together, and you let them fight it out because that's what it takes and that’s where good ideas come from. But you know if you’re just hiring a guy that you know is going to get you the players that you want in the draft, I mean, what in Bill O’Brien’s track record has shown that this has worked throughout the first five general managers that he’s had in Houston.
Breer: He's now run off two general managers in 18 months, and that is crazy. Maybe the craziest part about it is you're hearing the same stuff now that we were all saying when Gaine was hired which is this is about fit and alignment. So you're hearing the exact same stuff to explain Gaine's firing that you were hearing to explain his hiring and Rick Smith's firing. I think clearly this puts a target on his back. What I'm really interested to see here—because my understanding of how this all went down and everybody out there can read it in the column on Monday was Jack Easterby sort of led in an assessment of the football operation, and that led to some tension. People knew what his job was in New England—sort of grade the coaches, grade the scouts. And so you know like there was some tension in the building because of that. And Jack Easterby is very close with Nick Caserio. Bill O'Brien's very close with Nick Caserio. What I'm interested to see is when Cal McNair signed off on this, was it Cal McNair betting on and pushing his chips the middle table on Bill O'Brien? Or was it him betting on and pushing his chips the middle of the table on Nick Caserio. I think we'll find that out. If Caserio's the hire and it happens fairly quickly, then I think it was a bet on what Bill O'Brien told him about Nick Caserio, that this is a difference maker. And rather than it being about Brian Gane being out of there it was more about 'OK well we think this guy's an upgrade.' If it's not Nick Caserio if this winds up being someone else, well you know then it's a bet on Bill O'Brien.
And that's even more interesting because then you know the model becomes more about him, maybe he has more control, maybe it's harder to find somebody who's willing to go there. It's just it's just I think it can be fascinating to see how all of that plays out. And I mean look I think O'Brien has done a pretty good job the last you know that the last five years. He's put a lot of pressure on himself, and to win two power struggles this way, to be able to have things set up the way that he wants them now it truly is it is all on him whether or not this is a Cal McNair bet on him or Cal McNair bet on Nick Caserio.
Orr: I think it sets a bad tempo for the organization. I think it just floods the place with bad juju. That's what I'm saying. You'll need a juju fumigator in there.
Vrentas: JuJu Smith-Schuster might object!
Orr: That's true. Well he's good. He's good JuJu.
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