Palace intrigue aside, it was probably difficult for the Houston Texans to see a future with the raw materials Bill O’Brien the general manager had supplied to Bill O’Brien the head coach when they made their decision to fire him on Monday afternoon.
His incessant, 80s Wall Streeter run of calamitous trades were not panning out (you can read a full, updated account of those moves that we wrote yesterday here). His quarterback was still being pressured at an alarming rate despite spending dearly on a left tackle to mitigate the damage. The veteran receivers brought in to replace DeAndre Hopkins were all boom-or-bust options who, so far, have rarely hit. There is no draft equity. After blowing a gigantic lead in the divisional round of the playoffs and a chance to host the AFC title game in Houston, O’Brien’s reshaped roster could not traverse a difficult early-season schedule full of the kind of elite teams he had envisioned the Texans on par with.
The question now being posed to Jack Easterby, the former Patriots character coach who made his way to Houston and is now, essentially, in charge of building a path forward is: How did it take this long to come to that determination, and what was their level of concern when O’Brien was systematically gutting the roster in the first place?
What level of confidence does Easterby have moving forward that an organization completely stripped of its draft equity will be a draw for a high-profile head coaching candidate?
Without said equity, and with a defense that is quickly approaching its expiration date, would a rebuild at this moment soak up too much valuable space in the remaining athletic prime of 25-year-old Deshaun Watson? (This is not to suggest he’s close to his expiration, but anytime a quarterback accrues the bruises Watson has so far in Houston, it’s a concern.)
We’ve seen administrative hiccups like this before and we’re all prone to allowing a moment to affect us. Look at the Jets a year ago, who allowed fledgling general manager Mike Maccagnan to spend their treasure trove of salary cap space and make a selection with the No. 3 pick, only to fire him a few weeks later and blame him for every problem the organization has incurred in the weeks and months since.
The lesson here is in being present. When no one is managing your top managers, organizations can drift wildly in choppy waters. There should have been guardrails on O’Brien from the moment he began to swipe the phone from anyone else in charge, dealing the organization’s draft capital and a foundational superstar.
There should have been a dissenting voice in the room willing to check unchecked power. There should have been any number of measures in place to avoid a head coach with a career record near .500 from rapidly accumulating enough clout in the building to get access to all of the launch codes.
The problem with a lot of these regime changes is that we view the players as a static entity. Oh, when the new head coach comes in he’ll make Watson invincible. The problem with that logic is that there is no constant in the NFL. There is no guarantee that the level of talent accumulated on this roster before it was dealt away can be replicated in the near future. There’s no guarantee that Watson will achieve his maximum potential without Hopkins, or whoever the Texans might have gotten with the baker’s dozen draft picks that were hurled out the window in an effort to streamline the “culture.”
Things in the NFL can be irreparably dented and damaged if there isn’t someone keeping a hand on the steering wheel. So now, all eyes will turn to the people who should have been watching O’Brien all along.
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