Well, here we are again.
One year after the Jacksonville Jaguars conducted a search for a new head coach to replace Doug Marrone, the team finds itself in the same situation this winter, now looking for a replacement for their replacement.
Names have been thrown around with vigor as potential candidates to replace Urban Meyer, while several interviews have been officially set up between coaches and the Jaguars' brass.
But who is the best candidate for the Jaguars? What does each of them bring to the table, on and off the field? From Jim Caldwell to Kellen Moore and everyone in between, we examine the pros and cons that come with each coach and their potential impact on the Jaguars.
Next up in our review of this year's candidates: former Houston Texans head coach and current Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
- Brown (1993): Tight ends coach
- Brown (1994): Inside linebackers coach
- Georgia Tech (1995–1997): Graduate Assistant
- Georgia Tech (1998–2000): Running backs coach
- Georgia Tech (2001–2002): Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
- Maryland (2003-2004): Running backs coach
- Duke (2005-2006): Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
- New England Patriots (2007): Offensive assistant
- New England Patriots (2008): Wide receivers coach
- New England Patriots (2009–2010): Quarterbacks coach
- New England Patriots (2011): Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
- Penn State (2012-2013): Head coach
- Houston Texans (2014-2020): Head coach
- Alabama (2021): Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Bill O'Brien has split most of his career between the college and NFL ranks, with the first half of his career being at the college level before he made the jump to the NFL with the New England Patriots. O'Brien eventually worked his way up from offensive assistant to offensive coordinator with the Patriots, working side-by-side with Tom Brady before replacing Joe Paterno at Penn State.
O'Brien outdid all expectations at Penn State, fighting through sanctions to go 8-4 in his first season and being named Big 10 Coach of the Year while also being recognized with the Paul "Bear" Bryant College Coach of the Year Award. Penn State took a minor step backward the next year, going 7-5 and 4-4 in conference play after going 6-2 in conference games the year before.
After taking interviews with other NFL teams in 2013, O'Brien made the leap back to the NFL in 2014 as the new head coach of the Houston Texans, replacing Gary Kubiak and taking over a Texans squad that owned the No. 1 overall pick. The Texans improved from 2-14 in 2013 to 9-7 in O'Brien's first year in charge, finishing with the No. 14 scoring offense.
The Texans once again went 9-7 in 2015 but managed to win the AFC South, earning a trip to the playoffs before a 30-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round. Houston again went 9-7 in 2016 as the team invested considerable resources in Brock Osweiler, earning a playoff bid and defeating the Oakland Raiders 27-14 in a game that Raiders backup quarterback Connor Cook started due to an injury to Derek Carr. The next week, the Texans lost 34-16 to the Patriots.
Houston bottomed out in 2017 after poor play from Tom Savage and a season-ending injury to Deshaun Watson, with Houston finishing with a 4-12 record and a last-place finish in the AFC South. Houston recovered the next two years with Watson at the helm, going 11-5 in 2018 to win the AFC South before a 21-7 loss to the Colts in the Wild Card.
In 2019, the Texans went 10-6 and won another AFC South title, going on to beat the Bills 22-19 in overtime in the Wild Card before losing to the Chiefs 51-31 in the divisional round. O'Brien's last season in Houston saw him go on to make several questionable personnel decisions before being fired after an 0-4 start.
While the AFC South was by far the weakest division in football during O'Brien's tenure, he can at least say that he was able to help the Texans navigate their way to the top of the race on more than a few occasions, winning the AFC South four times and finishing second one time. Considering the Jaguars have just one AFC South title over the past decade-plus, O'Brien's time at the top of the AFC South is better than anything the Jaguars have been able to accomplish.
O'Brien also has the seal of approval from two of the greatest coaches to ever wear a whistle in Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. Each coach has entrusted O'Brien with the reigns of the offense at different points, with the Patriots having the No. 3 scoring offense under O'Brien and Alabama making the National Championship during a Heisman Trophy season from Bryce Young in 2021.
O'Brien's background as an offensive mind and 54-52 record in the NFL (including playoffs) could be enough evidence to suggest that he could help a team be at least average, which is a mark the Jaguars have failed to hit again and again. O'Brien has been lauded for his willingness to change his approach on offense in the past, which was clear in Houston as the team went through a number of quarterback and play-caller changes.
O'Brien's long tenure as Texans head coach would serve him well for a Jaguars team that has clearly made experience a priority during their coaching search. A year after Urban Meyer's lone year in the NFL turned into an unmitigated disaster, it makes sense if the Jaguars would be interested in a coach with over 100 games of experience as a head coach at the NFL level.
Firstly, there needs to be some context to O'Brien's tenure in Houston. Houston had a top defense more often than not during O'Brien's time as head coach, with the Texans being a defensive-led team in nearly every single one of their successful seasons. That says more about the Texans' defensive talent and coaching than it says about O'Brien, whose offenses were frequently below-average.
Even with Watson at the helm and with arguably the NFL's best receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, O'Brien never had an offense that stood out while he was Houston's head coach. The Texans suffered through an abundance of quarterback issues before Watson, which is a red flag on O'Brien's resume considering he hand-picked the quarterbacks.
And with most reports stating that former general manager Rick Smith wanted Watson much more than O'Brien did, it is hard to give much credit to O'Brien for the Texans landing Watson, especially when O'Brien initially started Tom Savage in 2017. Watson at least made the Texans' offense average, but that is more likely a result of his talent than it is O'Brien's coaching.
Then there is O'Brien's record. Nearly 20% of O'Brien's career wins came against the Jaguars, a team he was 10-2 against in his career. The only year the Texans lost to the Jaguars was in 2017 when the Jaguars were a playoff team. In short, the only time the Texans didn't dominate the Jaguars was the lone season the Jaguars actually had a pulse.
Would O'Brien's background look as impressive without two free wins a year against the Jaguars each year? It is highly unlikely, especially in the context of where the AFC South is today. The Jaguars are still the worst team in the AFC South, so which bad team is he beating up on if he coaches in Jacksonville?
Then there is O'Brien's heavy-handed approach that led to toxicity in Houston and ultimately led to his own downfall. O'Brien got into personnel power struggles throughout his time in Houston, which fostered a less than ideal working environment and helped the Texans become one of the league's most drama-filled franchises from 2019-2020. After a year in which the Jaguars just had a toxic head coach, O'Brien may not be different enough to inspire confidence.