It appears as though Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will be back for the upcoming 2018 season, although in a cryptic 25 minute press conference yesterday, in which he deferred about half of the answers to Bob McNair (who has not spoken publicly in quite some time), O'Brien essentially left every scenario from "he's gone" to "he's here forever" on the table.
The betting chalk, though, at this point, is that O'Brien will be back in 2018 under some sort of multi-year contract extension, and he will have some sort of input into whom the Texans hire as their next general manager. This scenario — O'Brien in, Rick Smith out — was far from the betting favorite two weeks ago, but probably would have won a popularity contest if Texan fans were allowed to choose.
So now, presumably, O'Brien comes into the 2018 season, his fifth in Houston, with something that he's never had entering a season as Texans head coach — a clear cut, experienced starting quarterback that has spent at least a season in his system.
The years 2014 and 2015 were open QB competitions; 2016 was the Year of Brock, O'Brien neophyte. In 2017, Tom Savage was the starter with all of one game that he'd started and finished in his career.
Heading into 2018, Deshaun Watson doesn't just give O'Brien an athletic tour de force, a superstar dynamic that few at any position in the NFL possess, but he brings stability. He brings a guy that O'Brien can groom as the Brady to his Belichick, the Rodgers to his McCarthy. (To be clear, hopefully O'Brien turns out to be more Belichick than McCarthy, but I will take McCarthy's one Super Bowl ring in a heartbeat.)
On Tuesday morning, amidst the "Those discussions are ongoing"s and the "That's up to Bob"s, O'Brien did share with us one little nugget that makes the rebuild in 2018 far more plausible:
"I would tell you that I think there’s a chance [Deshaun] could do some things in OTAs, but I would have to confirm that with you later. But he’s really doing a great job of – he’s been here every day working hard to get better and I believe he’s ahead of schedule. Relative to exactly what he could do in OTAs, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that now, but I do think that there’s a chance that he could be out there during OTAs doing something.”
Watson, of course, set a record for most touchdown passes in the first seven games of an NFL career with 19, and finished his seven game, six start stint with 1,699 yards passing and 269 yards rushing. His 81.3 QBR (ESPN.com's stat for QB efficiency) would have led the NFL, if he'd thrown just a handful more passes to qualify.
O'BRIEN MAKES STAFF CHANGES
When you finish 4-12, even with the spate of injuries the Texans suffered, there are position groups and, in turn, assistant coaches that aren't pulling their weight. On Tuesday, shortly after his press conference, O'Brien let go a handful of assistants, none of whom would qualify as a "major surprise."
Texans special teams have been an issue for O'Brien's entire tenure (and actually going back to the Kubiak days), and on Tuesday, special teams coach Larry Izzo was shown the door. Izzo took over a special teams group that was the worst in the league according to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, but could only improve them to 26th. While Izzo probably could have used more talent in those units, the lack of discipline in coverage and lack of explosiveness in the return game were beyond a talent excuse. These units stunk. O'Brien is going to be on his third special teams coach in five seasons. This area, above maybe all others, is a barometer for the quality of a head coach. Not a good thing for O'Brien.
The Texans' secondary was abysmal this season — Texans, as a team, were 25th against the pass in DVOA — so secondary coach John Butler, who had been with O'Brien going back to his Penn State days, was fired on Tuesday. Of all the people on the staff who may have been most victimized by the decision to allow A.J. Bouye to leave in free agency, Butler now qualifies as the clear cut number one. It may have cost him his job — that and the head scratching regression of Kevin Johnson from rising starter to now of the worst cover corners in the NFL.
Charles London, the Texans running back coach, left to pursue another opportunity. I don't have a strong opinion on this, other than this offensive staff has taken a running back whose calling card was his "to the house" explosiveness in Lamar Miller, and turned him into a slightly more explosive, less physical version of Alfred Blue. I don't know if that's on London or if that's on the people calling the plays, but I do know that this ruling back room needs a healthy D'Onta Foreman in the worst way.
The one question Texans fans probably have is "What will happen with Mike Devlin?" He is the offensive line coach, and the Texans' offensive line was a joke all season long, failure only mitigated slightly by the greatness of Watson in those six games he started. For what it's worth, O'Brien talks about Devlin like he's the second coming of Alex Gibbs, and specifically mentioned him in his press conference Tuesday in a positive manner, so I don't think Devlin is going anywhere.
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To be fair, if I were Devlin, and I was worried about my job, I'd have been printing tweets like this and pinning them to O'Brien's door:
But that's just me.....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.