For the First Time, the Texans are Building an Identity as a Team
"I know what I believe in. To me, it's all about the team. Everybody on this football team will have a role. Those guys on this football team will determine their own role. They'll determine it by practicing well, playing well, and, to me, it's about accountability, it's about demanding and it's about putting together a tough, physical, smart, fast football team that can play in all different types of environments." — Bill O'Brien, 1/3/2014
In his business-management opus The Five Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni outlines the trappings of human nature that most often plague subpar leaders of organizations such as corporations or NFL football teams.
Extraordinary executives, the book says, stress accountability, constructive conflict among team members and the importance of organizational clarity.
If you read the book through the prism of a Texans fan these past eight seasons, it's essentially a 132-page dismantling of every management facet embraced during the Gary Kubiak Era, eight years long on coddling and comfort, eight years short on accountability and success.
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When Bill O'Brien arrived in January to replace Kubiak, one of his first orders of business was to remove anything on display at the Texans' facility that emphasized individual achievement.
Gone were the pictures commemorating Arian Foster's three Player of the Week awards. Discarded were the posters signifying Andre Johnson's six Pro Bowl selections.
Whether O'Brien's purge of the one for the sake of the many has anything to do with Johnson's disenchantment and his absence from the building thus far during O'Brien's short tenure, we don't know.
More likely it's the discarding of actual players that has Johnson uneasy about his future in Houston. The early portion of O'Brien's reign has seen tough decisions made, such as the releases of tight end Owen Daniels and safety Danieal Manning.
Other veterans left over from the Kubiak era are more welcoming of the change, though. Center Chris Myers is entering his tenth season in the league and saw the poster celebrating his two Pro Bowl selections removed. That didn't matter. In his eyes, the team is ready for a change.
"It's an exciting time in Houston right now," Myers said. "Everyone needs to be 100 percent committed. I'm treating it like it's my rookie year all over again."
Veteran players know that the purge of individual award commemorations was not an intrusive salvo from O'Brien to current Texans that there is a "new sheriff in town," nor was it meant to discourage players from striving to achieve as individuals. It was a simple statement of management philosophy, the seeds of clarity being planted.
The seeds of team.
The team should be prioritized over anything else. If the team doesn't accomplish its goal of winning a championship, then the individual accolades are as empty as the space left behind by those very trinkets O'Brien expunged during his first week on the job. Team is the bedrock on which O'Brien's regime will be built.
This group will succeed or fail as one.
Make no mistake, O'Brien is not the first NFL head coach to convey the concept of team by scrubbing the facility of all mementos of individual accolades; he's just the first Texans head coach to do it, and for our purposes here in Houston, that's really all that matters.
Every action, every decision, hell, every sound bite from O'Brien is about accentuating team. At rookie minicamp earlier this month, O'Brien was asked for an evaluation of No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney after his first day of practice. His answer?
"I think all these guys being rookies, they all came in here and it's an eye-opener. Just like anybody, it's not just one guy."
Well, what about Clowney's work with new linebackers coach Mike Vrabel?
"Again, [Vrabel] is working with all the linebackers, and I think the linebackers are being coached very well. We're throwing a lot at these guys."
Okay, how about quarterback Tom Savage, Coach? How is he grasping everything that is being thrown at him?
"It's another step for rookies. Whether it's Tom (Savage) or it's (Jadeveon) Clowney, or whatever rookie it is, it's a different deal. So they're all having a lot of things thrown at them. They're having to process a lot of information — every rookie."
The media even tried to circle back around and reword the question seeking O'Brien's thoughts on Clowney's first day of work as a Texan, as if putting a verbal "rubber nose and glasses" on the previous question would somehow dupe O'Brien into a direct answer in which he evaluates Clowney by name.
"I'm happy with the whole group. I really am. I think that each of these guys has come in here from a different background, a different college, a different system, and we're trying to teach them the way we do things here in Houston."
At that point, the message was clear — it would take the Jaws of Life to extract O'Brien's deep thoughts on a player by name, particularly a rookie whose tenure with the franchise to that point could be measured with a stopwatch.
There were ten draft choices in rookie minicamp. Throw in undrafted free agents, players in on a tryout basis and practice-squad players from last season, and that number balloons to 45 players overall. None of them, from Clowney on down, are handed anything. Berths in the starting lineup, spots on the 53-man roster, everything will be earned.
Louis Nix III, a nose tackle out of Notre Dame whom the team traded two picks to move up and grab in the third round, embodies the mentality being ingrained in the rookies. "I'm just trying to focus and trying to make this team."
Gone are the days of using an undeserved four-year $62 million extension as a means to make sure the psychologically fragile starting quarterback knows that he is "the guy."
Gone are the days of kickers who have never kicked in a single NFL game being allowed to go through training camp with no competition for their spot.
In O'Brien's world, there will be competition for every spot.
"That's one of the things we are really talking about here, is competition. When we begin the full minicamps, there will be competition at every single position," O'Brien said at his post-draft press conference.
There are no sacred cows on a 2-14 football team. None.
So here comes Bill O'Brien, the latest Bill Belichick head-coaching spawn to bring some variation of the Patriot Way to a stadium near you. The coaching graveyard is full of former Belichick assistants who have attempted to do likewise in other places — Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, even O'Brien's defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel.
But O'Brien is an Ivy Leaguer, a learner, a preacher of intelligence. Good coaches learn from the failures of others. O'Brien's vision is clear.
You start the reconstruction by building an identity. When O'Brien removed the vestiges of individual accolades left by the previous regime, symbolically he was sweeping out the remnants of a bygone era. Comfort and reputed softness will be replaced with accountability and toughness.
All for one, one for all. Team.
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