At around 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night, about the time that my girlfriend Amy and I were leaving small, Washington-area Italian joint Patrenella's after a quiet New Year's Eve dinner, that's the time my iPhone started to buzz.
The deluge of tweets and texts (mostly positive) confirmed it -- Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, as had been speculated everywhere for the previous 24 hours, would become the third head coach in the history of the Houston Texans.
"Good, they finally may have gotten this right," was my overriding thought as I climbed into the car to head home for a quiet evening with the internet (and Amy) to read the "Bill O'Brien reaction."
So I turned on the ignition, and with the radio already powered up and tuned into the Chick Fil A Bowl broadcast, it was at this precise moment that we got the radio play by play for the latest in the two year box set of Johnny Manziel's other worldly highlights:
All of a sudden, my reasons for getting home were re-prioritized.I gotta get home to SEE that Johnny Football play, and THEN start doing my O'Brien research.
And it was atthis
point that the sign from the football gods hit me...
Rarely in sports does a franchise (especially one like the Texans, whose culture has hovered somewhere between downtrodden and milquetoast for over a decade now) get an opportunity to completely remake itself, revamp its image, completely hit the reset button on its identity.
The Texans are now halfway there with the hire of O'Brien. It's time to finish the job by drafting Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick.
Let's start with the head coach.
To evaluate O'Brien based solely on the face value of a 15-9 two year record at Penn State doesn't begin to do him justice. His first year there in 2012, with catastrophic expectations, he led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 mark and won the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award. In his second year, he actually became a bit of a victim of expectations raised by his Year 1 performance as the Nittany Lions went 7-5.
But the positive evaluation of Bill O'Brien as a successful future NFL head coach boils down to these three things:
1. Bill O'Brien had the balls to take the Penn State job in the first place. For a first time head coach, even with the sliding scale of no expectations, the Penn State job on the heels of the Jerry Sandusky scandal could have been a quick career ruiner. Compartmentalizing and succeeding amidst cult-style factions, the cloud of civil lawsuits hanging over the university, and the player poaching by other schools when the NCAA essentially turned every Penn State player into an unrestricted free agent shows a management acumen worthy of a Fortune 500 company. A lot of people like to throw around the "CEO" title for college football head coaches because they delegate and have a presidential aura about them. Forget those other coaches -- O'Brien was really CEO-ing these past two years.
2. Bill O'Brien made an NFL quarterback out of Matt McGloin. McGloin is best known by most Texan fans as one in a long line of nondescript quarterbacks to notch a win over their hometown team in 2013. (He was in line in between Carson Palmer and Chad Henne.) McGloin is best known by college football fans as a walk-on quarterback who looked clueless whenever he took the field under Paterno's watch. Until O'Brien got to Happy Valley, McGloin played football like a guy being coached by a doddering octogenarian. O'Brien arrived in 2012 and immediately flipped the switch on McGloin, and the senior responded by throwing 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions his final season. Forget about O'Brien's prolific history with Tom Brady as the Hall of Famer's offensive coordinator, the single most impressive coaching feat on O'Brien's resume is the fact that Matt McGloin gets a check from an NFL team (even if it is the Raiders!) each week.
3. Bill O'Brien is smart, tough, and resilient. If there is a polar opposite to the likably dopey (and after games, mopey) Gary Kubiak, it's the "no nonsense" Brown graduate, Bill O'Brien. If you were an SID trying to "brand" each of these coaches accurately, for Kubiak the package would probably have a DVD of every post game press conference this past season where he protected Matt Schaub as if Schaub were Tom Brady, along with a t-shirt with the words "THAT'S ON ME" in huge letters. If you were branding O'Brien, it would be a DVD of him actually screaming at the real Tom Brady along with a t-shirt with a huge f-bomb on the front of it. At the press conference to fire Kubiak, Texans owner Bob McNair said he was looking for a hire that would "fit into [the team's] culture," but he unwittingly (and refreshingly) may have significantly changed the culture of his franchise with the O'Brien hire.
(Also, clock management and replay challenges become less of an issue under O'Brien than they were with Kubiak, but I think that would be the case if you hired a Madden-playing nine year old in Kubiak's place.)
So the Texans fill their head coaching vacancy with a very un-Texan like hire. My plea now?
Don't stop there, Bob. The Texans' hire of O'Brien would seem to tip their hand somewhat on what they're thinking of doing with the number one overall pick. I mean, you're hiring a quarterback guru, why not get him a shiny new quarterback to play with?
The two quarterbacks that most experts (and plenty of non-experts) seem to see as potentially worthy of the number one overall pick are Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Manziel. Other non-quarterback names dot the top of some big boards (mostly, South Carolina superhero defensive end Jadeveon Clowney), but the Texans should not over think this -- if there is a 50/50 chance you think a quarterback can be a franchise guy, and you need a franchise quarterback, you take the quarterback over the "sure thing" any-other-position, all day, every day.
Quarterback is that important. In the NFL, it's the final exam. As a team, it counts for like two thirds of your grade. When you need one, and you have the first pick in the draft (as "franchise QB acquisition" methods go, #1/#1 is the highest percentage hit rate in the array of minuscule hit rates), you take the quarterback and don't look back.
If the Texans determine that Bridgewater is that guy, I won't have a big problem with it. That said, I defy you to come up with a single football reason why Johnny Manziel isn't the best quarterback available in this draft.
All Manziel has done is pile up ungodly stats in some of the most scintillating ways possible in the most harrowing conference in college football. Arm strength? He has it. Accuracy? Ridiculously accurate. Extending plays and scrambling? The best ever.
And ironically, I think it's the last one, the ability to run with the football and improvise, that negatively paints the overall picture on Manziel the Player. He's almost a victim of his own greatness in a skill that clearly NFL fans and expert-types are trying to wrap their brain around. People, lazy people, who see his magnificent ability to scramble use that to pigeonhole him as a "type of quarterback whose game may not translate to the NFL." Never mind that "that type of quarterback" has never translated better to the NFL than it does in 2013, but Manziel can throw from the pocket! He can make reads! He's improved as a passer!
In short, Johnny Football is REALLY good at football! PERIOD.
So once people are done inaccurately analyzing Manziel the Player, they proceed to Manziel the Partier as the reason to bypass him, but the fact is, for all of his offseason, social media fueled drama last summer, he a) still worked as hard at improving his game as any player in college football and b) hasn't really had an off field "incident" of any type since "oversleeping" at the Manning Passing Academy in July.
Besides, if part of the "Manziel bravado package" is a little bit of carousing, then so be it. Houston needs Manziel, and quite frankly, considering some of the weapons-challenged teams waiting to pounce on the Kerrville native if the Texans go another direction, Manziel needs Houston.
So I'll roll with my theory -- the O'Brien news breaking practically in the middle of Johnny Football's final gift to college football fans was a sign. It's now up to Bob McNair, Rick Smith, and yes, Bill O'Brien, to finish the job.
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Texan fans have subsisted the last eight years on a steady, vanilla diet of Kubiak and Schaub. That's no way to live. With O'Brien and Manziel, you're talking about a complete facelift, a facelift that would make Andy Reid and Alex Smith in Kansas City look like minor botox by comparison.
The Texans would be undergoing a culture teardown, a Kubi-ectomy, a total reset. A true NFL version of CTRL-ALT-DEL.
After all these years, "Football time in Houston" would finally be cool.
Starting January 2, 2014, listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.