The Houston Texans fired their former head coach, Bill O'Brien, after the fourth week of the season, all the way back in early October. They were the first NFL team to do so during the 2020 season, so in reality, they've had longer than any other team in the league to find their next head coach. Still, we sit with the Texans having watched five other head coaches go off the board, and with their vacancy still open.
That said, they have been awfully busy the last few days with interviews, per the team's Twitter account:
The Houston Texans have completed interviews with Matt Eberflus, Leslie Frazier, David Culley and Eric Bieniemy for the position of Head Coach.— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 19, 2021
Of the names listed above, the one that is easily the favorite among Texan fans, and probably around the league is Eric Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. He makes sense for the Texans for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Deshaun Watson reportedly REALLY likes Bieniemy. The Texans' signal caller has said as much in recent press conferences.
There's just one problem right now — Deshaun Watson seemingly wants very little to do with the Texans, reportedly not returning phone calls from the team, and possibly on the verge of requesting a trade. Ostensibly, the trigger event for Watson's unhappiness is Cal McNair's neglecting to call Watson when the owner chose Nick Caserio as the team's next general manager, but truth be told, there was plenty for Watson to be unhappy with long before last week.
The general thought seems to be that if Watson is unhappy and wants out, then the Texans' head coaching job is among the worst in the league, and that is probably accurate. The hope in hiring Bieniemy would seem to be that this could placate Watson and be a big step toward smoothing over hurt feelings. However, what if the Texans offered Bieniemy the job, and the Chiefs OC had no assurances from Watson that he wanted to be a Houston Texan anymore? Should Bieniemy still take the job?
Most would say "HELL NO," but I think the Bieniemy situation is more complicated than that of any other candidate. I think there are good reasons why Bieniemy could and should accept the Texans' job. It goes like this:
Bieniemy may think he can convince Deshaun to stay
Look, up until now, the only form of communication we've gotten from Watson directly on any of this strife are cryptic tweets of rap lyrics and Instagram "likes" on posts with hypothetical trade proposals. Watson has not spoken publicly on any of this, nor has his agent, David Mulugheta. Bieniemy carries himself with a very confident, extroverted air about him. Just because Watson is not committed today doesn't mean Bieniemy couldn't convince him of all the reasons to stay and play for him. Bieniemy would have to be thinking that "it's not over till it's over" with Watson.
Bieniemy is confident Caserio would get enough in return for Deshaun to rebuild
Let's pretend, though, that Watson and the Texans reach a stalemate and the team feels there is no other solution but to move on and trade Watson. The chance to trade a generational talent at quarterback is certainly NOT what Caserio came to Houston to do, but that would be the hand the new GM is dealt. While this is Caserio's first gig in the big seat of GM, he's spent 20 years working for Bill Belichick, and been involved in various roles in many big trades. While Bieniemy would love to coach Watson, the chance to accelerate a rebuild of the overall roster with draft picks and players, and get some cap relief from shipping out Watson's massive new contract extension, could make this a little less painful than reading the words "trade Deshaun Watson" actually feel. If Bieniemy is confident that Caserio can get, say, 90 cents on the dollar, as opposed to the 30 cents on the dollar that the Texans got in every Bill O'Brien-led trade, then Bieniemy can start the rebuild. Again, this was already a BAD team even with Watson, keep that in mind.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Say what you will about Cal McNair and some of the boneheaded decisions that the franchise has made over the last two years, but the one thing he has shown he will do as well as any owner in the league is that he will SPEND MONEY. McNair has spared no expense in trying to correct the mistakes that he's made along the way, firing Brian Gaine with multiple years left on his deal, and ditto Bill O'Brien's firing. Hell, McNair paid the search firm Korn Ferry a reported $600,000 to help find a GM and then totally ignored their recommendations. McNair is paying Caserio, a first time GM, one of the top three salaries for a GM in the entire league. Bieniemy could command the same as a head coach, and perhaps even more if Watson is not fully bought in. Right now, three head coaches make $10 million or more per year — Bill Belichick ($12 million), Pete Carroll ($11 million), and Jon Gruden ($10 million). Matt Rhule of Carolina is the highest paid coach who hasn't won a Super Bowl, at $8.86 million. If McNair offered Bieniemy six years, $54 million, can he say "no" to that?
How soon until Bieniemy gets the “bird in hand” mentality after being passed over for two straight years?
With the game of head coach musical chairs winding down to an end, barring an offer from the Texans, Bieniemy will have gone through two straight hiring cycles over the last two years with no job offers. I would imagine that he is getting antsy to take the big seat somewhere, and while there is a lot to be at least skeptical, if not concerned, about with the Texans' job, perfect head coaching gigs rarely come open, and does Bieniemy want to risk going back to Kansas City for another year and hope it will be any different for him next year? A big offer from the Texans would be a really tough "bird in the hand" to say "no thanks to if you're on the verge of getting shut out for two years in a row.
The complex angle of race
Then there is this — there are currently just two black head coaches in the NFL, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Brian Flores in Miami. That's in a league where the player population is 70 percent black, and despite the league enacting rules through the years (most notably the Rooney Rule) to encourage teams to interview and hire minority coaching and front office candidates, here we are in the current head coaching cycle, and there have been no black head coaches hired. I am a middle aged white man, so I'm not going to even try to assume how Eric Bieniemy would process this part of a Texans offer, but what I am curious about is whether or not Bieniemy would feel some sense of responsibility, for lack of a better word, to accept the Texans' offer in light of the lack of headway that the league has made in teams hiring coaches of color.
Is there a concern for BIeniemy on the optics of saying "no" to a head coaching job, and how that might look to his fellow black coaches around the league? Again, I have no idea what the answer is or even should be. I'm more curious than anything else, but we can't write several hundred words about Bieniemy's candidacy and not speculate how race affects the decision making.
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