Bill O'Brien Names Himself Offensive Coordinator. Why?

Bill O'Brien watches his team before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015
Bill O'Brien watches his team before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015 Eric Sauseda
The Houston Texans had one of the worst offenses in the NFL this past season and barely finished with a winning record. Yet head coach Bill O’Brien regularly scapegoated one of his assistant coaches for the failures of his offense. After losing to the Patriots last week, the Texans fired offensive coordinator George Godsey, who was forced to take the blame for that squad's ineptitude. But it must be remembered that O’Brien had taken over most of the play-calling duties earlier in the season.

There are many people who praise O’Brien and the job he’s done with the Texans. He’s supposedly taken a squad with little offensive talent to the playoffs for two seasons in a row, and has led the team to three straight 9-7 seasons. The problems with this reasoning being: a) what success the Texans have had has been due to a defensive unit in which O’Brien has little involvement; b) O’Brien is time and time again touted as an offensive genius who helped turn the Patriots into an offensive juggernaut; and c) the offense has gotten worse each season despite the ever-increasing numbers of players joining the team who supposedly fit into O’Brien’s complicated scheme.

In the weeks leading up to the playoffs, and even into the playoffs, there was much discussion about whether O’Brien’s job was in danger. Much of this talk was anonymously sourced, and at first seemed to indicate the Texans would fire O’Brien because of problems between O’Brien and GM Rick Smith. But that talk later turned to the rumors supposedly coming from O’Brien’s camp, indicating that he wanted total control of the team. These latter rumors seemed more believable because there’s nothing in owner Bob McNair’s history to indicate that he would fire a coach with a winning record — it took Dom Capers and Gary Kubiak having embarrassing seasons in which the team finished 2-14 for them to be fired.

But moves made by the Texans last week indicate O’Brien’s job could possibly be in danger next season. First comes the inexplicable move of taking the defensive coordinator’s job out of the hands of Romeo Crennel, the man responsible for turning the Texans into the league’s No. 1 defense despite the lack of J.J. Watt for most of the season. Making Crennel the associate head coach, however, indicates the Texans might be lining him up to take over the team should O’Brien be fired during the season (Crennel has been a head coach of the Browns and the Chiefs).

Then there’s O’Brien making himself the offensive coordinator. With O’Brien completely in charge of the offense and the play-calling, it’s going to be much more difficult for him to find a scapegoat for the offense’s woes. And it’s hard to see how he could be allowed to keep his job if the offense continues to get worse when he’s completely in charge.

There’s a maxim in sports, that good coaches adjust their systems to their players. Bill Walsh created the West Coast offense to deal with the lack of arm strength of a Bengals QB while he was the offensive coordinator. Don Shula went from a run-heavy offense to a pass-happy offense when he was able to draft Dan Marino, and Bill Parcells's offenses evolved as he moved from the Giants to the Patriots to the Jets to the Cowboys.

But with the Texans and O’Brien, it’s always about O’Brien’s incredibly complex offense that can only be played by a certain type of player. At some point over the past several years, one would think that maybe O’Brien would have stopped trying to force Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler to become Tom Brady and might instead try to find a system that worked to their talents. But that’s something only done by truly smart coaches.

O'Brien's offense averaged only 17.4 points a game this season (better than only the Jets, the Browns and the Rams) and scored just 25 touchdowns in 16 games. The Texans were ranked No. 29 in points, total yards per game and total passing yards per game.

The Texans limped to a 9-7 record, making the playoffs on the strength of playing in the NFL equivalent of the Sun Belt Conference. The squad was able to win a playoff game because it faced a team starting a rookie, third-string quarterback playing in just his second professional game. It was then embarrassed (again) by the New England Patriots, just like the team was embarrassed in every game this past season when either facing an elite quarterback or playing a team with a decent defense on the road.

So if Bill O'Brien wants to keep his job next year, it's a pretty simple thing: More than nine wins should be demanded, and just making the playoffs isn't good enough. Just defeating a team starting a third-string quarterback then getting blown out the next week isn't good enough. The Texans have to defeat the Patriots in New England next season, and they must defeat the Seahawks in Seattle, and they must defeat the Steelers and Cardinals in Houston. And with O'Brien as his own offensive coordinator, in full command of everything on the offensive side of the ball, this team has to start scoring at least three touchdowns a game, just like a supposedly elite team coached by an offensive genius should be able to do on a consistent basis.

And seriously, the next time Bill O'Brien calls for a fade on a fourth and goal at the one yard line, he should be fired on the spot.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal