There are plenty of people who think the Houston Texans should have fired Bill O'Brien years ago. There are plenty of people who think he should have been fired after last season's playoff debacle in Kansas City. There is NOBODY, nobody I've seen at least, campaigning for him to have kept his job after finally being fired last Monday. Furthermore, there hasn't been a single player, media member, or Texans employee (again, that I've seen, at least, save the token public statement by owner Cal McNair) that's even thanked O'Brien publicly or expressed any degree of remorse over his termination.
Across the board — poor on-field results, misguided roster construction, inability to get along with others, moderate to heavy dictator traits — firing Bill O'Brien was the right move. Just watch this locker room celebrating interim head coach Romeo Crennel doing a 73-year-old-with-a-fake-hip victory dance after Sunday's win over Jacksonville, and it's plain for everyone to see that Bill O'Brien needed to go:
The question is "Should he have gone much, much sooner?" I would submit that firing Bill O'Brien after the playoff loss to Kansas City in January, in which the team blew a 24-0 lead in no small part part because of his decisions, would have been perfectly justifiable. In retrospect, firing O'Brien in January would have likely prevented the barrage of suicidal trades and signings he went on to make as GM in March and April.
The case for firing O'Brien back then is also the perfect retort to anyone who says "Hey, 0-4 is only four games! He deserved a chance to kick out of this!" (That person MUST exist, right? Maybe? No?) He was never going to correct the big picture resume flaws that had everyone going "Why is this guy here for a SEVENTH season again?"
So without further ado, here are the four inexcusable reasons O'Brien should have been gone last January:
1. All three other AFC South teams have made an AFC title game since O'Brien took over the Texans in 2014
If O'Brien were defending himself in court, he would be beating you over the head with his four AFC South division titles in six seasons like they were a billy club and you were stealing his lunch money. Just know that the AFC South during O'Brien's tenure has been one of the worst divisions of my football watching lifetime, and still, the Colts, Jags, and Titans have all managed to make it to an AFC title game during O'Brien's tenure. Hell, the Jags made it with Blake Bortles, inarguably one of the worst top ten drafted QB's I've ever seen, as their starting signal caller. O'Brien has petered out in the divisional round twice, and meekly so. More on that in a moment. By the way, here are the other AFC teams who have not made a conference title game since 2014 — BUF, MIA, NYJ, BAL, CIN, CLV, HOU, OAK, LAC. All of those teams have been through multiple head coaches in that footprint of time, except Baltimore. We will forgive them for hanging onto the widely respected John Harbaugh, who won a Super Bowl in 2012.
2. All three other AFC South teams have won a playoff road game in the last three years
Taking the postseason performance of division roomies a step further, all three other AFC South teams have won at least one road playoff game since 2017. The Titans won a playoff game in Kansas City in 2017, and multiple road games in 2019 (at New England, at Baltimore). The Jags won a road playoff game in Pittsburgh in 2017 to get to the AFC title game. Finally, the Colts actually beat the TEXANS in NRG Stadium in 2018. If you're O'Brien, nothing like having this factoid thrown in your face, and having your team be one of the home squads that couldn't defend their own turf. O'Brien's two playoff wins in his six seasons came at home against the Raiders (and third d-string rookie QB Connor Cook) in 2016, and last season against Buffalo, in a game where Deshaun Watson basically turned into Superman to overcome the Bills (that would be the Buffalo BILLS and his head coach BILL O'Brien).
3. His average margin of loss in his four playoff losses is nearly 21 points
It would be one thing that the Texans didn't make it to even a conference title game on O'Brien's watch, but they were eliminated each season from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion, by an average of nearly 21 points per game. There was the manhood-crushing shutout loss to the Chiefs, 30-0, in 2015. There was the 34-16 loss to New England in 2016 (actually a decently competitive game, despite the final score). Then, in 2018, there was the aforementioned 21-7 loss to the Colts. Finally, there was the 51-31 loss to the Chiefs, where the Texans miraculously stopped believing in their game plan and head coach when the Chiefs cut the lead to 24-7. Awful.
4. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, O'Brien has never had an offense rank in the upper half of the league
O'Brien came over to the Texans with the reputation of being a bit of a QB guru. At Penn State, he somehow managed to make Christian Hackenburg look competent, and of course, O'Brien called plays for Tom Brady for two years in New England. So he must know something about constructing a capable offense, right? Actually, wrong. Here are the Texans' offensive rankings according to th DVOA metric on Football Outsiders during O'Brien's tenure here:
On the one hand, you could say "Wow, O'Brien must be a pretty good head coach, since he had winning seasons in five of six years with substandard offenses." On the other hand, um... BILL O'BRIEN WAS THE FREAKING PLAY CALLER AND OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR FOR MOST OF THOSE SEASONS! He couldn't get an offense with Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins into the upper half of the league rankings. That alone should have been enough to say "This guy doesn't have it."
So when Bill O'Brien ultimately resurfaces, and is possibly campaigning to find his next employer and next fan base to suck the life out of, re-read this post and thank the football gods that hope has been restored. Good riddance.
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