Sean Pendergast

Happy Anniversary! Bill O'Brien Was Fired One Year Ago This Week

A year ago, Bill O'Brien was asked to leave by Cal McNair, but is the franchise better off?
A year ago, Bill O'Brien was asked to leave by Cal McNair, but is the franchise better off? Photo by Eric Sauseda
Normally, when a franchise in any sport fires its head coach and general manager, it's a big deal, and change is rampant in that first year following the breakup. When the head coach and the general manager are the same person, the change is accentuated even further. When that person is Bill O'Brien, the bells toll in happiness minutes after it happens.

That's what happened a year ago on Tuesday. As the Texans fell to 0-4 on the 2020 season. Bill O'Brien got called into Cal McNair's office the day after the fourth loss (a home loss to the Vikings in front of a COVID-downsized crowd at NRG Stadium) of the season, and that was the end of the Bill O'Brien Era. O'Brien met with the media at the end of the afternoon, and that was that:
When a personality as big and overbearing as O'Brien's leaves the building, and is replaced by two separate people, one for each of the titles O'Brien held, you'd like to think that you can look back a year later and say "Man, what a difference a year makes!" But has it made a difference? Are the Houston Texans, as a franchise, better off now than they were with O'Brien early last season? Are they any closer to their disenfranchised fan base?

The only thing that is quantitatively better about the team is its defense (no longer dead last in nearly every category, they've ascended to "decidedly mediocre") and the won-loss record (1-3, an inarguable improvement over 0-4). Other than that, any assessment is purely subjective, and any chance at future improvement seems to be stuck in the wet cement left behind by O'Brien's horrific mismanagement of draft assets and cap space.

Here are a few more detailed thoughts on this one year anniversary of the overthrow of King William O'Brien of Kirby:

The Texans are better off at the most important non-player spot, GM, and that's about it
The damage that Bill O'Brien did to this franchise is still being felt and calculated every day. His trades were that bad. His contracts doled out were that bad. His draft picks, at least in terms of how they fit what he wanted to do and how they were developed by the previous staff, were that bad. Hell, his decisions of who to put on his staff were that bad! Nick Caserio is an actual NFL personnel expert, with two decades of experience, presumably reams and reams of notes, and a ckea vision of what "good" looks like. Is it automatic that Caserio ends up working out as GM? Of course not, but at least there's an adult in the room now. As for O'Brien the head coach, I have no idea if David Culley is an upgrade over him. We may never know, as Culley might himself wind up fired before this team's talent level ever gets back to "average." One thing we DO know, though, it's far more pleasant coming to work for Texans employees with Culley in the building than it was with the volatile dark cloud that was O'Brien there.

Of course, they are worse off — WAY WORSE OFF — at the most important position in team sports
So the GM is better, the head coach may or may not be better, and we will get to the overall roster in just a second. One aspect of the team that is decidedly worse — the quarterback situation. I mean, the team stunk in O'Brien's final season — the 0-4 start turned into a 4-12 stinker of a year — but Deshaun Watson was still the passing yards leader for 2020. He is widely viewed as a top ten quarterback in the league, when he isn't being sued by 22 women. The Texans trotted out rookie Davis Mills the last two Sundays, and if you're wondering how THAT is going, well....

The amount of turnover of this roster has been absolutely mind-bending
On Sunday, CBS put up a graphic comparing the trajectories of the Texans and Bills since the two teams met in January 2020 in the wild card round of the playoffs. Here is a tweet summarizing the basic information from that graphic:
I would like to think the overall roster, outside of the quarterback position, is better than last year's 4-12 debacle, and it may be. However, when half the roster is comprised of older players on one year contracts, does it really matter? It's going to be all new faces again next year, and probably again in 2023. Rebuilds are fun!

Bill O'Brien is a "career management" specialist
Meanwhile, O'Brien himself has landed on his feet. Well, let's be clear — first, after he was fired, he landed ass backwards in a big pile of money owed to him by the McNairs for the remainder of his guaranteed contract. (Must be nice to get paid for being a colossal failure!) Then, O'Brien was able to land the ultimate "fixer upper" job, the place coaches go to rehabilitate their coaching image and land the next big, lucrative coaching gig of their career. O'Brien became Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama. Ask Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian before O'Brien. Both arrived in Tuscaloosa as multi-time failures at various landing spots, and both parlayed the the calling of plays for the most talented program of the last 25 years into good Power Five head coaching jobs, at Ole Miss and Texas, respectively. Book it now — O'Brien is landing a big time college job in the next 20 months. Guaranteed.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast