The Houston Texans introduced Brain Gaine as their new general manager on Wednesday afternoon, and I have to say, the whole thing felt weird. To be clear, I was not in attendance, I was on the air on my radio show and we were carrying the press conference and watching it on Periscope, but merely watching it was enough to scoop the vibe.
It was weird because Gaine was the only one sitting at the table, no other Texan employees on either side of him, ironic given the new mantra if "unity" and "alignment" in the wake of Rick Smith's leave of absence that necessitated Gaine's hire. More so, though, it was weird because, for the first time since before the Obama administration, it was someone other than Rick Smith answering general manager type questions. (Hell, as few press conferences as Smith did, it's weird having ANYBODY answer general manager type questions at all.)
So, for the first time, we met this fellow named Brian Gaine. For three seasons, 2014 through 2016, he was a faceless name behind the scenes of a personnel department that did largely average to below average work. So why is he back here now to take over the entire general manager's role?
Well, we learned a little as to why on Wednesday afternoon. I stress A LITTLE, because, while Gaine was fairly polished in his delivery of the answers, the content of the answers themselves was very general and not terribly informative. Here are a few things we learned, though, at Gaine's press conference on Wednesday:
1. "Playing well with others" appears to be a primary job requirement.
We touched earlier this week on owner Bob McNair's press release announcing Gaine's hire and Bill O'Brien's contract extension, and how inclusive the wording was in McNair's quotes. The words "aligned" and "unified" stuck out like a siren. On Wednesday, Gaine went to painstaking efforts to convey that all decisions would be the end result of the combined effort of the personnel department and coaching staff. He used the word "collaborative" six times, he used the word "align" (or some form of it) four times, and he used the word "unified" three times. They say that in hiring, oftentimes companies will seek replacements that carry the opposite traits of their predecessors. We see it in coaching hires all the time. Indeed, if this is the case with this hire, there can now be little doubt that the backstage environment over recent Rick Smith times was divided and contentious,
2. Bill O'Brien undoubtedly has HIS guy.
We know from his press conference to close out the season (and with this hire) that Bill O'Brien holds Brian Gaine in high regard. It's quite evident that Gaine also loves him some Bill O'Brien:
“Bill O’Brien’s a great person, first and foremost. From a character standpoint, Bill is a great individual, but philosophical alignment in terms of how to build a winning football operation, a winning roster and build a championship environment and culture as well. What you see on Sundays obviously is the result of player acquisition and coaching, but there’s a process that’s involved in terms of getting to Sunday. Bill and I are very philosophically aligned in terms of how to do that, how to build a right program, how to build a right culture, and it’s not just the football roster, but it’s also the football operation and that requires every aspect that touches the game and touches the locker room. All those aspects of the football operation, Bill and I are philosophically aligned in terms of how to run it and how to do it.”
But wait, there's more!
"But there won’t be a decision that I would make without being in a collaborative partnership with Coach (Bill) O’Brien and the coaching staff. Every decision we make will be made on two things – what’s best for the franchise and does it help us win. They’ll be Texans decisions, they won’t be Brian Gaine’s decisions.”
3. Gaine is well aware of the imminence of a Clowney extension.
Gaine was not giving up any specific information on Wednesday as to how he felt about certain players (except Deshaun Watson), past decisions, or imminent decisions. However, when he was asked about the likelihood of an extension for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Gaine had this to say:
“It’s certainly on the horizon. Right now, I’m in an evaluative period in terms of studying the roster and studying the team and learning the players in terms of how they performed. So, that requires 16-game film study, it requires a lot of other research and knowledge that I’m trying to gain right now, but certainly a player that’s valued by the Texans organization, and in time, as we go through that process, we’ll arrive to that conclusion.”
I'll take "certainly on the horizon" to mean that there will soon be talks, and shortly thereafter, Jadeveon Clowney will be a very, very wealthy man.
4. Gaine will team build with Deshaun Watson at the forefront of his decision making process, but he has a very specific hierarchy of needs.
Gaine tried his best to stay player-agnostic on Wednesday, but even he couldn't resist getting specific when asked "When you are making your decisions on personnel on offense, will it be what’s best for QB Deshaun Watson?" He mentioned Watson, and that led to a dissemination of his hierarchy of GM needs, easily about as informative an answer as Gaine had from a philosophical perspective in the press conference (which is not saying much):
“We will make decisions in terms of impacting our roster not just for one position, but it’s clear that we have to put some players around him to help him succeed. My philosophy will be this: No. 1, you are going to pursue everything you can to try and get a quarterback. I feel like there’s one here that we can build a future with. No. 2, the offensive line and the defensive line are critical. We will always be looking for players to help us impact as it relates to winning performances in offensive and defensive linemen. The running game. The running game’s critical offensively speaking, both for the impact it has in the running game, controlling down and distance, but also because of its impact on the passing game. If you can run the ball, it’s only going to help the passing game. No. 4, we’re going to be looking for explosive athletes. Not just players that we can surround Deshaun with, but we’re going to be looking for explosive athletes, players that can make plays in space and equally deter plays that are made in space. No. 5, we’re going to be looking for pressure players. Guys that can get to the quarterback. Equally, players on offense that can stress the defense vertically and horizontally relating to speed. No. 5, coverage players. Looking for guys that can run and cover and stretch the perimeter. Obviously, vertically stretch the defense. Then, the last one, is fourth down and special teams players. We alluded to it earlier. That, to me, will be the formula and the guiding principles of how we’ll build the roster.”
5. John McClain asked the only question that really matters when it comes to Gaine's three previous seasons here....
The only thing that matters about Gaine's being here from 2014 through 2016 isn't that he was well liked, or that he was a nice guy, or that he got along well with O'Brien. With all due respect, the only thing that matters is which prospective players he campaigned for and against. McClain asked yesterday "Since you were involved with the draft and free agency process for four seasons here, who are the players you’re most proud of that you recommended?" Gaine's answer:
“Without getting into specifics, I would say that scouting truly is a collaborative process. What I mean by that is that there are a lot of aspects that go into the preparation before you arrive to make that decision. So, I would say the synergy that we’re going to have between the coaches and the player personnel department in terms of the types of players that we’re going to go look for, that will be a unified effort between the player personnel department and the coaching side, and it always has been in my experiences. So, I like to think that every pick that we made was a Texans organizational pick and maybe not a specific person. There are scouts who scout specific players, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of aspects that go into the player acquisition process. Those are Texans picks, those aren’t Brian Gaine’s picks. Those are Texans signs, not Brian Gaine’s signs.”
McClain's question yielded the most disturbing answer if you're a Texans fan, as Gaine essentially admitted that there will be no direct accountability for draft picks and free agent signings. The credit and, more importantly, the blame will just be directed at some nebulous decision-making cloud labeled "TEXANS." I've been as critical of Rick Smith as anybody, but if Smith said "Those are Texans picks, those aren't Rick Smith picks" in explaining, say, his failure in the third round of the draft, he would rightfully get destroyed. I'll eventually forgive this answer if Gaine is more up front and visible when on days like cutting Andre Johnson, trading Brock Osweiler, or trading Duane Brown — all days where Smith hid behind press releases and prepared statements.
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6. Gaine almost had a chance to make a boastful prediction.... but he didn't.
When asked "What gives you the confidence that you and Head Coach Bill O’Brien can produce a collaborative effort moving forward and will have that kind of relationship?", Gaine said:
“Well, having been here for three years and knowing what Coach O’Brien’s able to do, I certainly have an insightful feeling for what Coach O’Brien is able to accomplish. We’ll continue to get him good players. He’ll continue to coach the team at a high level. And between the two of us, hopefully we’ll be building a championship roster for years to come.”
Dammit, Gaine, why'd you have to stick the word "hopefully" in there? You almost said something interesting!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.