It's hard to believe that this time two years ago, the Texans were just finishing up their first draft under the combined evaluation of Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien. In fact, my girlfriend's "2 Years Ago Today..." reminder on Facebook yesterday was literally a picture of the Texans drafting Jadeveon Clowney in 2014. (If you recall, the draft was scheduled painfully late in 2014, over Mother's Day weekend, a mistake the league thankfully rectified after one year of it.)
Man, time flies! With the snap of a finger, it seems, we are two full seasons into the World According to O'Brien, and, with an actual franchise quarterback (we hope), it's almost like a second rejuvenation after the first one post-2013 upon O'Brien's hiring.
You remember the episode of The Office where Pam is getting hammered at Chili's at the company's Dundee Awards, and she says that the melted ice at the bottom of a margarita is like "second drink"? Well, that's the Brock Osweiler signing. Brock Osweiler is "second drink." He is the melted ice at the bottom of a margarita, which may seem like faint praise, but when you consider how abusive these few hundred Broncos fans were to Brock on Instagram, I'm sure he will take it.
So where are we with O'Brien? Two seasons in, considering whom other teams with head coaching positions open in 2014 hired, do we feel like Bob McNair chose well? In what direction are the Texans going compared to other 2014 rebuilders?
Well, funny you asked. I happen to have listed all seven of the 2014 hires right here, along with my thoughts...
Yes, this is how tenuous life as an NFL head coach can be — three of the seven head coaches hired in 2014 are no longer with us. I mean, they're still alive. They didn't die. But their NFL head coaching careers did, at least for now. Amazingly, two of the coaches fired were let go by the teams picking first and second in the 2015 draft, and they were let go during or after the first season with their rookie quarterback. Impatience rules the day!
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Mike Pettine
LESSON LEARNED: The lesson here is for aspiring head coaches. Pettine had been a successful position coach and defensive coordinator, but never a head coach, so I would imagine he thirsted to accomplish his goal of becoming head coach. However, it IS okay to say no to an opportunity, if the organization is as dysfunctional and snakebitten as the Browns. When you say yes to a head coaching job, you are entering a marriage, and make no mistake, Jimmy Haslam is the psycho chick at the bar at 2:30 a.m. Would you EVER marry that chick?? Bottom line — if your owner overrules everyone on a quarterback choice, it's probably not going to end well. (If there were an emoji for the Manziel "money" sign, it'd go right here.)
TENNESSEE TITANS: Ken Whisenhunt
LESSON LEARNED: The lesson learned for the Tennessee Titans (and any other team that will retread Whisenhunt sometime down the road, because you KNOW it's happening) is "What did you expect?" Yes, I know Whisenhunt came within one Santonio Holmes miracle catch of winning a Super Bowl, but the broader projector of success as a head coach, career regular season records, says Whisenhunt is painfully mediocre — one double-digit-win season (10-6 in 2009) and two out of six seasons above .500. The lesson for head coaches is, if you have a quarterback who was taken second overall, you better damn well give him a game plan that protects him. Also, don't work for anyone related to Bud Adams.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Lovie Smith
LESSON LEARNED: The lesson learned here is that there's such a thing as hiring too well, I suppose. The Bucs used the 2015 first overall selection on Jameis Winston, and Smith hired Dirk Koetter to be his offensive coordinator. The Bucs' brass was so impressed with Winston's progress, they fired Smith (after a four-game improvement over 2014) and promoted Koetter. So basically Smith would've had a better chance of keeping his job if Koetter had coached Winston juuuuust well enough for everyone to stick around for another season.
Proof that if you treat people right behind the scenes and cozy up to the proper bosses, you can hang around for an extra year or two...
DETROIT LIONS: Jim Caldwell
LESSON LEARNED: The first season with Caldwell doing ANYTHING is always the best season, and then it falls apart from there. That's the trend. First season as Colts head coach? Made it to a Super Bowl, and it was all good. And then Peyton Manning got hurt, and Caldwell went 2-14. First season as Ravens offensive coordinator? Hey, he cleaned up Cam Cameron's mess and helped win a Super Bowl! Next season? Flacco led the league in picks. First season as Lions head coach? 11-5 and the playoffs! Last season? 7-9. It appears everyone really likes Caldwell inside the building in Detroit, but I can't imagine them getting over the hump with him as the guy.
So three of the seven 2014 hires have won their division once, but none of the four who have made the postseason have won a playoff game yet. The class of 2014 is 0-4 in the postseason. (Damn you, Blair Walsh!)
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Mike Zimmer
LESSON LEARNED: It's okay to hire the guy who's been a coordinator FOREVER. Also, if you're going to draft a quarterback in the first round, make sure it's Teddy Bridgewater and not Christian Ponder.
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WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Jay Gruden
LESSON LEARNED: If you really, truly believe that one quarterback gives you a better chance than another quarterback, be decisive and don't listen to everyone else. More is lost by indecision than a wrong decision! This served Gruden well last season since he was able to ride Kirk Cousins to an NFC East title in a down year for the division.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Bill O'Brien
LESSON LEARNED: It's funny because O'Brien handled the QB situation in Houston in totally the opposite way from how Gruden did in Washington, and got the same result — a 9-7 division crown in a year when the marquee QB in the division was riddled with injuries. The lesson here for head coaches is, if you have patient ownership, you can ride for a couple of years being VERY choosy over who you ultimately select to lead your team. Now, will it work? That remains to be seen.
Two seasons in, it appears McNair's decision is pointed in the direction of success. O'Brien's ability to get as much comparatively out of Osweiler as he did out of much lesser QBs will be the key.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.