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How the Year 2020 Devoured Prominent Houston Sports Figures

Bill O'Brien is among many prominent Houston sports names who were sent packing in 2020.
Bill O'Brien is among many prominent Houston sports names who were sent packing in 2020.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
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The end is almost near in 2020.

Wait, what's that? I SCARED you with that proclamation? Oh sorry, I know that sentence reads as a doomsday proclamation, and let's face it, with the way 2020 has unfolded, that's probably the right way to set your default switch — somewhere between "Armageddon" and "Rapture". Sorry about that. I am actually referring to the END of 2020 itself, as in "YAY, there are only a few hours left of this debacle of a year!"

I should have phrased it "the end is almost near OF 2020." I am proclaiming celebration! We've almost made it, made it through a pandemic, an election, social outrage, Bill O'Brien. All of it. We are hours away from surviving the first year in my lifetime that could be used as an adjective, as in "Man, is that the most '2020' thing EVER?" In fact, I asked the question on my Twitter timeline "Which Houston team had the most '2020' 2020?"

The Texans won this poll in a landslide, but suffice it to say that no city's major sports teams endured more turmoil, both "2020" category and routine turmoil, than Houston. What started as a year where all three major teams were among the eight best in their respective sport ended as a year where the head coaches and general managers had all been let go during the year, and all three teams were on a downward trajectory. There are cities with far worse overall situations than ours, but none that endured the sports strife and fall from a golden era that we did in Houston in 2020.

Perhaps the best indicator of the strange, tumultuous year 2020 was on the sports landscape in Houston is to look at who the most relevant sports figures were coming into the year, and do a status check on each one as we get ready to flip the calendar to 2021. For that, I point you to the HOUSTON 10, a Houston Chronicle invention that subjectively rates the ten most prominent/influential/buzzworthy Houston sports figures.

Here is the list for 2019, their jobs at the time they were named to the list, and their current status to close out 2020:

10. Dana Holgerson, University of Houston head football coach
Just finished his second year as head coach of the Cougars with a 3-5 record, and a loss in the New Mexico Bowl to Hawaii. Had the rare experience of being the head coach of the college football team whose schedule was most constantly pounded by COVID-induced cancellations or postponements, with eight different games either cancelled or postponed. Holgorsen's two year record at UH sits at 7-13, but it's doubtful he's on the hot seat as the school doesn't really have the money lying around to buy out his $4 million per year contract.

9. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros third baseman
Bregman remains one of the core pieces of what will be a very good Astros team, but like many Astros in 2020, he struggled to attain his usual All Star level of play. One of the more clutch players in his first four seasons in MLB, Bregman slumped to a .220 batting average in the 2020 playoffs. He enters the second year of a massive five-year, $100 million contract extension in 2021.

8. Kelvin Sampson, University of Houston men's basketball coach
One of the few people on this list who is going along like it's business as usual, Sampson's Coogs are sitting in the top five of the polls in college hoops entering 2021.

7, Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans head coach and GM
After blowing a 24-0 lead in a playoff game in January, O'Brien proceeded to treat the Texans' roster like a bad science experiment for the next four months, including trading DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals for David Johnson and a draft pick, one of the worst trades in NFL history. The Texans started the season 0-4, including a reported verbal altercation between O'Brien and J.J. Watt at practice before a game in Week 3, and O'Brien was fired on October 5.

6. James Harden, Houston Rockets guard
One of the top five players in the NBA, and now in his ninth season as a Rocket, Harden reportedly has requested a trade to a title contender, and the team is currently shopping him. The Rockets will not just trade Harden for the sake of trading him. They are holding out for a major haul, so the drama could escalate in the coming year.

5. Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros general manager
Luhnow got the 2020 treatment VERY early in the year, as he and manager A.J. Hinch were fired for their role in the Astros sign stealing scandal of 2017. Hinch has since been hired back into baseball as manager of the Tigers, but Luhnow remains on the sideline and is suing the Astros for wrongful termination.

4. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans quarterback
Watson has had a statistically impressive season, throwing a franchise record 30 touchdown passes with just six interceptions, but the team is 4-11, and Watson will now be on his second head coach and third play caller of his young career.

3. Tilman Fertitta, Houston Rockets owner / Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets GM
Fertitta remains somewhat embattled as the Rockets enter a period of uncertainty, and it certainly wasn't helped when Morey decided to leave the franchise in October and wind up as president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia Sixers two weeks later.

2. Cal McNair, Houston Texans owner
Entering his third full year as owner of the Texans, McNair is on the cusp of the two most important decisions in the history of the franchise — choosing the new GM and new head coach that will replace Bill O'Brien, who was sadly filling both of those roles.

1. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets guard
Westbrook was in Houston for one very strange season, from summer of 2019 through late 2020, a season that saw the Rockets completely alter their roster makeup to suit his style of play, only to see Westbrook request a trade out of town, citing culture issues behind the scenes with the franchise's "kid gloves" treatment and entitlement of James Harden.

So count it up, and within one year, we now have four of the 11 names on this list gone from their jobs, two embattled owners, one superstar who wants out, an underperforming third baseman, and an underperforming head football coach.

But hey, Deshaun Wats9on and Kelvin Sampson are great at THEIR jobs! That's something!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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