ANOTHER TOUGH ONE

After loss to Titans, what should the 4-8 Texans do about Bill O'Brien?

Bill O'Brien might be doing one of his best coaching jobs. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Bill O’Brien is likely headed for his first losing season as a head coach. The Houston Texans lost another one on Sunday, falling to Tennessee 24-13 to drop to 4-8 on the season. O’Brien has had 9-7 records with the Texans in his prior three seasons, and had winning records in two years at Penn State. This will be the worst result of his career no matter what.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike O’Brien.

He can be combative and stand-offish. He is not a pleasant person. He is a coachspeak machine. His offenses -- even in their playoff years -- have been well below average, even though it is his supposed forte. There appears to be a disconnect/potential power struggle going on with GM Rick Smith. His agents or representatives often leak stories favorable to O’Brien. His judgement of what makes a quality quarterback is highly questionable. He took way too long to pull the plug on a bad offensive coordinator. His clock management is laughable. He has one year left on his deal after this, and there are rumblings about a potential extension. But the big question is should he even be back next season, with all things above being the determining factors?

The answer is a resounding, no doubt yes.

Despite the record, O’Brien might be doing the best coaching job of his career. He took over offensive playcalling fulltime this year, and the offense exploded when Deshaun Watson took over. But even after Watson’s injury, the playcalling was better. Tom Savage -- although he played well on Sunday until he made one critical mistake-- is just unable to execute it consistently at a high level. Plus, considering all the injuries on both sides of the ball, that the Texans are even competitive is impressive.

Two of their three best defensive players have been gone since early in the year with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. The WR/TE corps has been thin and beaten up all year, leaving very few viable weapons. Promising young RB D’Onta Foreman, too, is gone. And yet the Texans players have not quit on their coach. Even in the Monday night loss to Baltimore, they played hard. They just weren’t good enough to overcome Savage’s fatal mistakes that night.

On Sunday, they again played hard against Tennessee. They were down to two healthy receivers and one tight end. They could not run the football. They simply do not have enough talent on the field to overcome any mistakes at all -- like missed field goals or allowing untimely sacks. But the effort is there. So, too, is the playcalling. Those things are on O’Brien. It was on display in a 16-play drive that took over eight minutes in the third quarter. Shorthanded, with awkward personal packages, O’Brien’s team marched down the field... And missed another field goal. It’s hard to win football games when you do that. They dodged a bullet on the play before when Savage threw into heavy coverage. O’Brien can’t make that throw for him. Or make the kick. Of course, Tennessee marched down the field after the miss and took a 17-10 lead. The Texans needed to be perfect, and they had too many penalties -- including three straight false starts on fourth down on the final drive -- and missed field goals to beat a team like Tennessee. They were as good as they could be with what they had on the field, and they came up short. Even with Savage having the best game of his career -- 31 of 49 for 365 yards and a touchdown -- the Texans just weren't good enough. Savage only had one interception, and it came throwing into double coverage in the end zone on simply a bad decision. 

That’s not on O’Brien, no matter what crap he spews in the postgame presser. The Texans were in the game with less than two minutes to play. And then Savage made another mistake, and the Titans added a late touchdown run to ice the game.

O'Brien should return next season. And he should get a chance to coach Watson for a full year. Yes, he is the one who insisted Savage can play. That, and all the reasons above are why he should not be given an extension.  It is one of the worst arguments in the world that a coach in the last year of his contract can’t be effective because assistants are worried about their jobs and players won’t listen. It is a results-based business. Everyone should constantly be worried. Players have contract years; coaches should too. And if O’Brien can do a good job again next season when he has his team healthy, he will get paid somewhere.

And he should. That’s how things ought to work. But he deserves the opportunity to earn that contract. And that means coming back next season. That should be a no-brainer.

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

Former Astros manager Andrew Jay Hinch is on a short list of candidates to become manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

The question is, after being suspended and later fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, does A.J. Hinch deserve to manage again in baseball?

It's weird to think because so much has happened in 2020, but Hinch was suspended and fired only nine months ago. His banishment, however, ends in a matter of weeks with the final out of the upcoming World Series. At that point, he will be available to manage the Tigers or any other team. There's a possibility that the Mets are interested. Some were hoping it'd be the Astros, but the Astros are committed to manager Dusty Baker for next year. After that … never say never.

Shortly after getting the Astros ax, Hinch went on MLB TV and apologized for his role in the Astros cheating scandal. Although baseball's investigation said the garbage can banging scheme was "with the exception of (Astros coach Alex) Cora, player-driven and player-executed," Hinch took responsibility as manager and didn't challenge his punishment. No players were punished.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches.

"It happened on my watch. I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

In effect, while Hinch didn't authorize or participate in the sign-stealing scandal, he didn't do enough (really anything) to stop it. He is the rare case of being a guilty bystander.

To be clear, Hinch has not been offered the Detroit manager job. However, he has more experience and more wins under his belt than most of the other candidates being considered.

Hinch's reputation is blemished, but his credentials can't be disputed. During his five years as Astros manager, the team never had a losing season, won 100 or more games three times, including a team record 107 wins last year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series.

Has baseball forgiven Hinch, and does he deserve another chance to manage in the big leagues? This is America, the land of forgiveness and second chances.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

Hinch knew his team was cheating and didn't do enough to stop it. There's no defense for that. But I think he's paid enough of a price to get back in baseball.

Mike Tyson raped a woman, went to jail, and now he's practically America's sweetheart. Hillary forgave Bill. We not only forgave Confederate leaders, we built schools and statues to honor them. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading, now she's back on TV baking crumpets. Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for pee'ing on a monument outside the Alamo, there is no more sacred place in Texas, and now he sells out concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Pee-wee Herman, well, let's not say what he was caught doing, but he's planning to tour the U.S. celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure movie.

Remember, Hinch was suspended for a year. It could have been worse. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to ban people for life. Since becoming the commish, Manfred has permanently banished two people: former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for hacking into the Astros computer database, and former Atlanta Braves general manager, John Coppolella for signing international players illegally.

Manfred also has temporarily banned Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for shouting inappropriate comments at female reporters last year. Taubman is eligible to apply for reinstatement after this year's World Series. However, if he commits one more violation of baseball rules, he will be banned for life.

Lifetime bans aren't as unusual as you might think. Since baseball's beginnings in the 1800s, dozens of players, managers and team owners have been banned, mostly, like Pete Rose and the Chicago Black Sox, for gambling-related offenses.

A.J. Hinch copped to his crime, suffered the consequences, now it's time for him to manage a baseball team again. It's not like he'd be landing a plum job with Detroit. The Tigers are out of this year's playoff picture. They lost 114 games last season. And were 64-98 the two years prior. Managing the Tigers will be punishment enough.

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