THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: On Rockets-Warriors, college hoops and the curious case of Bill O'Brien's contract

Rob Gray and the Cougars missed a chance at a signature win. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Imagine having shelled out for Beatles concert tickets in their heyday, the show went on, just without John Lennon and Ringo Starr. That was pretty much the Rockets and Warriors at Toyota Center Thursday night with no James Harden for the Rockets and no Kevin Durant for the Warriors. Bummer. You still had Paul and George (though no Paul George), a couple of surefire future Hall of Famers playing in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, but the concert just couldn’t be the same with neither the Beard nor K-D taking part. Oh well. The teams meet again, in Houston again, in a couple of weeks. Perhaps Harden’s recovery froma hamstring tear is more rapid than expected and peak marquis value will be fulfilled.

As for the game the better team won, that is Golden State. The reigning champs forged a three game lead over the Rockets atop the Western Conference. With Harden sidelined for at least another couple of weeks, the Rockets chances of finishing atop the heap are slim and soon seemingly drifting closer to none.

A look at college hoops in the city

For college basketball, Houston has long been a wasteland. There is no worse major market in the country in terms of college hoop interest. In major league sports towns the pros almost always come  first, but here the colleges need upgrades to become afterthoughts. Nevertheless, let’s cover some college hoops!

The University of Houston basically being in a quarter century basketball coma is of course part of Houston’s rampant disinterest in college hoops. There are parents of current UH students with little to no recollection of the Cougars winning an NCAA game. They’ve even been in the NCAA tournament once in the last 25 years. They last won a tourney game in 1984, beating Virginia ahead of losing to Georgetown in the National Championship game. Five of the eight Ivy League schools have won NCAA games more recently. As have Hampton, Lehigh, Coppin St., Vermont, and more than 150 other schools.

It’s been more than 12 years since the Cougars appeared in the Top 25. A win at 9th ranked Wichita State Thursday night would have done the trick, but the game went about as well for UH as Waterloo did for Napoleon. Kelvin Sampson is a very good coach, the American is a very good basketball conference made better with the Shockers joining this season. The Cougars non-conference resume is weak beyond a rout of Arkansas (go Hogs in SEC play!). Short of winning the AAC Tournament, UH will need multiple signature wins over the likes of Wichita State, Cincinnati, and SMU.

Meanwhile, the best NCAA Tourney bet in town is again Texas Southern. The Tigers play in the SWAC,  which is one of the weakest D-1 leagues in the country. But someone has to make the tournament and Head Coach Mike Davis has things where someone is usually TSU (three of the last four years). The Tigers began this season playing 13 straight road games. 13! The Tigers went 0-13 including losses by 28 at 18th ranked Gonzaga, by 31 at 21st ranked Baylor, and by 43 at 3rd ranked Kansas. But there is method to the madness. The program picks up some decent paychecks along the way, and by playing against a bunch of opponents better than anything TSU will face in conference play the Tigers are toughened up.

It's O'Brien's world now

It’s Bob McNair’s money but a multi-year contract extension for Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien is silly. His four year win-loss record is 31-33, his worst season the most recent and much worse than his best season was good. I think O’Brien is a better bet to at some point to excel in his job than was Rick Smith as General Manager but that’s not exactly choosing between Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence. If O’Brien rides a healthy Deshaun Watson to a fruitful 2018 and then has leverage for a fatter contract or even chooses to walk, so be it. A good Texans team in 2018 would make the job attractive. A bad Texans 2018 season, and, well, why would you still want O’Brien? Smith is done as GM. Taking a year’s leave of absence as his wife works to conquer breast cancer is commendable. Replaced as GM it also sets up Smith to keep the sinecure post of Executive Vice President of Football Operations, or to move on. Smith the GM has been a mediocrity (86-90 over the 11 seasons he’s been a major factor in roster construction). The Texans hiring a one year temp GM would be laughable. Who of quality would even take the job with that scenario?

Buzzer Beaters

1. Central Florida makes itself look small and silly claiming its football team is the real National Champion    2. I’ll take Georgia plus the points vs. Alabama Monday night   3. Best sandwich meats:  Bronze-roast beef  Silver-pastrami  Gold-corned beef

 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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