4th and Mile with Paul Muth
Three reasons I punted the Texans
In 2015 when the Dallas Cowboys made the controversial decision to sign convicted domestic abuser Greg Hardy, I wondered to myself what exactly it would take for me to stop being a fan of a team I grew up watching.
Monday I learned just that, only instead for the Texans.
Wednesday was validation.
No, it wasn't a singular egregious act. Instead, it was a slow burn. It was year after year of incompetent ax swinging to the trunk of my fandom that finally compromised its integrity, causing the whole thing to come crashing down.
I didn't come to the decision easily. I've been a fan since before learning that they had chosen the dumbest name in professional football. I even remember watching game one against the Cowboys in my room as a kid on a little 13" tube TV, trying to read out player names in between static caused by my rabbit-ear antenna. But just like any relationship that's gone on longer than it should, instead of noticing a need for change, I found it easier to ignore the stack of issues, continue being a fan, and hope for the best.
"Maybe they'll change!"
"They didn't mean to let the greatest player in franchise history leave unceremoniously for our rival!"
So let's examine the three biggest strikes that led to this public breakup:
17: "Tom's the starter."
After giving up two first round picks (and then some) to move up in the draft and claim collegiate star quarterback Deshaun Watson, you would have thought Bill O'Brien was being forced to work with a brother-in-law with body odor. He seemed thoroughly hesitant on trusting the rookie QB, and an actual competition between him and incumbent starter Tom Savage seemed unlikely. Watson hardly touched the field, and when he did that glimmer of brilliance would show through. Even still, come week one O'Brien had handed the keys to Savage, who immediately drove them into a brick wall.
Now, I didn't think Savage was better than Watson, but I also understood not starting Watson from the outset. There are cases all throughout league history that show that letting your quarterback sit his first year and study the game has a lot of merit. But if you're going to do it, you need to stick to it. So how long did O'Brien stick it?
Less than one game.
That's about the time I really started perking my ears up to the issues with the Texans. Any coach that honestly thought Savage brought more to the table than Watson is beyond worthy of skepticism. To then fold one half of a game into the season on a stance you had taken for the past four months prior should make you wonder just how quick he is to abandon game plans when they go awry.
2020: Bill O'Brien, General Manager
The Texans have always come across as a team seemingly content with being merely decent. Another perception is that ownership is simply loyal to a fault, and willing to give a coach and/or GM time to fully realize their plan. So when the nobly fired Gary Kubiak mid season just weeks after collapsing on the sidelines of a game, I turned a blind eye to the callousness and did my best to be optimistic with the team's potential. The Texans pounced on former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien at the first chance they had and his fiery nature initially had me pretty pumped.
That was 2014.
That fiery nature has since morphed into simple pettiness, be it with refs, the media, the fans, and his players as well. O'Brien sports a disappointing 52-44 record in one of the most perennially disappointing divisions in football, and is constantly exposed as a fraud in the postseason. This was no more so apparent than this past season's divisional round, where the Texans not only blew a 24-0 lead but were beaten by 20 points.
So what do you do with a guy like that? Promote him, obviously. And what does a guy like that do once promoted? Fired people he didn't like, obviously.
The pettiness is palpable and yet despite the ineptitude and awful image problem, ownership stopped looking loyal and started looking content.
March 16, 2020: The trade
We were all expecting something questionable to come from O'Brien's first full offseason with full control, we just didn't realize how immediate it would be. But through their own draft failings and questionable trade machinations, the Texans headed into the 2020 offseason strapped for cash and in what is affectionately referred to as "draft hell."
So the Texans made a trade. The initial report?
"Texans trading for Cardinals RB David Johnson."
"Ok," I'm thinking. "He's kind of a retread, but they got a lot of value out of Carlos Hyde the year before. Not a bad pickup."
Then the other shoe dropped.
"Cardinals to receive WR DeAndre Hopkins."
That was it. When I realized it wasn't a joke, I was done. In no way did that trade make the Texans better, relieve noticeable cap space, or provide draft capital. It was the only example left that I needed to prove just how poorly managed the Texans are from top to bottom.
So I declared that day that until Bill O'Brien is gone, I will take my fandom elsewhere. And that's what it's going to take from everyone.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of [terrible coaching/ownership] is for good [fans] to do nothing."
-Edmund Burke, sort of.
It's true though. I've been called a quitter and a fake fan (of 18 years I guess) since I made that announcement. But if anything is going to ever actually change, it's going to need to come from the stands. Only when the McNairs see a change in their balance sheet at the end of the season will they consider removing O'Brien from the obscene amount of power he currently holds. If you truly love your Texans, the best thing you could do is not "weather the storm," but walk away. Most wont, though, and that's why Grumpy Bill will keep his job.
In the meantime, I'll be planning an awesome road trip to our sister city to watch my new team in the Big Easy.
Four Downs of the Week (from hell):
1st Down: Every athlete and organization pledging money toward stadium workers
That doesn't include our own billionaire Rockets owner Tillman Ferttita, who's actually slashing benefits at the moment. But in the most extraordinary time in most of our lives, it's heartwarming to see people and organizations banding together to help those most affected by the circumstances.
2nd Down: Using technology for good.
Once again, it's refreshing to see acts of kindness in crumby situations. The following are a few examples of organizations doing wonderful PR moves to our collective benefit while we're all spending a little more time at home:
From the NBA
JUST IN: The @NBA has given the masses a lot more to watch, as League Pass is now FREE. In absence of live games, fans have access to classic games and full length and condensed replays of all games from this season.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 18, 2020
From the NFL
The league just announced that NFL Game Pass will be offered free of charge until May 31 to fans in the US. pic.twitter.com/jpOsAAcL1t
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 18, 2020
And, my favorite, a collaboration with Netflix and Google
Quarantine and chill?
With a Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party, groups of friends can get together virtually and watch Netflix at the same time. It even comes with a chat room, so you can share your reactions. https://t.co/8qrGmp2cO8
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 18, 2020
3rd down: Test shortages, but not for athletes apparently
Does anyone else find it convenient that a league of millionaire athletes in peak physical form managed to get their hands on desparately needed coronavirus testing kits, while the rest of the country waits for hours in hospitals?
We all know what fourth down is. Stay safe, everyone.