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

From the NFL

And, my favorite, a collaboration with Netflix and Google

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?

4th down:

We all know what fourth down is. Stay safe, everyone.

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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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