The Z Report

Lance Zierlein: Did the Texans really need to reward Bill O'Brien?

Lance Zierlein: Did the Texans really need to reward Bill O'Brien?
Bill O'Brien had some success with Deshaun Watson, but was that O'Brien or Watson? Getty Images

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. We learn that at an early age. Well, that’s not always true. Sometimes life is fair, but it certainly isn’t consistent - unless you work off of Kirby and Murworth.

The Texans consistently keep the roof closed even on the most beautiful days. Brian Cushing has been consistently collecting inflated paychecks for average play for quite some time now. There has been a consistent vagueness surrounding the responsibility of personnel decisions since the departure of Charlie Casserly.

The Texans consistently rewarded Rick Smith for fairly mediocre work and now the Texans are maintaining their own “consistent” modus operandi by offering Bill O’Brien a winner-sized contract extension despite coming off of a 4-12 season and having a year to go on his original deal.

Would you get a raise if you were a mail carrier who lost someone’s mail? Would you get a bonus if you were an accountant who came off of a year where several clients were audited? If your restaurant served four months of substandard meals, would Eric Sandler be spotlighting you as one of Houston’s best chefs on Culture Map?

A change was needed, but was this really a change?

In 2017, Bill O’Brien’s Texans lost your IRS check during mail delivery, got you audited and gave you food poisoning. Despite that, O’Brien was victorious in his power struggle over Rick Smith and was granted even greater control and a substantially longer leash. Rick had to go, but why extend Bill O’Brien?

Look, I think O’Brien has talent as an offensive coach. I recognize that he absolutely played a role in the early success of Deshaun Watson. O’Brien would text Watson during the summer with impromptu quizzes about the offense and his pre and post snap reads against particular defenses. Watson passed with flying colors.

One Texans player confided during camp that they were already installing elements of an offense that was designed specifically with Watson in mind. O’Brien wasn’t bending his rookie signal-caller to his will and to the will of his notoriously complicated passing scheme. Instead, he was fitting an offense around the strengths of his quarterback. That may sound elementary, but it’s not always common in league circles.

So while I acknowledge that I’m a fan of O'Brien's offensive mind and the work he did with his quarterback, has he done enough over his four year body of work to earn an extension rather than playing out the last year of the deal? In essence, the Texans have given him the keys to the organization based on a six week run with Deshaun Watson.

Keep in mind that Watson is the same guy who was three time State Player of the Year in Georgia, was a national championship winning quarterback who hung over 400 yards of total offense in back-to-back title games against an Alabama defense that was loaded with early round draft picks, and threw for 19 touchdowns in 7 games while leading the offense to 30-plus points per game in five of his six starts.

Maybe it was the player?

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney tried to tell everyone that Deshaun Watson was the next Michael Jordan. We laughed. Maybe those high school accomplishments and awards, the mind-blowing national championship games, and the spectacular seven game sample size with the Texans had more to do with Watson than any of his coaches.

If that’s the case, McNair didn’t need to be so worried about losing Bill O’Brien. Based on what I’ve seen, O’Brien needs Watson much more than Watson needs O’Brien…. or any one coach for that matter. Let’s hope the combination of Bill O’Brien and new general manager Brian Gaine can put together a more athletic and cohesive roster than the ones Rick Smith put together that “consistently” underwhelmed over the long haul.

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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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