McNair makes the right call in firing O'Brien, but next moves will be critical
Cal McNair made a strong move on Monday when he fired Bill O'Brien, a man who had done everything he could to ruin the Texans organization. It was way overdue, but at least it happened. McNair deserves credit for finally pulling the plug.
But what he does next will define the Texans future. Things look bleak, but a shrewd GM could turn things around rather quickly. They need only to look to Philadelphia, where the Eagles fired a similar failed dictator in Chip Kelly, and quickly turned things around enough to win a Super Bowl.
In the short term
This year's team, believe it or not, could still pull it together enough to earn a playoff spot in an expanded field. The defense has been awful, but part of it is they have been on the field so much thanks to an inept offense. Unfortunately there are no quick, easy fixes other than being on the field less. Offensively, they need to simplify things and take advantage of Deshaun Watson's talents. The real problem is there is no one on staff that appears capable of that, because O'Brien surrounded himself with yes men and sycophants.
Interim coach Romeo Crennel has been here before, so he should be able to make the team competitive. But as a defensive mind, he will need help on the other side of the ball. The Texans should consider bringing in an offensive consultant for the remainder of the season, someone with a track record of success. Former Roughnecks coach June Jones or someone like him could help salvage the season by suggesting some twists on offense. There are coaches out there who could help, and Crennel should take advantage. Otherwise, it's hard to see this team winning many games, and with both top draft picks already dealt, losing does not benefit them. So trying to salvage 2020 is the only real option. They need immediate help for that.
In the long term
None of this is going to matter until the off-season, but this is where McNair will be tasked with his most important decisions, starting with the GM. The Texans will need a strong personnel man, one who will remake the roster next season. With several moves, there could easily be enough cap room to make some solid free agent signings that will keep the team competitive next season.
That GM might have to make some hard choices, though. Moving on from Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, David Johnson, Duke Johnson and Bernardrick McKinney could clear over $37 million in cap space. If you add Nick Martin, that is another $6.5. And moving on from J.J. Watt would free up another $17.5. So there will be room to work with despite O'Brien overpaying several players. Unfortunately, they are stuck with Zach Cunningham, Whitney Mercilus and Randall Cobb's awful deals, but those can be worked around. In almost every case but Watt, cheaper players can be found at every position who will be able to at least match the production from the overpaid group. The team could also land a couple impact free agents with the money they will save, so the cupboard is not going to be completely bare - if McNair gets the right GM.
Ideally he would tap into shrewd organizations - the Ravens, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers, Packers - and get someone who will put the team back on the right track.
As for coaches, this will be critical as well. Hopefully they will stay away from the Patriots and hit a full reset. Josh McDaniels has already been mentioned as a replacement, but we have seen his act in Denver and he is O'Brien light. The organization needs a new voice. Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy would be the perfect choice, but he will have his pick of jobs. Other names to watch include Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who had Watson with the Tigers and might be ready to jump to the NFL. The usual suspects as coordinators - Robert Saleh (49ers) Greg Roman (Ravens OC), Brian Daboll (Bills OC) - will also be considered. Whoever it is will have Watson to work around, so the guess is it will be an offensive minded coach. What he does with the staff will be critical as well. If it is an inexperienced head coach, say Bieniemy, ideally he would hire experienced NFL coordinators with head coaching experience. A talented staff could turn things around pretty quickly.
But it will be on McNair to make the right call at both GM and coach. Poor decisions could only exacerbate O'Brien's failures and set the team back for years. But good hires - smart, talented hires - could turn things around fairly quickly.
McNair made the right call on firing O'Brien. Now he needs to make two more.