The Texans are unlikely to fire Bill O'Brien. Any defense of O'Brien has included the fact the Texans made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. Something he had previously accomplished with Brock Osweiler and barely accomplished this season with Deshaun Watson.
It isn't unheard of for a coach to have been fired after making it to the playoffs though. Rare, but not unheard of in the NFL.
Here are the examples of teams moving on from coaches right after a playoff appearance or even a playoff win and how they fared with their new head coach.
2001 - Tampa Bay fires Tony Dungy for Jon Gruden
We all know how this one turned out!
Dungy had seen back-to-back wild card playoff appearances end just one game into the postseason. The Buccaneers got smoked in both those games scoring just 12 points in the two games. Each year they also had a team go further in the playoffs from their division.
Tampa Bay fired Tony Dungy and later traded for John Gruden. It was a hefty price to pay (2 first round picks, 2 second round picks, and $8 million) but they won the Super Bowl in Gruden's first year.
It worked out great for them. It worked out great for Tony Dungy too. He went to Indianapolis and won a Super Bowl a few years later with the Colts and Peyton Manning.
2006 - San Diego fires Marty Schottenheimer for Norv Turner
I loved Marty Schottenheimer. I, like most, knew his playoff disappointment was too much for the Chargers to stomach. It was only his second appearance in the playoffs for San Diego and the Chargers were the best team in the NFL. They promptly lost their first playoff game to a hot Patriots team.
Norv Turner would take over and though the offense wasn't as good, they went a round further and if Philip Rivers wasn't hurt they might have ousted the Patriots and won the Super Bowl. Turner would never reach the conference championship again losing in the divisional round the following year and the wild card round the year after that. Turner would coach three more seasons where he wouldn't make a playoff apperance before being fired. Marty Schottenheimer would never coach in the NFL again after San Diego fired him.
It almost worked out perfect in the very first year for the Chargers.
2017 - Tennessee fires Mike Mularkey for Mike Vrabel
This one has to sting the most for Texans fans.
It was a joke Mike Mularkey was hired after a 2-7 stint in 2015 as the interim head coach but he rattled off a 9-7 record the following year. The Titans lost three of their last four in 2017 but made the playoffs. Miraculously, they went to Kansas City and beat the Chiefs.
Mike Mularkey was going to save his job.
Then the Patriots smacked them down and Mularkey was fired a couple of days later.
"We've done a lot of good things here over the past two years. I just felt like we needed to go a different direction and maximize the skill sets of the players."
Those are the words of Titans general manager Jon Robinson.
Now, think about those words as Deshaun Watson had a worse statistical year in 2019 than the previous year. Same for DeAndre Hopkins. In fact, the whole offense was worse statistically finishing 14th in points a year after finishing 11th. The team was deeper on offense. The offensive line was better. Deshaun Watson had a healthy offseason.
And the Texans regressed.
The Titans, thanks to Mike Vrabel maximizing his players, are playing in the AFC Championship this weekend with a former Texans coach.
History is against O'Brien
O'Brien was asked what he needs to improve on: "There will be things, definitely John, and again this is no excuse ... we're gonna work here for a while, we're gonna take some time off, and those are things that I'm gonna really think about." pic.twitter.com/UhhThqxlyc— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) January 13, 2020
Every Super Bowl winning coach since 2000 played in a conference championship game before their fourth year with their team with two exceptions. Tom Coughlin and Pete Carrol, the two exceptions, each won the Super Bowl in year four coaching their respective teams. Heck, even the Super Bowl losing head coaches in that same time frame had almost all played in a conference championship before year four.
O'Brien is entering year seven as the Texans head coach.
All three of these situations worked out nearly immediately for these teams. The Texans will not have that option. Will O'Brien even be in trouble for year eight if he replicates this past season? Would he even be in danger of losing any sort of power if he took a small step back.
Despite history working against him and evidence showing there can be big success after medium and small success, it might not be in the cards for the Texans. We could be in the decade of O'Brien unless he truly is special and unique or unless the Texans take a page out of their hated rivals' book.
What do you make of this? Should the Texans have pulled a Titans and moved on from O'Brien despite his 2019 campaign?
- In a week that is in large part about being thankful for the good things we are fortunate to have in life, Texans’ fans can have an extra helping of glee. After three years of enduring an absolute turkey of a franchise, it is certainly a football blessing to have the Texans gobble up three straight wins to get to 6-4 and make it a legitimately big game Sunday versus 7-3 Jacksonville at NRG Stadium.
Should the Texans beat the Jaguars for a second time, they sweep the season series and take over first place in the AFC South. Raise your hands if back in early September you had this as a likely scenario. Hands down liars! With six more games to play after Sunday it’s not as if the Texans clinch the division with a win, but it clearly positions them to take the division and go from last to first as the Jaguars did from 2021 to last season. Among the Texans’ final six games, only Cleveland is an opponent currently with a winning record. The Broncos have won four in a row to enter the wild card race at 5-5, but that game is in Houston. Then the Texans play at the offensively impotent Jets and the dead in the water Titans. The Deshaun Watson-less Browns are here Christmas Eve before the Texans get their second game with the Titans, ahead of the season finale at the presently 5-5 Colts. That is a very favorable schedule. With a win over the Jags Sunday, the Texans finishing 11-6 becomes very plausible. That would force the Jaguars to win five of their final six games, which include playing at Cleveland and a home date vs. the Ravens. Jacksonville’s other four games project as wins: home games vs. the no-Joe Burrow Bengals and the horrible Panthers, road games at Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
On the flip side, if the Jaguars come here and win Sunday, they come relatively close to putting away the division. The Jags’ would leave with a two game lead, and a split with the Texans would give the Jacksonville the tiebreaker via better divisional record, unless they somehow lose at Tennessee in their season finale.
Beating the Jags again doesn’t figure to be as easy as it turned out to be for the Texans in Florida back in September. The Texans won 37-17 despite being outgained 404 yards to 366. After getting out to a 17-0 lead, the Texans saw Jacksonville draw within 17-10 with 4:35 to go in the third quarter. Then Andrew Beck shockingly rumbled 85 yards for a touchdown on a kickoff return. Thereafter the outcome was never in doubt. The Texans were turnover-free in the game, the Jaguars coughed it up twice. With C.J. Stroud coming off of a three interceptions game you know taking care of the ball is a point of re-emphasis this week.
The Jaguars are a perfect 4-0 on the road, one of the road games being a road trip not a true road game. They beat the Buffalo Bills in London.
If C.J Stroud opted to take the rest of the season off, he’d still have the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award just about sewn up. Fellow freshman Texan Tank Dell is in the hunt for runner-up. The dynamic 165 pound former Houston Cougar has six touchdown catches. That equals the rookie TD haul total of Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins combined. Johnson had four TD grabs as a rookie in 2003, Hopkins just two as a rook in 2013. Dell is on pace for 10 touchdown catches. The schedule being 17 games now impacts this stuff of course, but Dell missed the Saints game while in concussion protocol. In the Super Bowl era, only nine first year wide receivers have cracked double digits in TD receptions. Randy Moss blew away the field with his epic 17 TD catch rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. Next with 13 are Ja’Marr Chase two years go with the Bengals and the begoggled John Jefferson with the Chargers in 1978. Odell Beckham and Mike Evans caught 12 apiece as rookies, Mike Williams 11. Calvin Ridley, Daryl Turner, and Sammy White each snared 10. White did it in a 14 game schedule.
Rams rookie fifth round pick Puka Nacua is Dell’s chief competition for rookie wideout of the year. Nacua is on pace for a whopping 117 receptions for more than 1500 yards.
A Thanksgiving-related note/quasi prediction. If the Texans ultimately finish second in the division, here’s a guess that they play at the Arlington Cowboys Turkey Day 2024. The Texans next season will play a game at the NFC East team that finishes in its division this year in the same place the Texans do theirs. The Cowboys are going to be second behind Philadelphia in the NFC East. C.J. Stroud’s arrival means no more zero nationally televised games for the Texans. A Texans-Cowboys holiday tilt makes sense. The Texans have played two Thanksgiving Day games, both at Detroit.
Looking for more Texans coverage?
Texans on Tap is the weekly Texan-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up Monday on the SportsMapTexans YouTube channel.