Texans reward head coach O'Brien with five-year contract

Texans reward head coach O'Brien with five-year contract
Bill O'Brien will be prowling the Texans sidelines for a while.

Bill O'Brien got his wish. And the Texans are married to him for the next five years.

The Texans coach was given a contract extension on Saturday, and will be paid through 2022. At the same time, the team officially announced Brian Gaine as the new general manager. His deal also goes through 2022.

O'Brien had one year left on his original deal. Due to one of the NFL's "unwritten rules," apparently coaches are unable to coach on one-year deals. The narrative is they can't hire good assistant coaches. Considering O'Brien's hiring practices so far, maybe the guys he considers "good" are not what the Texans need. 

Regardless, the Texans are sending a clear message that O'Brien is their man, and his handpicked GM confirms that. It is not that O'Brien has been a bad coach. He has been a mediocre coach. He is 31-33 in four years with the Texans. The 2017 season was his worst at 4-12 after three straight 9-7 seasons. Of course, the Texans were plagued with injuries to their best players, including quarterback Deshaun Watson. So O'Brien probably gets a pass for that.

He has managed to win a playoff game despite the fact that he did not have a quality quarterback at the time. Of course, he was also the one who insisted Tom Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, et al could play. That aside, he will have his franchise quarterback for the first time, and with Watson he had one of the best offenses in football for six games. So assuming Watson is healthy, that side of the ball should be OK. They need serious re-tooling on the offensive line, but Watson's mobility mitigates that somewhat. 

Where O'Brien has fallen short is in hiring of assistants, game management and late-half and late-game clock management. Those are things that can be improved, but four years in, the issues remain. 

He had to take over play calling duties after hiring a bad OC. He promoted Mike Vrabel to defensive coordinator, and Year 1 did not go well. Yes, there were injuries, but the scheme was questionable and very few adjustments were made throughout the season. He is once again looking for a special teams coach. 

But all those questions aside, O'Brien was given what he wants. A GM he can work with. Presumably more power. A longterm deal. 

“Bill O’Brien has been a tremendous leader for us these last four years and we believe in his vision for the team moving forward,” said owner Bob McNair in a press release. “Bill is a terrific teacher that the players respect. We have a lot of trust in him to build a unified, championship culture and we’re thrilled to have him as our head coach into the future.”

There should be no more excuses. O'Brien, like his team, has to take the next step. He needs to go from mediocre coach to good coach. Maybe having more power -- and Watson -- gets him there. Maybe that is the key to O'Brien's success. At least that is what Texans fans have to hope. 

O'Brien is their man. For better or worse.


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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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