What is next for the Texans: O'Brien looks likely to return, GM Smith to take leave of absence
The Houston Texans are bringing back head coach Bill O’Brien per reports that began surfacing yesterday. He and team owner Bob McNair are scheduled to meet soon and discuss his future. This is an interesting development considering his relationship with general manager Rick Smith was considered toxic. Oh, we’re not done yet! Now, Rick Smith has released a statement saying he’s taking an extended leave of absence effective immediately to care for his wife, who has been battling breast cancer.
This story sounds like a Lifetime movie set around football. All that’s missing is a love interest. Stories of disharmony between O’Brien and Smith have existed for quite some time now, so that’s not new. Stories were also out about which teams would be interested in O’Brien’s services should he not return, as well as lists showing the Texans’ coaching job as one of the most desirable if available.
While compiling three 9-7 seasons, followed by this year’s 4-12 disaster may make some owners hit the reset button, McNair is known to be extremely patient. McNair’s patience aside, the fact that O’Brien will be back next year is a wise move. O’Brien had a groove going with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. It seemed as if he couldn’t call a bad play. And if he did, Watson could salvage it. He even admitted that he and his offensive coaches learned from Watson some of the plays he ran at Clemson, and then incorporated them in the gameplan.
His ability to adapt to Watson’s skill set alone should be enough to bring him back, not to mention he has a year left on his deal. But who do you bring in if you get rid of him? Who’s going to come in and take this team to the next level that’s available? A recycled coach is a failure from another team. There’s only been a small handful that have made the transition from college to the NFL work successfully. Guys from the broadcast side have more than likely seen their best coaching days pass them by and enjoy making good money on a favorable schedule.
Giving O’Brien an extension could be a gamble McNair is willing to take, but doesn’t have to. A simple meeting and understanding, along with a handshake deal, that an extension will be based upon the team’s performance in first part of the season should suffice. A three to five year extension with a bump in salary and stating he has more input over player personnel would most likely get the job done.
All this sounds great, but the curveball of the Rick Smith news adds to the drama. By no means would a decent human being wish cancer upon another. But this has to be one of those situations in which a terrible thing could pave the way for something beautiful. As Smith takes his leave of absence heading into a challenging offseason for the team, someone needs to be brought in to help steer the ship from a general manager’s point of view. Let’s say this person was an O’Brien recommendation. If said person were to make chicken salad out of chicken spit in improving this roster, that would go a long way into easing Rick Smith out of the general manager position. This would also grease the skids for an O’Brien extension. Smith could return to the team in a different capacity, or decide that his family is more important and step aside completely.
This potential move is something McNair would most likely have never done on his own. He seems to be very non-confrontational, and tends to wait until the water is in the house to acknowledge the flood. Taking advantage of Smith’s leave gives him the cover he needs to make a move he may not have had the stomach to do, and that’s choosing O’Brien over Smith.
Let’s be honest. Smith hasn’t set the world on fire with draft picks, particularly in middle rounds. O’Brien has alluded to not being able to have control over personnel. It’s like he’s been on the coaching version of Chopped the past four seasons. But great chefs know how to make a great meal out of anything they’re given. For the sake of Texans fans, I hope McNair finds a way to navigate this tricky situation and improve his team for the better. If not, he runs the risk of wasting more talent and chances at winning for the long run.