Houston Texans

Texans made mistake not firing Bill O’Brien after last season

Last year is going down as an injury-filled mulligan, but the Houston Texans still should have fired Bill O’Brien.

Typically, a 4-12 season for a team with legit playoff aspirations would get the head coach fired. But Bill O’Brien survived, as the Houston Texans were without J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Deshaun Watson for big chunks of last year.

This side of Nick Saban in the college game, O’Brien stands out as a relative  success among Bill Belichick’s coaching tree. The Texans finished 9-7 in each of his first three seasons as head coach, with two playoff berths and one postseason win.

Rather then have him enter the final year of his contract as a lame duck and invite hot seat speculation, the Texans gave O’Brien a four-year contract extension right after last season ended. But that doesn’t mean he deserved it.

Heading into last year, O’Brien somehow decided Tom Savage was worthy of the Week 1 start over the rookie multiple time Heisman Trophy finalist Watson. Of course Watson finished that season opener when Savage was ineffective, started the next week and then went on a dynamic five-game run before suffering a torn ACL.

Even leaving aside the lack of evidence Savage could capably hold down the job, which took less than a full game to be fully proven out, the way Watson played once he took over exposed the flaw in O’Brien’s process of choosing a starter to open the 2017 season.

In a true test of how the Texans compare to the best teams in the AFC, and the NFL as a whole, they trailed the New England Patriots 21-6 at halftime on Sunday.

Prior to being gifted Watson via a draft trade, O’Brien couldn’t coax much of anything out of a Texans’ quarterback. Some of that is the talent he had to work with (Brock Osweiler, etc.), but simply being attached to Tom Brady as Patriots quarterbacks coach (2009-2010) and offensive coordinator (2011) raised O’Brien’s profile as an offensive guru and he hasn’t delivered.

Based on talent, and the season-opening loss aside, the Texans can have some level of Super Bowl aspirations this year. But there’s enough on O’Brien’s resume to show they don’t have the coach who can take them to that level. A contract extension should not prevent that realization from coming, even if it’ll be a year too late.

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