Conventional wisdom says that it’s a major risk.
The college coach making the leap to the National Football League, taking over the worst team (the word team applying specifically to only the current machination, with the rights to worst franchise still reserved for the Clevelands, Oaklands and Buffalos of the world) and now owning the first overall draft pick should be unsettling. Yet, something about this seems entirely different.
Yes, Bill O’Brien is a college coach. He’s coming off a two-year stint at Penn State where he managed to tread water in a position where most would have undoubtedly drowned.
Yes, the Houston Texans are the “worst” team in the NFL. They went 2-14 and ranked in the bottom third of the league in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
However, while the script reads like a dated horror story we’ve all seen a million times before, it comes with a caveat. Slight alterations in the plot that make it read like something new altogether.
Maybe it’s the fact that, despite coming from the college ranks, Bill O’Brien is an NFL guy–a descendant of the Parcells and Belichick coaching tree. Maybe it’s the fact that the Houston Texans, despite losing 14 straight games to finish the season, are just one year removed from an AFC South championship, and that despite failing miserably as a scoring offense and scoring defense, they ranked 11th and seventh in total offense and total defense, respectively.
Maybe it’s because as the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Houston now has an opportunity to add the franchise quarterback that prevented the organization from true greatness in the first place.
In reality, it’s probably a combination of all those things with the unfettered optimism of a column written in early February serving as the proverbial pinch of salt for good measure.
Any way I look at it, when I think of Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans, I see the potential for the biggest home run hire of the entire coaching carousel.
There’s an inherent risk in hiring a first-time head coach, but with Bill O’Brien, the Texans get a first-time head coach with an NFL pedigree and head coaching experience. He’s called plays in the NFL, and he’s owned the responsibility of being the man ultimately responsible for the wins and losses.
Meanwhile, the roster he inherits doesn’t look like that of any other 2-14 team I’ve seen in my lifetime.
He’s got an elite wide receiver in Andre Johnson, All-Pro running back Arian Foster should return with a clean bill of health in 2014 and J.J. Watt will occupy the center of a defense that is still talented enough to rank among the Top 10 defenses in the league.
Add in the fact that O’Brien now owns the No. 1 pick in the draft and now has the rare opportunity to go out and procure a true franchise quarterback, and it’s easy to foresee a scenario where the Texans quickly return to prominence in the AFC South.
No, it won’t be as simple as plucking some talented young signal caller from a New York City greenroom come April, but as far as taking over the worst team in the NFL goes, this is a pretty posh gig to say the least.
Getting everybody back healthy and then going out and adding the depth necessary to prevent such a precipitous dropoff from happening again isn’t an endeavor undertaken with any sense of immediacy, but if Houston is a rebuilding project, you can at least take solace in the fact that the foundation has already set.
Under the right circumstances and with the right quarterback, Bill O’Brien should be able to win in Houston and he should be able to do so much quicker than most would expect.