Bill O’Brien’s exit from Houston is an opportunity the Texans need to ace

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About six months after this blog first called for the outright ousting of Bill O’Brien in the wake of the DeAndre Hopkins trade, an 0-4 start and a lot of discord ended with the surprise termination of O’Brien on Monday afternoon. Ironically, the record coming out in the press appears to read that premiere front-office politics man O’Brien was backstabbed by his lieutenant, Jack Easterby.

Now, there’s a lot of dirt flowing out from under the carpet. You’re going to read the stories everybody has been holding in. O’Brien yelled a lot. O’Brien played mind games with the players. O’Brien wasn’t nice. None of that actually matters to me: I only want the team to be good on the field and do good off the field. If O’Brien goes 14-2, nobody cares how many f-bombs he drops when someone else gets fired.

The reality of the Bill O’Brien situation, and one that I think most Texans fans had embraced for a long time, is that the results never matched the words. O’Brien’s offensive system could not be propped up by Deshaun Watson. O’Brien had a hand in the Jadeveon Clowney, Laremy Tunsil, and DeAndre Hopkins trades, and the talent depletion wasn’t something that the team’s few stars could hide anymore.

He was an overmatched general manager. He was an overmatched head coach by the end of his tenure. He was constantly re-inventing things to give himself new job titles that he couldn’t live up to. Bill O’Brien’s post-Rick Smith time in Houston was him squandering an embarrassment of riches and constantly acting in a reactionary way.

It’s good that the Texans fired him, except for one little thing…

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This guy is Jack Easterby. Easterby was the New England Patriots team chaplain. He somehow became a central and enduring figure in Houston’s front office as everything else around Bill O’Brien fell apart. Now, the most important decision that this franchise has ever made is going to be in the hands of a guy who has literally zero relevant football experience on any level, ever, beyond helping Bill O’Brien burn this roster to the ground:

Now, not to get too political on you, but in a golden age of grifters, we’ve got a guy who somehow catches Cal McNair’s ear enough to not only survive this brutal start and his boss being fired, but also was seemingly part of the decision-making apparatus that took the team where it was. And somehow comes out of it … being able to choose the new head coach? What sense does that make?

Easterby is very forward-facing with his Christianity and is kind of a charmer. I would be lying if I told you I expected good things to come out of this, but I’m also trying to be open to the possibility. Maybe O’Brien is the key face to all these moves that scorched the team and Easterby was preaching the right words. I kind of doubt it based on all available evidence, but I’m going to run with this hypothetical for a second.

Here’s the major problem with firing Bill O’Brien, and it was something I laid out in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 preview of the team: Once O’Brien’s gone, the power vacuum is open. Cal McNair didn’t buy the Texans. It was never his dream to grow a football team. He shouldn’t be making football decisions. Neither should Easterby. But nobody in this front office really should be at this point, and because O’Brien took on as many roles as he did, there’s just not a lot of people in the building who know what they’re doing.

So if the search firm is Easterby, and the people Easterby knows are Patriots, well, I think we’re right back where we started from, right? Josh McDaniels and Nick Caserio. Case closd.

Everybody’s all excited about what kind of head coach the Texans will get — and I’ll make an optimistic list of candidates at some point in the next few weeks, don’t get me wrong — but the truth of the matter is that the Texans are relying on two people with no experience in this field to absolutely nail the coaching hire instead of falling back on who they are close with. That’s a terrifying situation.

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Deshaun Watson is the Houston Texans franchise right now. I know he didn’t ask for this, but he essentially has more power than any player in the NFL. If he speaks, people listen. If he leaves, this franchise is some jumbotron transformers sword fights and Laremy Tunsil blocking for a 3-13 team in two years.

I know traditionalists aren’t going to like this. I know it’s not going to look good. But if Deshaun has opinions on this team right now, they matter more than anything the people above him think.

The problem is that if you don’t ace this hire, if you threaten to waste Watson’s career, he is going to have options. There are football teams with ownership and leadership situations that are a lot more appealing than what he has in Houston right now. Places where he could win 10 games annually without having to deal with this noise. The only thing O’Brien did right before getting fired was getting Watson to sign on the dotted line.

So, as I say, this is why this is such an important situation for the Texans. They need to hit a home run with this hire. Somebody (or somebodies) who are immersed in modern football, know how to get good value, and can rebuild this team’s broken parts around Watson into the contender that it should be.

I really wish I could tell you that I believed that the right people were going to make that call. Ownership is an incredibly important part of football. McNair has done a great job of actually spending money this offseason. But I don’t know what exactly Easterby has done that would suggest he should be involved in this. And an aura of uncertainty is going to linger over Kirby Drive as long as the remnants of this failed regime are still comfortably in pocket.

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