Toward the end of the 2016 season, Texans coach Bill O’Brien emerged as a guy who possibly wouldn’t be back in 2017. Rumors and speculation persisted through 2017 that this season could be his last in Houston.
And while there’s nothing like a young franchise quarterback to promote positive relationships between a coach and a front office, owner Bob McNair’s “inmate” comment and the reaction to it has put O’Brien in an awkward spot. Even though O’Brien has said nothing negative about the man who signs his checks, it’s clear that O’Brien remains fiercely loyal to his players.
“Understand the players’ feelings,” O’Brien told reporters regarding the issue that ultimately didn’t distract the team from the task at hand. “Understand that you have 63 guys in that locker room that come from all different types of backgrounds, all different parts of the country. Make sure you listen to the players, and at the end of the day, you support the players. The players are the ones going out there and putting it on the line for us every week. I feel like our coaching staff and our players have a very important bond, and that’s key. That’s why I’ve always, since I started coaching when I was a graduate assistant, it’s always been about the players for me.”
O’Brien knows about dealing with distractions, based on his time as a head coach at a college that was rocked by scandal.
“Well certainly going through that experience at Penn State was a big help for me, personally,” O’Brien said. “I had a lot of great guys around me, with the players that were there and then obviously we had a great coaching staff there. It’s very, very different here relative to what we’re talking about. But we have a great group of guys in that locker room and a great coaching staff. I think you learn from all your experiences and you just try to judge it and try to deal with it in the best way possible.”
O’Brien said that this specific distraction didn’t impact practice (apart from the two players who left on Friday before practice), but that it did alter team meetings.
“Maybe we spent less time on certain parts of the game in the meeting room, but we didn’t lose any practice time, if that makes sense,” O’Bien said. “That’s kind of how we handled it, but the big thing was, like I said, we, big emphasis on we, not just me, like I’ve said from day one, is we support our players 100 percent.”
It’s a strong statement from O’Brien, given the very strong reaction by many players, the decision by all but 10 of them to not stand during the anthem in direct defiance of the owner, and the reality that hard feelings still linger toward the owner, from at least some of the players.