Texans owner Cal McNair has every right to change coaches after only four regular-season games. And the rest of us have every right to ask, “Why now?”
In 2019, the Texans tried to pull a fast one on the Patriots, firing G.M. Brian Gaine with the goal of luring Nick Caserio, Bill Belichick’s non-G.M. table setter, from New England. It failed, prompting the Texans to conduct a couple of sham Rooney Rule interviews before deciding to proceed without a G.M.
The no-G.M. approach generated plenty of criticism. On Labor Day weekend, they paid $7 million in salary to franchise-tagged defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in order to get a third-round pick and a couple of throw-in players from Seattle. They also gave up multiple first-round picks for tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills — without insisting on an extension for Tunsil at the time the trade happened.
But the Texans won the division and a playoff game and had a 24-0 lead over the Chiefs in the first half of a divisional playoff game. It was enough to get McNair to make O’Brien the General Manager and to promote Jack Easterby to executive V.P. of football operations.
Giving O’Brien the title of G.M. validated every decision he made in 2019. Yes, in hindsight it was a mistake to trade receiver DeAndre Hopkins in March 2020, but surely McNair and Easterby were on board with it, especially since Hopkins wanted to be paid $27 million per year.
But that’s what happens when a coach has personnel power and no strong voice to push back, to ask questions, or to do anything other than say, “Good idea.” And that’s why the Texans should have hired a G.M.
Complicating matters for the Texans is the fact that they drew a who-the-hell-did-we-piss-off? schedule from hell to start 2020 . . . at Kansas City, Baltimore, at Pittsburgh.
As Charean Williams pointed out on Tuesday’s PFT PM (video attached), it didn’t help that O’Brien lost on Sunday to the 0-3 Vikings, especially since the Minnesota staff that includes both of O’Briens predecessors in Houston: Dom Capers and Gary Kubiak.
So now O’Brien, who has a contract through 2022, is out. Again, McNair can make that decision whenever he wants. But the reality is that McNair pulled the plug on O’Brien as both coach and G.M. only four games after making him the G.M. Whatever the reason for the move, it fairly can be described as confusing at best, flat-out weird at worst.