Bill O'Brien: The Self-Inflicted Wound

Prefatory throat-clearing:

  • Salty language follows. If that sort of thing offends you, mosey along.
  • What follows is my opinion, and it is mine alone. I take no joy in it; I devoutly hope I am wrong. Like Mac Jones, I would love to be wrong and will very publicly own my errors in judgment or prognostication. As such, this does not represent the views or editorial voice of RBR or its editorial staff.
  • It’s gonna be long. I have a John Holmes-sized Festivus of grievances to air about this one.
  • Probably a buncha’ typos too. And a lotta’ first person. This is a fan and alum opinion. Fuck it.

In 2007, I had just graduated law school and was a clerk, slaving away for the Judicial Branch of Iowa. In between cite checking, ghost-writing ops, and countless other things, I found time to be homesick, especially for our shitty-but-improving football program. That was when I first stumbled across some classic early sports sites I loved and still miss: Gump for Heisman, Stacy Keibler Loves Me, pre-SBN EDSBS, M-Zone, and countless others, as well as those early SBN cites — Card Chronicle, OTS, Dawg Sports, and of course RBR. For a year I lurked. Then I joined and began commenting. In 2009, I started writing long-ass fan posts, and started getting them pinned to the front. By 2011, I was a regular contributor. I became an editor in 2012. In January 2015, I started running the joint, and then in September of 2019 after almost 5 years I handed it off to fellow old-timer, Josh.

And in that time, I have publicly and passionately disagreed with Nick Saban just once — Jonathan Taylor’s signing in 2015 (an issue about which I happened to be correct, incidentally.)

Today, however, I find myself almost as pissed off at the hiring of Bill O’Brien (hereafter BOB) as I did then. And, it will result in the same bottom line — it is a self-inflicted wound to the program, one that will affect the program perception for years, and one that will be a blemish on Nick Saban’s sterling reputation.

He is a human and makes errors. When you’ve had as much success as he, it is easy to ensconce yourself in a bubble of your own making and ignore any countervailing wisdom or opinion. No one gets to this level without some deal of ego, but in this case, sitting around with another 70-year-old BFF to survey the landscape of football, results in keeping your own counsel, in insular thinking, and it has now resulted in the worst personnel decision of his ‘Bama coaching tenure.

1. No, Bill O’Brien is not one of the "brightest offensive minds in football."

Sorry. That one’s just an outright confabulation. I won’t call it a lie. I’m not imputing bad faith to the statement; it’s just an error in memory.

In his collegiate career, BOB was an OC for a grand total of three years, under such luminary failson such as Chan Gailey and Ted Roof. And, after deservedly and rightly being fired, BOB was on literally no one’s radar as an offensive coordinator — pro or college — until he got a golden parachute at Nick Saban’s Home for Wayward Coaches.

  • In 2001 at GT, the Jackets were 28th in PPG, 24th in FD made, averaged 1.8 turnovers per game, were 96th in rushing yards (3.3 YPC) despite being 41st in attempts. GT leaned on its passing game that year (278 YPG, 34 APG). But the stubborness to force "balance" when you simply cannot run the ball should make one wary. This would not be an outlier.
  • In 2002, Georgia Tech regressed, and plummeted to 94th in PPG (21.5 PPG), 47th in YPG, with a dreadful 54% completion percentage, and averaged 2.3 TOs per contest. Again, there was a forced "balance" — 34 PAPG/38 RAPG
  • In 2005, BoB’s final year of college football as an OC, the Blue Devils were 111th in scoring (16.2 PPG), 47% completion percentage, 2.4 TOs per game, and 40 rushing attempts per game...for 3.2 yards per carry.

Where is this alleged offensive track record? It simply doesn’t exist.

He’s just another New England holdover, only without the youth of Brian Daboll to sell to recruits. And, in his sole year being the offensive coordinator in New England, with peak Tom Brady, the Patriots would lead the league scoring the year before he called plays, and the year after he called plays...but not the year he was the triggerman. In neither his sole season as QBC or the following year as OC, did the Patriots win the Super Bowl. Hell, they didn’t even make it out of the first round either year...and scored just ten points in two appearances along the way.

Talk about coming up lame in the biggest moments.

2. He has no demonstrable ability to mentor college quarterbacks

See those passing stats above? Want to know the college QBs that BOB tutored? AJ Suggs, Zack Asack, George Godsey.

Want to know the prized quarterback recruit of O’Brien’s career, the guy he evaluated and was super happy to land? Christian Hackenberg. A few teams whiffed on him, sure. But what did CH do when he was on campus the one year he played for BOB? Sub 60% completion, 2955 yards, 20 TD/10 interceptions. That year, Penn State was 69th in PPG against the 65th SOS, and again averaged almost two TOs per contest.

BOB’s best year, 2012, he inherited a Senior Matt McGloin — who still dialed up a meager 60% completion percentage. And in the interest of full disclosure, BOB’s passing offenses were slightly above average in YPA — all but one of them went over 7 YPA...but none touched 8 YPA.

His background was in the running game...and the QB track record shows. Where is this mentorship track record? It’s simply not there.

3. Relatedly, he wasted the best years of Deshaun Watson’s career and does not use players’ abilities

Watson is a special talent. In his 2 1⁄2 healthy years at Clemson, that was apparent. And both of his CFPCG appearances did nothing to diminish that legacy. He was a mobile quarterback from an RPO-friendly, vertical offense that used his legs to his advantage and was just as good when the play broke down as he was on designed plays.

Naturally, when you’re drafting for a team with a substandard offensive line, you’re going to want that mobility — and more, you will want to use that mobility to your advantage. It plays to Watson’s strengths and give you the best chance of winning, right?


As a rookie in 2017, Watson ran 17 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns in his first three starts. In 2018, he ran 18 times for 120 yards and no touchdowns. Last season, he had 15 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns.

For over three years, BOB insisted on making Watson a one-dimensional player, never using his full complement of talents to make Watson a better player or the Texans a better franchise.

What happened when O’Brien was fired? Watson shone like the sun.

  • Passing yards pre-firing: 1,092 (273.0 per game)
  • Passing yards post-firing: 1,791 (298.5 per game)
  • Completion percentage pre-firing: 65.63%
  • Completion percentage post-firing: 70.95%
  • Passing touchdowns pre-firing: 6 (1.5 per game)
  • Passing touchdowns post-firing: 14 (2.33 per game)
  • Interceptions pre-firing: 3 (0.75 per game)
  • Interceptions post-firing: 2 (0.33 per game)

Watson would finish 2020 with almost 5000 yards passing (1000 over his career high), career highs in completion percent, TDs, fewest interceptions thrown, YPA, QBR. And he led the league in yard per attempt. And he did all that without Nuke.

That’s not an accident, folks. That’s the reverse Midas touch — O’Brien touched gold and turned it to shit.

4. He has been out of the college game 13 of the past 15 years, and well outside of modern recruiting.

Can this fucking guy even recruit?

There is no reason to believe that he can in the modern landscape. He entered a probation-saddled PSU team that was stocked with blue-chip holdovers from the Paterno era. And he’s not been in the living room in almost a decade. We can’t evaluate his classes from 2011 and 2012 because of the Nittany Lions’ widespread child rape coverup. But this coordinator position is likely the second-most important job within the program, and five-star offensive studs are going to want to know how they’re going to be used, what his specific scheme is, and why ‘Bama is the best fit.

The guy clipped the wings of Deshaun Watson, they only player they’re apt to know, and stubbornly stuck with "the overly complex, highly ambiguous Erhardt-Perkins offensive system that doesn’t rely on a core of plays perfected through repetition, instead endeavoring to adapt the game plan each week to what the opponent does, or does not, do well."

That is simply not the modern game, which uses a few core principles, builds concepts upon one another, uses a few base plays, puts players in space, allows flexibility based on the defensive look or adjustment.

5. BOB’s coziness with Bob McNair is of particular concern in 2021, and his leadership and temperament are not suited for the college game

Do I like bringing this up? Absolutely not. But in CURRENT YEAR, matters of race are inseparable from practically any facet of life. And the simple fact is, BOB was far too cozy to the vicious racist prick Bob McNair.

When speaking of McNair making a pittance donation to a school for special needs children where O’Brien’s son attended, BOB said:

"That always meant a lot to (my wife) Colleen and I," said O’Brien, who became emotional and paused several times to collect himself. "That was who he was. That was the type of stuff that he did. A good man. He was a good man."

That was not a one-off either; in every presser where McNair was brought up, BOB constantly reinforced how much McNair meant to him, what a mentor he was, what a good man he was, and how he is special and like family.

Bob McNair was no such thing as a good man, of course. He was a vicious racist with a Donald Sterling-esque string of shitty remarks about black people. Then again, maybe if you’re white, then you’re not "an inmate." And McNair’s racism trickled all the way down into the DNA of the Texans.

Finally, lest we forget, in committing to the stupidest trade since the Vikings sold their future to the Dallas Cowboys for an aging Hershel Walker, Bill fucking O’Brien told DeAndre Hopkins that he didn’t want Hopkins’ "baby mamas" around. Hopkins would later downplay it, but more than one player would point to that moment as BOB having lost Hopkins.

Baby. Mama.

Such exemplary leadership skills would only get worse — he would later get into a verbal altercation in the locker room with JJ Watt, one of the best leaders in the sport, and lose the entire team.

When he left, taking his notorious temper and stubbornness with him, the entire franchise celebrated. Good job, Bill.

Do you want this guy trying to "teach" a 19-year-old with 25 career attempts? I don’t know that I do. If you’re a skilled wideout, wary of how Nuke played out, do you worry about your spot on the depth chart because of your "baby mamas" or other aspects of your culture that may be easy targets? You can be forgiven if you do. Do you really want to play for the man mercilessly mocked for destroying a generational quarterback, for blowing a 24-0 lead with stubborn stupid playcalling, and for being the biggest crony failure since Matt Millen? I understand if you feel otherwise.

6. He’s an NFL guy, through and through. See above: recruiting.

Let’s assume the very best, that BOB is wildly successful, recruits love him, he’s learned modern schemes and RPO offenses, he’s kept his temper and shitty comments to himself, players universally adore him, the offense is humming right along, and that Alabama is winning. (If all these happen, go buy a lottery ticket. It’s your lucky day). There still is that matter that he would be a wandering-eyed one-and-done before retreating to the NFL.

He took the Penn State job, and then immediately began interviewing for positions. He did eventually back out, because he was worried about what a signal that would send to players about commitment. But his heart was plainly not in State College, and he was gone the next year, just as soon as an NFL team would sign on the dotted line.

Do we really want to go through that again? I suspect because of his feared ineptitude, slippage in team performance, recruiting losses/transfers, or his own professional interests, that Alabama will be right back here in a year...when we could have gotten this right the first time.


"Winners win..."

What happens when the unstoppable force of a winning quarterback meets the immovable object of a coach who has never led his team to a championship? Particularly when the coach goes against all common sense of building around Pro Bowl players, leading those guys to leave it all on the field and instead kicks them to the curb via poor roster, salary cap, and draft asset management?
9-7 happens.
The NFL history books are full of coaches who were promoted beyond their competency. Men like Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels, Todd Haley, Cam Cameron, Ken Wisenhunt, and Chip Kelly. Bill O’Brien belongs on that list far more than he does the list of all-time greatest head coaches. Honestly, most teams might take a prime Todd Haley over Bill O’Brien as their offensive coordinator every day of the week.
What does this mean for Texans fans? The folks dying for a ray of sunshine in our current world of social distancing, horrific Texans trades, and dread of what the impending NFL Draft will bring?
Just as with the reigns of the coordinators listed above, O’Brien’s run as the Texans head coach/general manager will come to an end sooner or later.
Until then, just remember—Houston Texans Fans: Waiting For Next Season Since 2002.

And I simply don’t see the winning.

I hope I’m wrong; I’m prepared to sadly be right.

FanPosts are just that; posts created by the fans. They are in no way indicative of the opinions of SBN and the authors of Roll Bama Roll.