Let’s say Bill O’Brien wanted to leave the Houston Texans.
Where would he go?
It’s been less than two weeks since the NFL regular season ended, and three head coaching vacancies are already filled. Vance Joseph is taking the Denver Broncos job. Sean McDermott is signing on with the Buffalo Bills. Doug Marrone landed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That leaves the San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams, who are reportedly very interested in Washington’s 30 year old offensive coordinator and wunderkind Sean McVay, and reportedly had a recent phoner with Jon Gruden.
Kyle Shanahan, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are all still available, and were at the start of the process considered the best candidates on the market. Throw in Mike Smith and Teryl Austin, and it comes down to a simple numbers game
Even if O’Brien wanted out, he’s light on options.
It goes without saying, this is good news for fans. Whatever O’Brien’s issues with in game management, play calling and his offensive staff, you win 27 games in your first three years on the job — I don’t care if it’s the AFC South or NFL Europe, that makes you s a catch. Anything that makes it more likely that he stays, then, is something of a win.
But we’re not out of the clear yet.
The issues O’Brien reportedly has with the team’s power structure, including his working relationship with GM Rick Smith, should absolutely be addressed. One, because it’s very possible that some of his lapses on the sideline are the result of the increased friction with Smith. Two, because, even if O’Brien doesn’t have options on the NFL head coaching market, that doesn’t mean he’s without any options.
He could resign, take a year off and get into broadcasting. When O’Brien took the Penn State job, he immediately went on a press tour that included radio and TV hits on local and national platforms. He was outstanding, as he is with John Harris doing film review on HoustonTexans.com, and was on HBO’s Hard Knocks. With his personality and presence, O’Brien would be an absolute hit on CBSm ESPN and Fox Sports 1, a fledgling network that could use him.
He could also take a coordinator job. Maybe replacing McDaniels, if he’s hired away from the New England Patriots. Or Shanahan, if he’s hired away from the Atlanta Falcons. What better way to prove that he wasn’t the problem with the Texans offense the last few seasons, and that it was all Smith and Brock Osweiler, by stepping in for either McDaniels and Shanahan and having Tom Brady or Matt Ryan not miss a beat.
Sounds crazy. Giving up an NFL head coaching job?! Are you insane!!! Welp, it worked out for Marrone, who left a situation he didn’t like in Buffalo, on his terms, and after a few years, was able to take over maybe the most talented roster in the NFL. O’Brien and Marrone are friends, dating back to their time together at Georgia Tech. They talk often. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed O’Brien’s mind.
The reality is, O’Brien has a lot to offer, to NFL teams and broadcast partners alike. McNair has to see that, and do what it takes to keep him.
If that means giving him control over the draft and 53 man roster, so be it.
O’Brien might not have experience running a personnel department, and would probably take his lumps in the NFL Draft and free agency. But every GM, no matter how good, makes mistakes, and there’s no reason to think that O’Brien couldn’t learn from them, like Ozzie Newsome and Steve Keim have
Then, there’s the relative salaries of coaches and GMs. The going rate for head coaches is between $3.5 million and $9 million per year. For GMs, the highest earner — John Elway — makes only $4 million. This should be instructive: GMs are more replaceable, and less impactful, than head coaches. No matter what you think of O’Brien or Smith, it’s simply easier to find another Smith than it is to find another O’Brien.
Here’s to hoping, then, that McNair gets it right, and they don’t have to.
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Matt hosts Saturdays from 1-4 pm on SportsRadio 610. You can, and totally should, follow him on Twitter @MattHammondShow.