The turning point for Bill O'Brien and the Texans came when the Houston brass met with the former Penn State coach. The way a person familiar with the meeting described the scene, it was like a blind date between two people who instantly fell in lust. I'm not kidding.
Negotiating a contract may have been labored. Getting him from out of a messy Penn State situation may have been problematic. But that meeting…it sealed the deal. O'Brien told them stories about working with Bill Belichick. Working with Tom Brady. He told them about how a team should be run. It sounded so different, this person explained, from the way fired coach Gary Kubiak did things.
The first thought the Houston execs had was that the level of professionalism would instantly increase. Not that Kubiak wasn't a pro, but his tendency to play favorites with players and not always discipline them when things went wrong wouldn't happen under O'Brien.
Houston management also likes his fiery nature. One Texans source said this: "We wanted our next coach to be kind of an ass----." He was exaggerating, but the feeling was that while Kubiak behind the scenes could give passionate speeches, the Texans wanted more.
You can get an indication of what the Texans saw in O'Brien from the quotes in this PennLive.com article when O'Brien was asked about when a legendary Penn State assistant left the school, a move that irritated program loyalists.
"You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a ---- what the 'Paterno people' think about what I do with this program. I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.
“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”
There was more.
“I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty ----ing sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse-maker. I’m trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That’s all I care about is the kids in that program. As long as I’m the head football coach here.”
That is excellent, and that is why O'Brien's personality is coveted.
And it can't be stressed enough how much Texans officials were impressed with how O'Brien brought a cratered Penn State program back to life.
Of all the first-year NFL head coaches who will emerge from this cycle, O'Brien will be the best. In fact, of all these openings, only Lovie Smith will be a better hire.
I think that will happen if he overcomes one critical thing. And it's not theoretical. It's real. It's the Belichick coaching tree curse.
It's as real as an opponent on the field. Every man who was once an assistant under Belichick who later coached an NFL team saw his career turn to stone.
For a coach so eternal and great he could one day be on a coaching Mount Rushmore, Belichick's assistants have been beyond awful as head coaches. The Belichick Coaching Tree Curse is the third-worst curse in sports behind the Curse of the Billy Goat and the Cleveland Sports Teams Curse.
O'Brien is the seventh Belichick protege to take a head coaching job in the NFL. The others: Romeo Crennel, Jim Schwartz, Nick Saban, Al Groh, Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini. Those list of NFL misfits have a collective record of 125-194 with zero playoff wins. That's all kinds of putrid. If you expand the parameters of the list slightly there's names like Scott Pioli and Charlie Weis.
Schwartz just got fired, Saban has been obviously great in college, but got chased out of the pros after just two seasons and while McDaniels may get another shot, he's not so good, either.
This is what O'Brien has to overcome.
He can do it because he's different from the others. O'Brien is more adaptable, less fixated in his way or the highway. He's confident and stern but people who know him say he's always growing. That's something that a lot of those names on the Belichick tree couldn't do.
There's also talent in Houston. He'll have a huge decision at quarterback and his star wide receiver, Andre Johnson, is starting to break down, but the cupboard is far from empty. Decent offensive line and J.J. Watt—not terrible.
O'Brien will win in Houston. To me, he will be better than Chip Kelly.
If he can obliterate that damn curse.