The Houston Texans were supposed to be a far better team that what they delivered in 2013. They’ll now turn to a new coach to help them realize their potential.
According to ESPN, the Texans have reportedly hired former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien to take over a program that struggled to a 2-14 record in 2013. An announcement from the team is expected by Saturday.
O’Brien comes to Houston with an impressive resume. First, he was a long-time assistant at the collegiate level, coaching various offensive positions for several teams. He was also an offensive coordinator at both Duke and Georgia Tech.
In 2007, O’Brien joined the New England Patriots as an offensive assistant. O’Brien thrived under the tutelage of coach Bill Bellichick, and he eventually took over as Bellichick’s offensive coordinator.
In 2012, in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the dismissal of long-time head coach Joe Paterno, O’Brien took over as coach at Penn State. He took over a program knowing that the scandal would lead to harsh NCAA sanctions, including the loss of 40 scholarships over four seasons.
However, O’Brien was still successful, leading the Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record in his two seasons. He was named the coach of the year in the Big 10 Conference in 2012.
With the Texans, O’Brien faces a daunting task—restoring an offense that had trouble finding the end zone. While Houston finished 11th in the NFL in total yards, they scored just 17.3 points per game, the second-lowest scoring average in the league. Turnovers had much to do with that—the Texans had a league-worst -20 difference in takeaways/giveaways (11-31).
Part of the reason for the Texans’ woeful offensive performance was seven-year starting quarterback Matt Schaub. The 32-year-old easily suffered through the worst season of his professional career, throwing 14 interceptions against just 10 touchdowns. Schaub was replaced mid-season by backup Case Keenum. However, the Texans struggled with Keenum under center as well, losing all eight games in which he appeared.
Solving the quarterback problem will likely be one of the first problems O’Brien needs to address. Does he stick with Schaub and give him a chance to redeem himself, or does he go in a different direction?
Schaub understands his future in Houston is in question, but he told Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle that he wants another chance.
“I love all those guys in that locker room, every one of them,” Schaub said. We fought tooth and nail — good, bad and indifferent — for years. I would do anything for those guys. To come back and play with that group of guys, absolutely. But I am also a realist and understand the nature of this business. We will see how it goes. There is a lot to take place here in the next few weeks, so we will just see what happens.”
With a solid collegiate quarterback core available in the upcoming NFL Draft, it’s almost a certainty that O’Brien will look to select a youngster that he can develop for the future. But handing the reins over to a rookie in the NFL is a dicey proposition, so Schaub could get the chance to show that the 2013 season was indeed a fluke.
There’s no question the talent is there offensively for O’Brien. He’ll have Arian Foster in the backfield along with talented receivers in Andrew Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. He also inherits a defense that wasn’t terrible, giving up the seventh-fewest total yards in the NFL.
O’Brien won’t be tasked with rebuilding his new team, it’s more a job of getting his players motivated and having them play up to their potential. Holes will be filled, but he’s taking over a team with talent that badly underachieved.
O’Brien has skillfully directed offenses both at the collegiate and professional level. He’s the right hire for a Texans team that has pieces, it will be his job to make sure those pieces work in harmony.