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A brief history of Bill O’Brien’s worst decisions as head coach and GM of the Texans

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Bill O’Brien has been fired. He’s had a lot of poor decision-making.

Houston Texans v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Bill O’Brien has been fired as the head coach and general manager of the Houston Texans. After an 0-4 start in the 2020 NFL season, it was clearly time for change before much more of Deshaun Watson’s prime was wasted.

O’Brien has gotten his share of criticism as the head coach, and general manager, of the Houston Texans. However, he made easily the worst trade of his career when the Texans sent No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.

As baffling as the move may sound, it’s only one of many dumb decisions O’Brien has made since arriving in Houston in 2014.

Let’s take a look back at some of his worst ones, broken down into three categories.

No. 1: Trades

O’Brien was officially named Houston’s general manager in January 2020. But he was essentially already doing the job since the Texans were operating without one after Brian Gaine’s firing in June 2019. In that time, O’Brien’s made several trades that have been widely panned.

Not getting a first-rounder for Hopkins is an all-time bad trade

Hopkins is a three-time All-Pro who led the Texans in receiving in six of his seven years. He’s one of the two or three best receivers in the league and is only 27 years old. In exchange for Hopkins the Texans got:

  • Running back David Johnson, who is a dynamic weapon at his best — but hasn’t been consistently productive since 2016
  • A second-round pick

The Texans — who don’t have a first-round pick this year — lost one of their biggest stars on the team for a second-round pick. This came just hours before the Vikings got a first-round pick in a package for receiver Stefon Diggs, putting Diggs (but not Hopkins), in good company:

Yes, there reportedly was friction between Hopkins and O’Brien. Hopkins also wanted an extension despite three years remaining on his contract, and Houston is also due to give Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil their own pricey extensions.

But the fact that the Texans couldn’t even get a first-rounder out of this trade makes this easily O’Brien’s worst move ever.

The Texans waited way too long to get a left tackle

The Texans needed a left tackle to protect their most valuable player, Watson, ever since they traded Duane Brown in 2017. Watson was sacked 19 times in seven games his rookie year before an ACL tear cut his season short, and he took a league-high 62 sacks in 2018.

Instead, Houston didn’t properly address the glaring need until less than a week before the 2019 season started. In a trade with the Dolphins, the Texans:

  • acquired Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills
  • gave Miami two first-round picks and a second-round pick

Both Tunsil and Stills played well in 2019 (despite Tunsil leading all offensive tackles in penalties) and filled a need. The issue is O’Brien could’ve done more in free agency and the draft, rather than wait until he was forced to overpay and cost his team future draft capital.

They only got a third-round pick for Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney was taken by the Texans at No. 1 overall in 2014, and he accounted for 29 sacks through his first five years with Houston. Still, he never quite lived up to his draft status as he dealt with injuries throughout his career.

The Texans decided to give Clowney the franchise tag, which he never signed because he was holding out for a long-term extension. Rather than tag-and-trade him (like the Chiefs and Seahawks did with Dee Ford and Frank Clark, respectively) earlier in the offseason, Houston waited until there wasn’t much of a market for him. Clowney nixed an attempt to trade him to the tanking Dolphins, and the Texans ended up sending him to the Seahawks, who knew Houston was just trying to offload him.

In exchange, the Texans got:

  • A 2020 third-round pick
  • Linebackers Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin

Clowney was very good but not an elite pass rusher for the Seahawks, while Mingo and Martin were only adequate rotational pieces for the Texans. Still, the Texans got pennies on the dollar for a former No. 1 overall pick and didn’t even address their biggest hole until later that day when the traded for Tunsil. Football Outsiders ranked Houston’s defensive line at No. 22 in 2019 after it had come in first the year before.

The Texans gave up a third-round pick for Duke Johnson and an OL for Carlos Hyde

Duke Johnson — similar to David Johnson — is a dual-threat receiving back who has averaged 9.2 yards per catch in his career. Duke Johnson made it clear he was unhappy in Cleveland last summer, but the Texans still gave up a valuable pick (a conditional pick which ultimately vested as a third-rounder) to get him.

Weeks later, they added another running back. Hyde was expected to be cut by the Chiefs in August, after which the Texans could’ve signed the veteran back as a free agent, likely for at or below market value.

Instead of waiting, Houston traded young tackle Martinas Rankin for Hyde. Rankin was a 2018 third-round pick who struggled some as a rookie, but was still a depth option for a team badly in need of offensive line help.

Hyde, who had his first 1,000-yard season, and Johnson were a mostly solid duo for the Texans in 2019. But once again, O’Brien gave up more than he should have.

The Texans gave up a second-round pick for Brandin Cooks

O’Brien found his replacement for Hopkins by trading away the 57th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for Cooks. While he’s the type of deep threat receiver who has thrived with Deshaun Watson, the cost of the trade was questionable, at best.

Cooks began his career with the Saints, breaking out as a star with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons before he was traded to the Patriots in 2017. After one season in New England, he was traded to the Rams. Now he’s on the move again for the third time in four offseasons.

His most recent season was his worst. Cooks finished 2019 with just 42 receptions, 583 yards, and two touchdowns. That wasn’t nearly enough production for a player just two years into a five-year, $81 million contract that expires in 2024.

Houston was willing to take on the remainder of that contract, and give away a second-round pick to get the deal done. That looks especially bad when the Texans gave away Hopkins earlier in the offseason for only a second-round pick in return.

It’s even worse when you consider Cooks’ recent concussion problems. He was brutally knocked out of Super Bowl 52 in February 2018 and missed he two games during the 2019 season due to another concussion.

Yet another reason to question the trade is the $18 million guaranteed that the Texans gave Randall Cobb in free agency. That’s pricy for a receiver who’s now fourth on the depth chart.

No. 2: Playcalls

O’Brien took over playcalling duties during the 2016 season and is expected to give them up in 2020. Here’s a quick look at when he screwed up the most.

The Texans’ Divisional Round loss to the Chiefs was O’Brien’s biggest playcalling failure

In their most important game in the O’Brien era, the Texans blew a 24-0 lead, in part because of two O’Brien decisions that came in the second quarter.

  • They had a chance to go for it on fourth-and-1 to go up 28-0, but kicked a 31-yard field goal instead. After the game O’Brien said he didn’t have a play he liked, then later admitted that he didn’t realize it was fourth down:
  • On Houston’s next drive, after Kansas City score its first touchdown, O’Brien called this ridiculously bad fake punt:

With the short field, the Chiefs scored on their ensuing possession. They ultimately won, 51-31.

Throughout the years, he’s struggled with fourth-down calls

A few examples:

No. 3: QB decisions

Watson can make magic happen anytime he’s on the field, but O’Brien hasn’t always had the young quarterback around to save him from himself.

O’Brien actually wanted Brock Osweiler as his starting QB

After rotating through uninspiring quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, and T.J. Yates, the Texans went out and signed Osweiler in 2016 to a four-year, $72 million deal. Osweiler went 5-2 as a starter for Denver the season before but was benched for a near-retirement Peyton Manning.

The choice to sign Osweiler wasn’t all O’Brien’s — Rick Smith was still the GM — but O’Brien had made up his mind before even talking to Osweiler. Per Peter King:

O’Brien did as much fact-finding as he could on Osweiler. He watched tape of every game Osweiler played in Denver. He grilled Osweiler’s college coordinator, Noah Mazzone, who loved Osweiler. He paid attention to the impressive game Osweiler played against New England on a Sunday night in crunch time. He was sold, and told owner Bob McNair and GM Rick Smith he really wanted Osweiler.

A year later, the Texans gave up a second-round pick just to get rid of Osweiler.

In Houston’s first game in 2017, O’Brien opted to start Tom Savage instead of Watson

Soon after dumping Osweiler, the Texans made the wise move of trading up to draft Watson. Then, O’Brien elected to start Savage rather than Watson in Week 1 against the Jaguars.

In the first half, Savage went 7 of 13 for 62 yards and was sacked six times. The Texans trailed 19-0 at halftime.

Thankfully, O’Brien started Watson in the second half. He finished with 102 yards and a touchdown. Watson remained the starter until he tore his ACL midway through the season.


O’Brien is 52-44 overall as Houston’s head coach, including a 2-4 record in the playoffs. Now that he’s the team’s GM, he has more decision-making power than ever. If being laughed at while achieving mediocrity is what the Texans want, that might be all they get as long as they stick with O’Brien.