The Texans fired head coach Bill O’Brien on Monday after their 0-4 start to the 2020 NFL season. In six and a quarter years, O’Brien posted a 52-48 record in 100 regular-season games. He took the team to the playoffs four times, going 2-4 in the postseason.
Houston, winner of two consecutive AFC South titles, wasn’t about to win a third. In the past two playoffs, it has seen the wild-card runner-up, Indianapolis and then Tennessee, go deeper in the playoffs.
O’Brien was not only having trouble coaching the Texans to victories this season, but his mistakes as acting general manager, lowlighted by the shocking trade of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in March, also cost him.
While the Texans search for the ideal GM and coach combination going forward, they need to do it with one thing in mind: Getting the best out of elite franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom they just signed to a four-year, $156 million extension in September.
Even though O’Brien’s specialty was offense, he didn’t get that main job done. Here are nine guys who can:
1. Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
The 51-year old mentor to Patrick Mahomes should be at the top of everyone’s list wanting to elevate QB play and the overall success of a team with the great leadership qualities he’s learned under Andy Reid. Going to a key AFC enemy to steal Bieniemy would do wonders for Watson as a downfield passer, who can also spread the ball around more effectively. Bieniemy also would deploy Watson’s running skills well when needed.
2. Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator
The Texans have one of the game’s most athletic quarterbacks yet refused to call designed runs for Watson, instead simply relying on his scrambling to buy time for deep shots or take off for chunk rushes. Roman, 48, who once got the best out of big-armed mobile QBs Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor, helped turned Lamar Jackson into an MVP in Baltimore with his running and passing. Trying to tap into either Mahomes’ or Jackson’s success is a great place to start for Watson.
3. Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator
There’s one more young rising dual threat quarterback in the AFC: Josh Allen. Daboll, 45, who has worked for both NIck Saban and Bill Belichick in his recent past, has done very well in three years developing Allen and transforming him from dangerous athlete to a more complete and accurate passer. Like Bieniemy and Roman, Daboll would really build on Watson’s downfield connection with speedster Will Fuller to open up everything else in the offense.
4. Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator
Mahomes, Jackson, Allen and how about the guy who works with Dak Prescott? Moore was retained to call the plays under Mike McCarthy, and the Cowboys, out of necessity because of atrocious defense, have the league’s most prolific passing attack. Watson profiles similarly to Prescott as a tough, elusive runner who is focused first on making all the throws. Moore is only 32, but it would be silly for Houston not to at least think about luring him from Dallas.
5. Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator
Leftwich, 40, a former NFL quarterback, is Bruce Arians’ prized protegee and finding his groove with the GOAT after turning Jameis Winston into a prolific passer. Leftwich and Arians have adjusted their scheme well for the strengths of Tom Brady. Leftwich has natural leadership skills and would mesh well with Watson.
6. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma head coach
Now we’re thinking a little more outside the box, but there’s no doubt Riley, who coached Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to Heismans, should be considered for this other NFL opening in Texas after nothing ever really materialized with Dallas. Riley is probably locked into Norman long term, but a two-loss disappointment may prompt the 38-year-old offensive wunderkind to think slightly more about an NFL gig jump. It wouldn’t hurt for the Texans to at least find out if he’s interested.
7. Tom Herman, Texas head coach
How about the other side of the offensive-minded Red River Showdown? Herman, 45, can’t seem to get Texas to turn around that final corner, even with Oklahoma’s sudden struggles providing an opening. He’s already had big-time success in Houston with the collegiate Cougars so maybe they can convince him to make the NFL jump to return from Austin. File Herman under Riley as a long shot, but one the Texans need to still fire up from their end of the court before the buzzer sounds.
8. Joe Brady, Panthers offensive coordinator
Brady is quickly developing into the new Sean McVay at only age 31. He’s already proved his offensive genius with Joe Burrow and LSU and learned well under Sean Payton for two years, too. He’s doing excellent work with Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers’ entire offense, even without Christian McCaffrey. Brady and Watson could be spectacular. The only concern for Houston and other NFL teams looking to replace coaches for 2021 is whether he’s a little too young. But keep in mind the Rams hired McVay at the exact same age three-plus years ago.
9. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona head coach
Let’s throw in one more former Houston Cougars coach, shall we? Sumlin knows passing offenses and quarterbacks and with capped Pac-12 upside at Tucson, this might be a good time to think about making his first jump to the NFL. A younger Sumlin was pretty adamant about not wanting to go pro, but that was when Texas A&M was at the center of the offensive universe with Johnny Manziel. Again, Sumlin is one more college call the Texans need to make, just in case.
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