The Houston Texans’ decision to fire head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien Monday afternoon threw the NFL world for a loop. It comes amid an 0-4 start to the 2020 NFL season and mere months after Houston added the general manager title to O’Brien’s job description.
Owner Cal McNair released a statement shortly after reports surfaced that O’Brien was out of a job after six-plus seasons.
O’Brien finishes up his tenure in Houston having posted a 52-48 record, including a pedestrian 2-4 mark in the playoffs. This came to a culmination during last season’s ugly loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. At that time, some were calling for O’Brien’s head on a platter.
Issues with the front office gave way to a rift between O’Brien and his Texans players. That included the shocking trade of DeAndre Hopkins this past spring for pennies on the dollar. Needless to say, this ultimately led to O’Brien being given a pink slip on Monday.
In the midst of an 0-4 start to the 2020 season, Houston has called on longtime assistant Romeo Crennel to be its interim head coach. After that, it’s anyone’s guess what might happen here. It’s in this that we look at the top candidates to replace O’Brien on a full-time basis.
Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator
As noted following Monday’s news becoming public record, new Texans vice president Jack Easterby has a built-in relationship with McDaniels dating back to their time together with the Patriots. New England even ran an in-depth piece back in 2018 on Easterby’s importance to the organization.
In many ways, this relationship goes from beyond the gridiron. That could finally help a team pry McDaniels away from the Patriots after his ill-fated 28-game tenure as the Denver Broncos’ head coach. McDaniels’ decision to spurn the Indianapolis Colts late during their hiring process back in 2018 also created some issues between the respected assistant and other teams. Easterby’s presence in Houston could help on that front, too. McDaniels makes the most sense as the Texans’ next head coach.
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
It has long been anticipated that this former NFL running back could be next in line for a head-coaching gig. For good reason. Bieniemy, 51, has overseen the brilliant play of Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City under head coach Andy Reid. Here’s a unit that ranked in the top-six in total offense in each of Bieniemy’s first two seasons calling plays. It doesn’t take a genius to realize what we’re talking about one of the most-respected young offensive minds in the game.
It’s not that Deshaun Watson and Mahomes are comparable. They aren’t. However, if the Texans want to get the most out of their young franchise quarterback, this seems to be the way to go. Implement the Chiefs’ offensive scheme and watch the recently-extended Pro Bowl quarterback flourish. That’s why the focus here should primarily be on assistants with play-calling experience on offense. If so, Bieniemy would be a great hire as the Texans’ next head coach
Greg Roman, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator
We saw the success Roman had under then-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh during their run in the NFC early last decade. It coincided with the brilliant play of one Colin Kaepernick before he fizzled out for all-too obvious reasons. After a couple pretty solid seasons in the same role with Buffalo, Roman’s name has been bandied about a great deal recently. That’s primarily due to how well reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson has played under the longtime assistant.
Baltimore finished last season first in total offense and second in scoring. Jackson tallied 4,333 total yards to go with 43 total touchdowns and just six interceptions as a sophomore. In terms of his career path, Roman has led six top-11 scoring offenses in seven seasons. He’s an obvious fit to become the Texans’ new head coach
Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator
There’s something to be said about bringing on a defensive-minded head coach who will, in turn, hire an experienced play caller. After all, Houston’s defense has taken a major step back in recent years. It heads into Week 5 having yielded 31.5 points per game. That, in and of itself, puts Watson and the Texans’ offense behind the proverbial eight-ball. This is why hiring a defensive-minded figure as the Texans’ head coach could make sense.
In hiring Saleh, the Texans would be bringing in one of the most-respected defensive minds in the game. Despite their plethora of injuries thus far this season, the 49ers rank second in scoring defense. That’s been without the likes of Richard Sherman, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford for the vast majority of the campaign. The 41-year-old Saleh also led the second-best overall defense en route to helping the 49ers to a surprise Super Bowl appearance last season. Don’t discount him as a candidate.
This story has been update with a video about the Texans search for a new head coach.