Culture / Sporting Life

Bill O’Brien Still on Track to be Super Bowl Coach — Deshaun Watson Puts Time on His Side For Now

These Playoffs and 2020 Season Will Tell the Real Truth

BY // 01.01.20

Bill Parcells won a Super Bowl in his fourth season as an NFL head coach. Jimmy Johnson pulled off the same feat in his fourth season, too. It took Bill Belichick seven seasons, and a second head coaching job, to win his first.

Bill O’Brien’s seventh season as an NFL head coach will come next fall in Houston. Is the Texans’ head man a Super Bowl coach?

It won’t take all that much longer to find out.

No one expects O’Brien and the Texans to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Miami on February 2nd, but with the AFC more wide open than many of the experts think, they at least have a puncher’s chance in the playoffs. Next season if O’Brien has as good an offseason as general manager as he did in the final days before this 2019 season, they could actually emerge as a legit Super Bowl contender.

It’s taken longer than anyone wanted — and it’s still somewhat galling that the Texans could have a first round bye if they hadn’t stumbled against bad Carolina and Denver teams at home — but O’Brien deserves some credit. This is the most dangerous team that the Texans have had in O’Brien’s run — one that could frighten Baltimore and Kansas City if Will Fuller finds a way to avoid being the real life Mr. Glass.

“We’ve had some pretty good wins here and we’ve won the division two years in a row, four out of five,” O’Brien says. “I think that’s OK. But we’re going to try to do our best to do better in the playoffs.”

Not every NFL head coach comes ready right out of the box. O’Brien has grown into this job — and if he can keep growing, he might be worth all the faith the McNairs have shown in him after all.

We can put aside any idea that Bill O’Brien is the next Bill Parcells, a notion actually bandied about during his hiring. O’Brien does not have anything close to Parcells’ wit or zinger creativity. And as “testy” as he supposedly sometimes gets with the sensitive Houston media, he’s no where close to Parcells on that level either. I covered part of Parcells’ tenure with the New York Jets.

There is no comparison between the two men.

Which doesn’t mean Bill O’Brien cannot become his own Super Bowl man. He’s built a good relationship with quarterback Deshaun Watson, the franchise player who always gives this Texans team a real chance at doing something special. He’s turned the Texans into one of the most resilient franchises in the NFL, one that might stumble when it shouldn’t. But one that seldom stays down.

The players trust and respect this 50-year-old from Massachusetts. That means something.

The idea that O’Brien is only the 19th best coach in the league (which is where he was ranked this offseason by NFL.com) is also absurd. He is much closer to Top 10 than nearly in the bottom third. Yes, he still needs more playoff wins. And a great 2020 season. But it’s still within reach.

It’s not hard to picture O’Brien’s next step starting Saturday afternoon at NRG Stadium against Buffalo. Watson will learn from his first playoff game (and dud). J.J. Watt’s return almost guarantees that this will be one of the louder and more emotional games in the stadium’s history. Things are lined up for the Texans — even if they’re playing one of the better defenses in the NFL (including a sure to be ultra motivated, returning Ed Oliver).

O’Brien could be set up for a run that removes many of the nagging doubts. Time won’t be on his side for much longer, but it still is now. Parcells and Jimmy did it in four seasons. Belichick took seven.

In some ways, Houston’s much critiqued coach is very much on track.

Of course, that can all change on Saturday, too.

This is Bill O’Brien’s time to make his mark. What came before really won’t matter if he does. These playoffs, next season . . . it is O’Brien’s time. Or it’s not.

O’Brien does not have a Jason Garrett sized leash with the Texans as much as Janice McNair and Cal McNair seem to like him and appreciate the fact that he’s the last coach that Bob McNair chose. We’ll know by this time next year if this all represents a new turn in O’Brien’s development. Or the beginning of the end.

A bet against BOB may not be as sure a thing as many Texans fans think.

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