DYSFUNCTION JUNCTION? Saints’ 1st Opponent Labeled as NFL’s Worst-Managed Team 


Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Glaring incompetence and mismanagement – for lack of a better term, let’s call it “Dysfunction Junction.” Albeit a bit harsh, that’s an appropriately-fitting term to describe the New Orleans Saints’ first opponent of the 2019 NFL regular season: the visiting Houston Texans.

While no one expects the Texans to “wave a white flag” and give up on coming into New Orleans attempting to steal a win away from the Black and Gold, their recent behind-the-scenes team management issues have become a distraction that could end up being beneficial for the Saints next week on ESPN Monday Night Football.

For those Who Dat fans that might not keep up with the happenings within the League outside of what happens with the Saints specifically, the Texans have recently been heavily criticized, with many analysts and paid observers labeling them as the most mismanaged and poorly-run franchise in the entire NFL.

The Texans are currently being managed by head coach Bill O’Brien, who is a well known disciple and longtime offensive coaching assistant (from 2007 thru 2011) under legendary (and still-current) New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Unfortunately for Houston, however, the 49-year old O’Brien doesn’t quite have the “magic touch” that’s been associated throughout the past two decades with his famous mentor. Belichick — in a manner similar to the way former NFL head coach and Hall-of-Fame legend Bill Parcells has had upon the coaching career of Saints head coach Sean Payton — has been the man that O’Brien aspires to be just like in many ways.

But O’Brien hasn’t quite been able to meet that rather-lofty standard, and now some of even the most loyally-devoted Texans fans are beginning to grow a little more than restless of the former Penn State University head coach and his approach to running the franchise.

O’Brien was hyped by many League observers as an “offensive guru” and the hottest NFL head-coaching prospect on the market following his hiring by late Texans owner Bob McNair prior to the 2014 NFL Season. Houston brought him aboard to replace previous Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and take over a Texans team that went just (2-14) the year prior (2013). O’Brien inherited a roster that, although they hadn’t won many games, was nevertheless still considered talented.

Among the players that remained with Houston were perennial All-Pro and former NFL Defensive MVP defensive end J.J. Watt, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, then All-Pro running back Arian Foster (now since retired) and Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus. On top of that, O’Brien drafted college defensive superstar and University of South Carolina All-American pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney with their top pick (#1 overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft.

As a result, O’Brien experienced some notable early success during his first two seasons in charge of the team, leading Houston to back-to-back winning seasons (9-7) and a wild card playoff spot following the 2015 season. Houston would make the playoffs as a wild card once again in the 2016 Season.

Yet, both he and the Texans realized that they desperately needed a franchise-caliber QB if they wanted to get to the “next level” and contend for a Super Bowl title. That thought ultimately led them to select former national champion winner and University of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson with their first pick (12th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft. But after experiencing early success as a rookie, Watson suffered a torn ACL, and Houston limped to a (4-12) win-loss record that year.

Despite that, O’Brien earned a contract extension in the early 2018 off-season and was essentially given ultimate control of the day-to-day management of the team by McNair — who passed away in late November of 2018. But, prior to receiving that extension, there had been reports of a what was described as a “power struggle” between O’Brien and former Texans General Manager Rick Smith, who would resign after the 2017 season to take care of his medically-sick wife.

When the Texans then fired acting GM Brian Gaine in June of last year and replaced him with a committee of several back-office staff members, long-time Texans beat reporter and popular Houston Chronicle sports writer John McClain published an article which revealed to readers that O’Brien had now been put in charge of all decisions regarding personnel.

Last season, with a fully-healed and recovered Watson, Houston and O’Brien bounced back strongly and won the AFC South Division with a (12-4) win-loss record before they lost in the Divisional Round to the Indianapolis Colts this past January.

Obviously, expectations were high for O’Brien and company as they headed towards this recent off-season and the recently-completed preseason, but the past several weeks have instead become a total and complete nightmare for the Texans franchise. O’Brien’s once stellar reputation has taken a direct hit for what can only be described as some rather very questionable decision-making and how it impacts the future of the Texans franchise going forward.

By several accounts (most notably by ESPN NFL national beat writer Bill Barnwell), O’Brien has craved more power over the organization’s personnel choices for years. But his decisions have been head-scratching in many aspects, to say the least.

The latest fiasco occurred this past weekend, when O’Brien opted to trade the pass-rushing extraordinaire and defensive superstar Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks, for essentially nothing in return. That then led to his next questionable roster move, in which he opted to acquire former Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver (and former Saints draft pick) Kenny Stills; but had to give up two #1 picks and a 2nd Round pick (which many League observers believe he got “fleeced” by Miami), in order to do so.

Rather predictably, O’Brien was asked yesterday morning by several writers within Texans local media out of Houston if he had been personally made aware of the criticism levied at himself and the Texans organization. O’Brien told reporters that the franchise has an entire group of people who make these decisions and did what they collectively felt was “best for the team.”

He then went on to defend the moves, noting specifically that he wasn’t concerned about what anyone else feels or thinks with regard to the team’s decisions. “We can’t control what the outside world thinks,” O’Brien said, as reported by Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle on Twitter. “It’s probably taken me a while to figure that out.”

O’Brien has drawn heavy criticism by navigating the trade for Tunsil without first making sure that he worked out a contract extension that would keep the former Ole Miss All-American Tunsil under their control beyond next season in 2020. At yesterday’s press conference, O’Brien declined to address the specific amount that was paid to acquire Tunsil, so as not to surrender leverage in any possible future discussions about a potential new deal.

And keep in mind: all of this latest controversy surrounding O’Brien comes right on the heels of Houston having suffered a near-catastrophic loss to their offense, following the season-ending ACL injury to starting #1 RB Lamar Miller in the preseason.

The Texans have since made trades with both Cleveland and Kansas City for veteran RBs Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde, both of whom are expected to compete for carries as they attempt to fill the huge void in the Texans running game that’s now left by Miller’s absence.

So then — what does this mean for the Saints, as they prepare over the course of the next several days to get ready for next Monday Night’s nationally-televised showdown at the Superdome?

On the field, it probably doesn’t mean a whole lot because ultimately, players play and coaches coach. That might sound a bit simplistic, but it’s up to the Texans players who take the field to pull out the win regardless of any controversy there might be surrounding O’Brien.

That said, when it becomes an unrelenting topic of discussion among a team’s own fanbase (as it has become among Texans fans and the Houston media over the past week), it’s likely the team has heard about it over and over constantly, and it will be difficult to not have it lingering in the back of their mind.

The people that I know who follow the Texans feel that O’Brien has worn out his welcome and the events of the past week have only served to further that notion among the Houston faithful. The biggest knock against O’Brien undoubtedly has been that in his tenure up to this point (5 seasons), O’Brien’s teams haven’t been able to beat any of the “elite” teams within the AFC, particularly the previously-mentioned Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now add to that his essentially giving away a player with the type of talent that Clowney has, for a whole lot less than many people feel that they should have gotten in return for him.

Bottom line: it hasn’t been a good week for O’Brien, the Texans team, or their entire franchise — and in the ultra-competitive, dog-eat-dog way of life that exists within the NFL, it might just be enough of a distraction to leave the Texans vulnerable at the Superdome.

Whether the Saints will take full advantage of the situation or not is a whole other story. But one narrative that’s unlikely to change between now and kickoff is the label that the once-promising Texans franchise finds themselves now facing heading into their now-uncertain future.

“Dysfunction Junction,” indeed.


Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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