By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill O’Brien’s tenure as head coach of the Houston Texans is now officially over. And so, another branch from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree falls.
O’Brien — who was a Patriots assistant coach from 2007-11 — was relieved of his duties as head coach and general manager of the Texans on Monday, after Houston started the year with an 0-4 record. Though the Texan’s schedule — at Kansas City and Pittsburgh, with home games vs. Baltimore and Minnesota — did the team no favors, O’Brien was nevertheless shown the door. (Trading all-world receiver and franchise icon DeAndre Hopkins in the offseason for a mediocre running back likewise did him no favors.)
To be fair, O’Brien’s tenure in Houston can’t be considered a failure. In his six full seasons as Houston head coach, he was in charge for five winning seasons, making the playoffs four times. After inhering a 2-14 team, O’Brien led the Texans to a 9-7 season in his first year as an NFL head coach. Considering O’Brien pulled off that feat after rescuing Penn State from one of the most impossible situations in sports history, the coach was gaining a reputation of somewhat of a miracle worker.
The Texans made the playoffs in year two, though they lost in the wild-card round 30-0, in a game forever known as The Brian Hoyer Game.
The following year, the Texans actually won a playoff game (The Connor Cook Game) before Brock Osweiler threw three picks in a loss in Foxboro. Losing Deshaun Watson to injury in 2017 helped lead to a 4-12 season, but the Texans recovered with an 11-5 season in 2018 and a 10-6 season in 2019.
The issue, though, is that the Texans never quite made the jump from above-average to true contender under O’Brien, and his role as head coach/play-caller/general manager forced the Texans to make it a clean break on Monday.
O’Brien’s record as head coach was 52-48 in the regular season, and 2-4 in the playoffs.
Interestingly enough, O’Brien’s interim replacement is Romeo Crennel, another member of the Belichick coaching tree who never quite took off as an NFL head coach. Despite leading the Patriots’ defense to three Super Bowl titles in the early part of the 2000s, Crennel led the Browns to a 24-40 record from 2005-08. He took over as interim head coach in Kansas City at the end of the 2011 season, leading the Chiefs to a 2-1 record. That performance inspired the Chiefs to bring him back as head coach in 2012; the Chiefs went 2-14. He was fired.
Crennel left the Patriots after 2004, when offensive coordinator Charlie Weis also left. Weis, though, left for the college ranks, becoming Notre Dame’s head coach for the 2005 season. Weis led the Fighting Irish to a 35-27 record over his five seasons, with Notre Dame finishing outside of the top 25 in each of his final three seasons. That tenure included a 3-9 season in 2007 and a 6-6 season in his final year in 2009. He then coached at Kansas for three disastrous seasons, compiling a 6-22 win-loss record.
In terms of current NFL head coaches on the Belichick tree, it’s not looking too pretty. Matt Patricia’s tenure in Detroit thus far has resulted in a 10-25-1 record, as well as a number of head-scratching interactions with the media.
Down in Miami, Brian Flores certainly didn’t inherit a winning situation. Nevertheless, in the results-oriented NFL, Flores owns a 6-14 win-loss record.
And Giants head coach Joe Judge likely didn’t envision an 0-4 start when he took the job in New York, where the current situation looks more than a little bit bleak.
(Some people like to count Mike Vrabel as a member of Belichick’s coaching tree, but that’s a stretch. Vrabel played for Belichick and won Super Bowls, yes. But that’s a lot different from being on his coaching staff. Vrabel did work under O’Brien for four years in Houston, which does technically make him a part of the tree. But it’s not as if Vrabel learned how to coach in the NFL directly from Belichick.)
In terms of other Patriots coaches who have tried their hands at leaving the Belichick nest for head coaching jobs elsewhere, Josh McDaniels went 11-17 in Denver and Eric Mangini went 23-25 with the Jets before going 10-22 with the Browns. (Both McDaniels and Mangini, though, managed to beat Belichick’s Patriots.)
The Belichick coaching tree from Cleveland did generate some solid head coach — obviously in Nick Saban, but also with Kirk Ferentz, and Pat Hill. Jim Schwartz was a bad head coach, but he’s carved out a long career as a coordinator and beat Belichick in a Super Bowl, thus counting as a successful career, too.
But in terms of Patriots assistants leaving Foxboro and dreaming of great success elsewhere, it just has not panned out. O’Brien is the most successful among them, and considering he was mostly underwhelming with a barely-above-.500 record, that says more about the Belichick Patriots coaching tree than anything else can.