The NFL is all about what a team is doing in the here and now, and no NFL head coach has been better at delivering results right now than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Under Belichick, the Patriots have gone to five Super Bowls, winning three.
Belichick is a mastermind. Some would say that he’s benefitted greatly from Tom Brady’s presence, and there’s no doubt those people are correct, but he’s been able to keep the Patriots at the top of the AFC year in and year out, often using rosters full of no-name players that rise to prominence in his system.
In short, Bill Belichick is everything a team wants in a head coach, and since Belichick isn’t on the open market, many teams have been willing to take shots at Belichick’s understudies. If reports that the Texans and Bill O’Brien have agreed to terms, Houston will be the latest team to take a shot at Bill Belichick’s coaching tree.
For some time, O’Brien’s name has floated around the rumor mill as being a strong candidate to fill one of the NFL’s current head coaching vacancies. As a head coach, O’Brien has very little experience, compiling a record of 15-9 in two seasons with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Although his record with Penn State is unremarkable, his greatest achievement with the team was simply bringing some form of stability to the post-Joe Paterno era. O’Brien was charged with returning the program to respectability following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. In that regard, O’Brien undoubtedly succeeded, leading the university through a pair of relatively quiet seasons and through half of the university’s postseason ban.
Although he may not carry the same long-term head coaching experience other candidates do, O’Brien has positioned himself in the right place at the right time. Other branches from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree have tried and failed miserably at the NFL level. Romeo Crennel flopped with both the Browns and the Chiefs, Josh McDaniels showed early promise with the Broncos but ultimately failed, Eric Mangini failed with the Jets and the Browns, and Charlie Weis led Notre Dame through five mediocre seasons before being canned.
The NFL is a league all about finding the right people at the right time. A great quarterback can deliver results for more than a decade, and the same goes for a strong, innovative head coach. Because of Bill Belichick’s track record with the New England Patriots, his assistants have been handed opportunities on silver platters left and right. By and large, they’ve failed to capitalize on those chances, but that hasn’t stopped teams from chasing after his former assistant coaches.
Maybe Bill O’Brien does have a little bit of lightning in a bottle that will help the Texans bounce back from their disastrous 2013 campaign. At this point, there’s no telling what could happen. History suggests that O’Brien may have an uphill battle to establish himself as a long-term fixture in Houston, but his experience with Penn State can only help him. What’s the obsession with O’Brien? He was with one of the best NFL coaches in the league’s history for five years. That kind of experience isn’t widely available, and it’s opened doors to him that would have otherwise remained closed. The only remaining question is, can he succeed where others from the Belichick coaching tree have failed?