HOUSTON — Bill O’Brien, a life-long Northeasterner, was asked about being new to Texas and how he would adjust.
“Right after I get out of here, I’m going to buy my first pair of cowboy boots,” a smiling O’Brien said to laughter.
The truth was, O’Brien actually couldn’t wait to get started at his new job as coach of the Houston Texans.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do on this team,” O’Brien said in the 30th minute of his introductory press conference. “And the sooner I can get into my office and get started, the better.”
The Texans introduced O’Brien as the third head coach in franchise history on Friday, doing so in a festive setting that included fans and music playing before the interviews began. O’Brien sat on a raised stage with Texans owner Bob McNair, general manager Rick Smith and Texans chief operating officer Cal McNair.
O’Brien follows a 2-14 season for the Texans and one in which they earned the first pick in this year’s draft.
“He showed that he has the ability to step into difficult situations and turn them around,” McNair said. “He did that at Penn State under very difficult circumstances and did an outstanding job there.
“We expect to see good things happen immediately.”
The Texans hired O’Brien less than one month after firing former head coach Gary Kubiak, a move McNair said he made in order to get a head start on the coaching search process.
McNair said Houston interviewed several candidates. Only three interviewees are known: O’Brien, new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith and Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who served as interim head coach for the last three games of the season.
The Texans were both the first organization to fire their head coach and the first to hire a new one.
“It’s rare enough to be a head coach at the highest level of football,” O’Brien said. “What makes this opportunity special and put it over the top for myself and my family was to work for an owner like Bob McNair.”
McNair wanted a coach who had NFL experience and head coaching experience, though not necessarily at the same time. O’Brien served as Penn State’s head coach for two seasons, joining a team about to be slammed by NCAA sanctions that followed a child sexual-abuse scandal involving former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.
O’Brien kept the program afloat, going 15-9 in his two seasons while retaining several key players who could have transferred with no penalty.
“I love the players at Penn State and I respect their toughness and their resiliency and everything that they’ve demonstrated on a day-to-day basis,” O’Brien said. “I do regret not being able to continue with the great kids on that team. While I tried never to mislead anyone, I understand that some people feel let down. But again, it was a decision that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”
Prior to coaching at Penn State, O’Brien was the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots for one year after spending five seasons with the organization, beginning as an offensive assistant.
He sought the perspectives of friends around the NFL about what kind of situation he would enter in Houston.
“These people were unanimous in one thought,” O’Brien said. “And that is that the Houston Texans are a top-flight organization that does things the right way.”
O’Brien will begin interviewing the coaches who were assistants under Kubiak on Saturday. He and Rick Smith will maintain a similar balance of power to what Kubiak and Smith had. While Smith will have the final say, they’ll work together to determine the best players for the team.
It’s not a roster that McNair believes needs a too much change, though.
“I think we started out with the best roster that we ever had,” McNair said. “We were decimated by injuries and then we didn’t play as the best team, which again says it’s about teamwork and about how the team performs. Even though we had the best roster, we didn’t have the best team.
“When Bill checked around with other coaches and around the league about this position, they all said we had one of the best rosters. But we didn’t perform. We underperformed.”
- Previously covered Texans for Houston Chronicle and Jaguars for Florida Times-Union
- Northwestern University graduate