The Houston Texans are closing in on landing the No. 1 target of their head coaching search: Penn State University coach Bill O'Brien. CultureMap was the first news outlet anywhere to report that O'Brien was the Texans' top choice to be the team's new coach back on Dec. 18.
A source close to the search tells CultureMap that Texans owner Bob McNair started leaning toward O'Brien early in the search and never let the prospect of having to possibly pay a $6.7 million buyout to Penn State to land the former Bill Belichick disciple faze him.
"McNair loves O'Brien's toughness," the source says.
Bob McNair started leaning toward O'Brien early in the search and never let the prospect of having to pay a big buyout faze him.
Now, ESPN's NFL insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter are reporting that the Texans and O'Brien are working on getting a contract done. If the deal is agreed to, McNair's move of firing Gary Kubiak with three games left in the regular season will have paid off with a highly-sought-after replacement — arguably the most impressive head coaching candidate available.
The early start — a source tells CultureMap that the Texans contacted coaches through back channels to determine who would be legitimately interested in the head job in the probability it opened up even before Kubiak was fired — gave McNair and Texans general manager Rick Smith a jump on the other teams that hoped to court O'Brien.
McNair's long desired a tougher, more mentally strong team. He cited that as a priority after the Texans blew a golden opportunity to be the AFC's No. 1 seed late in the 2012 season. That desire in no small part fueled the big money Ed Reed free agent signing last offseason.
The Texans also interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and their own interim head coach Wade Phillips. They'll likely do one more interview before making their choice official. But O'Brien holds a huge edge. A toughness edge.
The 44-year-old O'Brien's uncompromising intensity can be seen in the way he stood up to all-world quarterback Tom Brady in a sideline screaming match that's turned into something of a famous YouTube clip. Several coaches tried to separate O'Brien from the New England Patriots golden boy and eventually Belichick himself had to step in.
O'Brien's displayed even more guts in leading a Penn State program mired in the abyss of the unprecedented Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal to back-to-back winning seasons.
It's easy to see why O'Brien would want the Texans job. This 2-13 team has a superstar player on defense in J.J. Watt and two superstar weapons on offense in tailback Arian Foster and veteran receiver Andre Johnson. Not to mention the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Houston is primed for a Kansas City Chiefs type turnaround.
And it looks like the Texans' No. 1 coaching target will be the man entrusted with doing it.