O'Brien is out despite winning four division titles in his six full seasons leading the Texans
The Houston Texans surprised most of the NFL on Monday by becoming the first franchise this season to make a head coaching change, jettisoning Bill O'Brien after the team dropped to 0-4. It's shocking considering it was only last season that the team had a lead on the eventual Super Bowl champs in a playoff game yet never seemed to get out of the tailspin they found themselves in.
All of which will make for a fascinating search in Houston. The team's draft capital is thin as can be but there are some building blocks like quarterback Deshaun Watson. The entire organization is undergoing some big changes from top to bottom so it will be interesting to see what kind of candidate throws their hat into the ring and which runs far, far away.
Romeo Crennel, who is 73 years old and has a 28-55 record as a head coach for Cleveland (2005-08) and Kansas City (2011-12) has been named interim head coach for Houston. But who could wind up replacing O'Brien long term? Here are 12 candidates to watch that could be the next Texans head coach:
The NFL Assistants
Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator
Daboll has rightfully earned a ton of praise for the work he's done with Josh Allen and helping the Bills into the playoffs. He's won a championship ring with both Nick Saban and Bill Belichick which doesn't hurt and has a much different demeanor than BoB does on a daily basis. It might be tough going back to the well with another former Patriots assistant but Daboll is at least several years removed from New England and proven he can do wonders with the offensive talent in Buffalo.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
At this point, there's no doubt that Bieniemy will get a head coaching job in the league even if the commissioner has to make a few calls to avoid a similar snub from 2019. He's been tremendous in helping develop the Chiefs offense and former Andy Reid assistants have made splashes early in their tenures as first-time head coaches. At this point though, would he consider better opportunities out there?
Arthur Smith, Titans offensive coordinator
Smith turned heads with the work he did reviving Ryan Tannehill's career but that discounts just how creative his offenses have been. Houston no doubt would love to bring some more excitement to the team and he could do that while helping Deshaun Watson not have to shoulder so much of the load. Smith has been in the AFC South for years so he knows the ins and outs of the Texans' roster well too and his unique background could be an added plus when taking over as head coach for the first time.
Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator
Roman became a trendy name last year and his work turning Lamar Jackson into an MVP is bound to get the endorsement of Deshaun Watson hoping for the same thing. His style would mesh with the Houston roster better than others.
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator
McDaniels' name is going to come up for every opening again this cycle and Houston should be no different — especially given all the Patriots ties the team has leaned into in recent years. His work adapting to Cam Newton will be viewed as a big plus and he's no stranger to working with mid-round picks on offense either. One sticking point could be demanding personnel control, which obviously is something the Texans would hope to avoid a second time around.
Robert Saleh, 49ers defensive coordinator
If the Texans want to go for more of a defensive mind, Saleh will likely be the first call. He played a huge role in the 49ers' run to the Super Bowl last year and will bring a ton of energy to an organization that has not been given much room to smile. Injuries have hit San Francisco hard but that won't be enough to dent Saleh's stock on the carousel.
Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator
The Texans have plenty of film on Eberflus and the work he's done transforming that Indianapolis defense over the past few years. The knowledge of the AFC South is bound to help and few will be able to provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses Houston has than an opponent who plays them so regularly. He might have to have an OC already lined up but he'll get numerous looks this offseason for a big chair.
Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator
Leftwich has been a trendy name around the league as a potential head coach and his combination of top-tier offensive play-calling and being a former player will carry a lot of weight. Bruce Arians touts him at every chance and gives plenty of credit to his star pupil, who will be just 41 next year. If the team can get over the relative inexperience Leftwich's resume has, they'll find a lot to like about him in an interview.
Dan Campbell, Saints assistant head coach
If regional ties are factored in, nobody will be able to compete with Campbell. The Texas native played high school, college and pro ball in the state — including up the road at Texas A&M and for the Cowboys. He has an interim coaching stint already with the Dolphins and has been one of Sean Payton's right-hand men in New Orleans since 2016. If the front office is truly hoping to land a good fit and somebody who can fill the role of CEO and not just chess master, Campbell might get a long look.
Dave Toub, Chiefs special teams coordinator
Toub has interviewed for openings before but it always seems like teams are reluctant to truly embrace all the positives that come with hiring a special teams coach. Given the roster building ahead in Houston, that should be a big checkmark for the veteran coach to go with the Super Bowl ring he helped win last season.
The College Coaches
Bob Stoops, former Oklahoma head coach
Stoops has been connected to pretty much every major college opening since hanging up the whistle in Norman but found the itch to coach again in the XFL this spring. The league wound up folding but did Big Game Bob? It might take sweeping power and a big deal to convince him the Texans are enough to get him back on the sideline but it could turn out to be a coup on and off the field.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach
Calhoun has coached all three phases in the NFL as an assistant, including time with the Texans in 2006 as the team's OC. He's interviewed for several openings in the pros but has always returned to his alma mater in the end. The familiarity factor and trying an outside-the-box hire from the college ranks could be just the change Houston needs even if Calhoun's personality isn't a night-and-day difference from Bill O'Brien's.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.