NFL

Report: Heated exchange with J.J. Watt may have sealed Bill O’Brien’s fate in Houston

J.J. Watt and Bill O'Brien, seen here in August, were reportedly involved in a heated exchange shortly before O'Brien was fired.

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and former head coach Bill O’Brien, who was fired Monday after Houston’s 0-4 start, were reportedly involved in a heated exchange during practice the week leading to the team’s Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Watt called out O’Brien on his coaching ability and the argument “began a player revolt that ended up getting [O’Brien] fired,” according to ESPN 97.5 Houston radio host John Granato. That moment was when O’Brien “lost the team,” per ESPN. The exchange reportedly included an angry O’Brien voicing his frustration about the defense to defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver. O’Brien also had “separate verbal altercations with other staff members in multiple departments,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

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While the good money was on New York’s Adam Gase or Atlanta’s Coach Dan Quinn being the first head coach dismissed this season, the Texans fired O’Brien after winning four AFC South championships in his first six seasons. The Texans made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, but an 0-4 start to the 2020 campaign served as the organization’s breaking point with O’Brien.

O’Brien took over the role as general manager after last season, leading to his controversial decision to trade star wideout DeAndre Hopkins in March. In 2019, Houston gave up two first-round picks and a second-round pick in a swap that landed offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills. O’Brien also took over play-calling duties before Sunday’s loss to the previously 0-3 Minnesota Vikings.

“I’m not going to talk about what happened at practice or what conversations were had or whatever that might be,” Watt said Wednesday. “The situation is what the situation is. We have a fresh start. We had a good practice today, and we’re looking forward to Jacksonville.

“The one thing I’ll say about Bill O’Brien is he always stood up for his players,” Watt said. “. . . Certainly, he tried to do whatever possible to support his players and give his players the absolute best support. And I truly believe that he always did what he believed was best for this football team. So I don’t have ill will at all. But I do look forward to a fresh start.”

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After Sunday’s loss, the five-time Pro Bowler was visibly frustrated, delivering curt responses to the media but said, “What we’re doing is not working. Something has to change.”

Watt elaborated Wednesday.

“When you’re 0-4, obviously things need to change,” Watt said. “I mean, it wasn’t working. I appreciate and respect what we had. We won four division titles in six years with Bill and I appreciate that and that time, but obviously this year, we’re 0-4 and stuff wasn’t working. When you have the talent that we have, specifically at the quarterback position in this league, you can’t be 0-4.”

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, 73, who had previous head coaching stints in Cleveland and Kansas City, is now Houston’s interim head coach and is slated to be the oldest head coach in NFL history when Houston faces division rival Jacksonville on Sunday. The longtime NFL coach is looking forward to changing the energy and fortunes of the franchise he’s been with since 2014.

“I hope our attitude and energy is different, and then I hope that our performance is different,” Crennel said Wednesday. “I mean, you’re not going to come in and put in a new offense or new defense just overnight, because it takes time.”

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Watt already appreciates the new tone around NRG Stadium.

“He has rings and he has a positive air about him,” Watt said. “He has just kind of a jolly nature to him. So, you can’t really help but smile when you’re having a conversation with [Crennel]. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do and what he brings to our team. It should be fun.”

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