From the outside, it sure looked like Brian Gaine was doing a good job. When he was hired as Texans GM in January of 2018, the Texans’ roster was so expensive and such a mess that they were giving away draft picks just to get rid of some of their worst contracts. Despite that, he signed Tyrann Mathieu on the cheap and got a hell of a season from him, drafted seeming successes in Keke Coutee and Justin Reid despite not having picks in the first or second rounds, and oversaw a Texans team that won 11 games and the division.
So it was a shock when, in a classic Friday afternoon news dump, the Texans released Gaine and put out word—through NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport—that Gaine “was not good enough.”
The Texans’ statement inspires more raised eyebrows than you actually have:
There is obviously more to this than has come out, and it will inevitably dribble out in the coming weeks and months, but there are already some broad strokes explaining why head coach Bill O’Brien will soon be on his third GM in six seasons.
The Houston Chronicle’s John McClain describes it—in lightly couched terms, but clearly—as a clash between Gaine and O’Brien:
Even though the Texans wouldn’t comment publicly beyond the statement about their reasons for the decision, people familiar with what transpired said McNair did not like the direction the organization was going under Gaine and the general manager’s relationship with coach Bill O’Brien had eroded. Rather than allow his concerns about Gaine to extend into next season, McNair elected to make the decision Friday, the week before the team’s final offseason minicamp.
Those familiar with the move said there was no one incident that triggered the decision and that it was made over time. McNair determined that Gaine was a better personnel man than a general manager and didn’t want to redefine the job with the Texans.
A personality clash, or a professional clash (remember, O’Brien won a long and heated power struggle with former GM Rick Smith)? There’s language in there to support both, and it’s likely that both were involved.
Another thing worth noting is that Gaine wasn’t O’Brien’s first choice. Gaine was only hired after the Patriots rejected Houston’s request to speak to New England’s director of player personnel Nick Caserio and director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort. And wouldn’t you know it, both Caserio and Ossenfort are being mentioned as candidates for this opening, along with former Patriots executive Jack Easterby, who the Texans hired in 2018 and gave a made-up title.
If O’Brien and the Texans believe the best man for the job is available now, I suppose it makes sense to go get him, even if they had to release a GM they’ll still be paying through 2023. (They’re still paying Smith, too.) And O’Brien wouldn’t be the first former Patriots coach to try to recreate New England’s infrastructure. He would, however, be the first to do it successfully.