FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick is arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, but thanks to the assistants and coordinators on his staff, he’s still learning different strategies and coaching skills.
Bill O’Brien, now the head coach of the Houston Texans, spent five years with the New England Patriots from 2007 to 2012 and was able to leave a lasting impression on Belichick during their time together.
“I learned a lot from Bill. Bill and I spent a lot of time together,” Belichick said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. “Bill’s got great leadership skills. Without a doubt, great leadership skills. Watching him observe and handle in-game situations or practice situations or meetings, that kind of thing — I think he did a great job of that. I definitely took some things from that.”
Belichick and O’Brien will square off for the first time Sunday night when the Texans host the Patriots. O’Brien was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator during the 2011 season before leaving New England to become the head coach at Penn State. His experience running the Patriots’ complex offense helped him learn how to make the right in-game adjustments and calls — essential skills for a head coach.
“Managing in-game situations — like any offensive or defensive coordinator over a multiyear period, you have a lot of those end-of-the-game situations, critical moments that you talk back and forth on,” Belichick said. “What’s the best thing to do, how do we best manage this situation? (O’Brien) had a lot of input in that, as (current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) does now.
“Billy’s really got a good mix of all those things. Leadership, toughness, command, intelligence, decision-making, poise.”
Belichick also praised O’Brien for the job he did at Penn State. O’Brien took over for Nittany Lions legend Joe Paterno after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the NCAA sanctions placed on the football program as a result.
O’Brien led Penn State to an 8-4 record in his first season, which was better than a lot of experts expected given the turmoil surrounding the school. He won several Coach of the Year awards for his efforts.
“No one could have gone into a tougher situation than Penn State and do what he did in two years,” Belichick said. “Whatever he had to deal with (in New England) was a fraction of that, in a total picture of it.
“You talk to the players that played for him (at Penn State) and the people there with him, and the job he did there was just spectacular. He did a great job for us, too, but he’s had multiple opportunities along the way from here to Penn State to now Houston.”
O’Brien has dealt with many obstacles in Houston. The Texans have started five different quarterbacks since the beginning of last season and injuries to key offensive players, such as elite running back Arian Foster, have prevented the offense from performing to its maximum potential.
Despite those setbacks, Houston went 9-7 last season and is 6-5 this season with a chance to win the AFC South.
“They have a vision of how they want the team to play, and I’m not saying they have every resource at their disposal right now — none of us do — but in terms of playing the game the way they need to play it to give them a chance to win, absolutely,” Belichick said.
“That’s really what it’s about — doing what we have to do to make the most of what you have versus what you’re competing against. I think they do a great job of that.”
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images