Expectations define seasons in the NFL.
For instance, another AFC South crown and a one-and-done playoff appearance for the Indianapolis Colts would likely cost coach Chuck Pagano his job and perhaps general manager Ryan Grigson’s also. That same finish for Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans would be lauded as significant progress for a team with no clear answer at the quarterback position and a leading man on offense, running back Arian Foster, who is done for the season with a torn Achilles.
Seven weeks into the 2015 campaign, however, the Texans are a dismal 2-5 and coming off a 44-26 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins yet because they play in the dreadful AFC South, a division championship is still in play. The Colts, who seemingly haven’t lost a division game since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, are only a game clear of both Houston and Jacksonville.
So as bad as it’s been for the Texans, they are only one game back with nine to play, which to be fair probably means nothing because Houston has shown few signs of mediocrity, never mind solid play.
But, O’Brien has an opportunity to send an important message to his locker room by moving on from backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, who continues to flash what is at best immaturity and at worst insubordination.
Back in training camp when Mallett was battling Brian Hoyer for the starting job he missed a practice, claiming his alarm failed to go off. The absence just happened to coincide with Hoyer winning the competition and that “alarm” was really Mallett’s reaction to losing out to a guy with lesser arm talent.
And on Saturday the enigmatic signal caller missed the Texans’ charter flight to Miami with “traffic” being the culprit this time.
“I got caught in traffic,” Mallett told the Houston Chronicle. “Got to be on time. It’s not the leadership role that I need to exhibit. So, I have to be better.”
Better in this case means flying commercial to South Florida instead of figuring out those tricky Houston traffic patterns.
When you are second guessing the coach of your favorite team for that poor play call on Sunday, understand the more important part of his job takes place during the week when the cameras aren’t present.
That’s not to say game day isn’t important because a mentor’s ultimate success or failure between the lines ultimately defines him. But, any coach will tell you, the Xs and Os part of his job description is the easy stuff, managing over 60 different personalities in a locker room is the torturous aspect of the gig.
Jimmy Johnson described it like this: “I’ll treat you all fairly but not necessarily the same,” a nod to the fact that treating people the same might sound great on paper but it’s also unrealistic. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin types have always gotten a longer leash than the 53rd man on the roster and that’s not changing anytime soon.
Mallett is no Aikman and while it’s unlikely the Texans can replace their backup with a similar talent at this stage of the season, who cares? Mallett isn’t going to help you win on Sundays anyway so the message of replacing an irresponsible, mediocre player will pay far more dividends down the road than keeping a knucklehead because Tom Savage is hurt and the guys on the street can’t play.
When asked why he’s been repeatedly late to team activities, Mallett, who plays a position that demands leadership skills replied: “It only happened twice.”
Something else has also only happened twice — the Texans winning and now we know why.
“Anything that has to do with Ryan Mallett, I can tell you right now, the way that will be answered by me is everything that we do as far as discipline or anything, personal problems, whatever it might be, is handled internally, in-house,” O’Brien said. “It’s not for public consumption.”
The only public consumption needed here is a one sentence press release explaining Mallett’s departure.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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