For the Jacksonville Jaguars, the hunt for the next head coach is on.
Owner Shad Khan and the Jacksonville front office are searching for a permanent successor to interim coach Darrell Bevell, himself appointed in December after the firing of former University of Florida and Ohio State University coach Urban Meyer.
Whoever takes over the Jaguars job will inherit a multitude of challenges while trying to turn around a franchise that has lost 28 of its last 30 games. But that coach will also land a promising quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft out of Clemson.
Here’s a closer look at former Penn State and Houston Texans head coach and current Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, among the potential candidates to replace Meyer.
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Bill O’Brien qualified for playoffs four times with Texans
There’s little doubt about O’Brien’s resume as far as qualifying for the postseason. O’Brien coached the Texans from 2014 until the first month of the 2020 campaign, advancing to the AFC playoffs in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 and winning the AFC South title all four years. In 2016 and 2019, the Texans won their playoff openers before losing in the divisional round. Before his tenure, Houston had only twice advanced to the postseason, in 2011 and 2012.
Turbulent exit from Texans
Though O’Brien’s tenure in Houston included a 52-48 record, his six-plus years in command ended in dysfunction and turmoil. He officially received the general manager title in 2020, although he had previously exercised significant personnel control for a year prior, and is still widely remembered for trading three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals in exchange for running back David Johnson and a second-round pick. O’Brien’s years in Houston were also marked by conflict with then-general manager Rick Smith and, near the end, reported tensions with All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt. After Houston blew a 24-0 lead to the Chiefs in the 2019 playoffs and began 2020 at 0-4, O’Brien was fired.
National runner-up at Alabama
Far from the NCAA title scene during his playing days at Brown in the early 1990s, O’Brien came close to a college football championship as a coach earlier in January. After leaving the Texans, he joined Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama as offensive coordinator. The Crimson Tide won the SEC Championship with a Heisman Trophy quarterback in Bryce Young, but lost the College Football Playoff final in Indianapolis to Georgia. In addition to Saban, O’Brien has also worked with another perennial football challenger in Bill Belichick — he served as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator in 2011, when New England reached the Super Bowl only to lose to the Tom Coughlin-coached Giants.
Two seasons at Penn State
O’Brien received his first head coaching hire at Penn State in 2012, facing the burden of stabilizing a Nittany Lions program rocked by the sexual abuse scandal surrounding former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the ouster of longtime coach Joe Paterno. With Penn State banned from postseason for four years (later reduced to two) and facing numerous NCAA penalties, O’Brien recorded seasons of 8-4 and 7-5 before heading back to the NFL with Houston.
Already a winner in Jacksonville
As Jaguars fans know well, O’Brien already has a winning record on the First Coast going back to his days with the Texans. Houston repeatedly marched into Jacksonville and won during O’Brien’s years in charge: 27-13 in 2014, 31-20 in 2015, 24-21 in 2016 and 20-7 in 2018. (Houston’s 26-3 road win against the Jaguars in 2019 was actually played in London.) The exception was a 45-7 loss at EverBank Field in 2017, the year the Jaguars reached the AFC Championship. But O’Brien’s success in Jacksonville isn’t limited to the Texans years: He won Gator Bowl titles as a running backs coach under George O’Leary at Georgia Tech in the 1998 season (followed by a loss in the Gator Bowl the next year) and then another Gator win under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland five years later.
Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.