J.J. Watt tweeted a photo of the sun rising over the open roof of NRG Stadium on Tuesday, and he sounded like a refreshed man behind the microphone a day later.
Watt’s coach, with whom he reportedly feuded in their final weeks together, was terminated this week, bringing about what Watt called “a fresh start.” With Bill O’Brien now out, the star Texans defensive end sees a great opportunity ahead for his team that extends beyond the field.
“One of the things I’m excited about right now is hopefully getting on the same page with our fanbase again,” Watt said. “I feel like that’s something, there’s certainly been a bit of a tension there in the last months and years, and I can’t wait to have us all pulling in the same direction again. I feel like there’s been a bit of a disconnect there, and it’s not fun as a player to be a part of that when you feel like your fans can’t fully back you the way that they want to.
“I really am so excited because I’ve been here in some of the best times we’ve ever had. There’s nothing better than when this city is all on the same page and pulling for the Houston Texans.”
Watt’s response was interesting, because typically when a coach is fired there’s a bit of a public relations mess to clean up, but that process usually gains steam with the hiring of a new coach. Here, though, it sounds as if O’Brien’s departure is viewed as the key to reconnecting with the Houston fanbase.
Watt didn’t come out and say it specifically, but the disconnect he referenced likely had to do with the personnel decisions made by O’Brien since he’d ascended to the role of general manager — first, in de facto form and later, as the official head of personnel.
Chief among those decisions was the trade that sent All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for a handful of draft picks and running back David Johnson. The deal was stunning in that it not only felt lopsided, but also appeared to rob the incredibly promising Deshaun Watson of his greatest weapon just months after Houston was drastically outscored by a superior Chiefs offense in the postseason.
Of course, all of that can be set aside if success follows, but the Texans instead produced the opposite in the first month of the 2020 season.
“When you have the talent that we have, specifically at the quarterback position in this league, you can’t be 0-4,” Watt said.
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel on Wednesday said he expects his team to bring an improved level of energy to the field in the weeks ahead. Watt agreed with him, saying he wanted his teammates to “play loose and free, and have fun and enjoy it and trust in each other and feel like they can go out there and be who they are.”
Frankly, it sounds as if the O’Brien era had become unenjoyable for the Texans taking the field, something NFL Network’s James Palmer confirmed when he asked multiple players if O’Brien had lost the locker room, and they each responded with a yes.
“You’re never going to win any games if you don’t buy in,” Watt said when asked about the importance of players subscribing to the team’s approach. “Where we sit right now, we need to do it very fast, so it’s extremely important that everybody buys in, that we all band together and we do this together, because right now it comes down to winning one game.”
When asked about the photo of a sunny day in Houston, Watt deflected, taking the high road while also looking ahead and not behind.
“I think that’s,” Watt said before trailing off. “I appreciate what Bill did here. I’m very thankful for what Bill did. You’re trying to get me to go down the road here. We won four division titles in six years. The one thing that I would say about Bill O’Brien is he always stood up for his players. I’ve been in meeting with him and things like that, and off the field, certainly he’d try 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. So no. But I do look forward to a fresh start. I do think there’s an energy and excitement and we’re looking forward to going out and getting a win.”
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