O’Brien’s beloved home now a roadblock
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — From the time he was 10, little Billy O’Brien knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
O’Brien grew up in Andover, Mass., about 20 minutes from Boston. He loved sports and played as many as possible. Like just about everyone he knew, O’Brien loved watching, reading about and listening to Boston’s professional teams, including the New England Patriots.
O’Brien was 16 when the Patriots lost Super Bowl XX to Chicago after the 1985 season.
“I grew up in a great sports town, — Little League, baseball, football, basketball, all those things,” O’Brien said this week. “We loved playing sports and coaching.
“I realized pretty early that with my athletic ability I wasn’t going to be playing for many pro teams. I knew when I was young I wanted to be a coach.
“When you’re young, though, you don’t ever think you’re going to be an NFL head coach in the playoffs.”
But that’s exactly what little Billy grew up to become, an NFL head coach who leads the Texans into Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
O’Brien was influenced by some coaches he played for, and he was curious and fascinated by their profession.
“I played for some good guys when I was young,” he said. “They did a nice job of coaching and teaching teamwork, and I loved that.
“I loved the strategy of the game. Loved reading the sports pages. I always knew I wanted to be a coach.”
‘Leap of faith’
O’Brien was an assistant at Brown University, his alma mater, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke before New England coach Bill Belichick hired him as a quality control coach in 2007.
“I’d say it was definitely a leap of faith,” Belichick said this week. “He went from probably the second-highest position on a staff, offensive coordinator, to a quality control position.
“He did a great job of working with everybody, learning not only the offense, but learning an entire system, and then he got an opportunity to run the offense and to be in control, and he was certainly ready to do that.”
O’Brien will never forget that first season in the NFL when the Patriots finished 16-0 in regular season but lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
“I was the lowest guy on the totem pole,” he said. “I basically broke film down, did whatever was asked of me. I ran the scout team, did different projects for different coaches, helped out with different positions.
“I observed a lot about how the team was run in team meetings and staff meetings. That first year was more about learning the pro game and doing whatever they asked of me. I learned a lot.”
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork watched O’Brien work his way up to offensive coordinator during his five years on Belichick’s staff. It didn’t take long for players to figure out what O’Brien was all about.
“I knew from Day One he was a competitor,” Wilfork said. “I remember him sounding like a player, talking trash back and forth with the defense. That competitive edge is how I remember him as a young coach.
“That’s his personality. He always wore his heart on his sleeve. He’d say what he had to say to anybody he needed to say it to. He was up front with you. That’s who he is.”
‘A great asset to all’
O’Brien played defense in college. As a college assistant, he coached linebackers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks.
“He had a lot of coaching experience from his other positions in college,” Belichick said. “What he needed was just a little time to become familiar with our offensive system.
“He’s very smart. He adapted quickly and was a great asset to all the staff members. He was a big asset to me, and then he took over the offense.”
When he coached quarterbacks and was offensive coordinator, O’Brien developed a close relationship with Tom Brady.
“He’s an incredible coach,” Brady said. “We spent a lot of time together. I have great admiration for him and what he’s accomplished. He did such a great job for our team. To do what he’s done has been pretty remarkable.
“I know the guys play so hard for him because Billy is a straight shooter. You might not always like what he says, but you respect it because his goal is the same as yours — to get the best out of the team.
“I really enjoyed my time with him. I consider him a friend, and I’m always wishing him luck except when he’s playing our team.”
The Patriots (14-2) are 16-point favorites to end O’Brien’s third season with the Texans. No matter how he feels about them or how they feel about him, they’ll be on opposite sidelines, and it’s going to be all business for 60 minutes.
Much of what O’Brien learned from Belichick and the Patriots he’ll try to apply to pull one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
“There’s a lot you can learn, but it goes deeper than X’s and O’s,” O’Brien said. “You learn about motivation and personnel evaluation. You learn about putting a roster together and putting a team together. Just a lot of different things that help you in your career.”
The one thing you don’t learn much about at New England is losing, how to cope with it emotionally and how to overcome it physically, whether it’s regular season or in the playoffs.
To Belichick and Brady, losing is a foreign concept. The Texans are expected to find that out the hard way. Again.
After growing up in New England and beginning his pro career there, coach now must find a way to bring down favored Patriots
Texans coach Bill O’Brien got his NFL coaching start in New England, working his way up the Patriots ranks.