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Texans’ organizational structure could cause a coach-G.M. showdown

Bill O’Brien, Rick Smith


One of the odd things about the Ryan Mallett fiasco is that coach Bill O’Brien shouldn’t need General Manager Rick Smith’s permission to cut Mallett. According to multiple reports, O’Brien has final say over the team’s 53-player roster.

So how can it be that O’Brien wanted to cut Mallett for missing a team flight on Saturday, and Smith refused? If O’Brien has final say, why doesn’t he just cut Mallett whether Smith likes it or not?

The problem could be related to the structure of the Texans’ front office: Although O’Brien has final say over which 53 players are on the roster, Smith has final say over the pool of players that O’Brien can draw from -- Smith makes the call on free agency, the draft and trades. So as long as the only quarterbacks on the Texans’ roster are Brian Hoyer and Mallett, O’Brien needs Smith to be on board with a decision to cut Mallett because O’Brien would need Smith to sign a new backup quarterback to replace Mallett.

Theoretically, O’Brien could say, “I’m cutting Mallett,” and Smith couldn’t do anything about it. But Smith could reply, “If you do that, I’m not signing another quarterback and you’ll be stuck running the wildcat the rest of the season if Hoyer gets hurt.” And O’Brien couldn’t do anything about that.

One would hope that an NFL franchise wouldn’t get so dysfunctional that it would come to that. And if it ever did come to that, Texans owner Bob McNair would surely jump in and either get his coach and G.M. to work it out, or fire one (or both) of them.

But the mere fact that someone within the organization is leaking the news that O’Brien and Smith disagree about what to do with Mallett suggests that there’s a fundamental problem with this franchise. A head coach with roster control and a G.M. with personnel control can only work together successfully if they have similar guiding philosophies. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Houston, which means it’s probably time for either O’Brien or Smith (or both) to go.