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Some coaches get it.
Some, clearly, still don’t.
Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin ignited a social media firestorm on Wednesday when he revealed details of a conversation he’d had with DeAndre Hopkins, the All-Pro who was traded from the Houston Texans to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday. According to Irvin, in a meeting between Hopkins and Houston general manager/head coach Bill O’Brien before this week’s deal, O’Brien brought up Aaron Hernandez and was critical of Hopkins for having two children with two women.
(Perhaps not coincidentally, not long after Irvin’s comments aired, there was a report that Hopkins had asked for a pay raise, as if one of the best players on the planet being asked to have his paycheck reflect that is justification for dumping him for a second-round draft pick and an oft-injured running back with an albatross of a contract.)
We’re in an age when many of us will want to regard such a story as untrue because it seems so absurd that a man in charge of an NFL team would sit down with one of his players — a player that as far as anyone knows has never been in any trouble — and make any parallel between him and one of the NFL’s most notorious individuals and criticize him for his private life.
On Twitter, Hopkins said he respects O’Brien but didn’t specifically deny the veracity of Irvin’s story beyond saying it was “being blown way out of proportion.” Former offensive lineman turned media analyst Geoff Schwartz tweeted, “if you talk to a player who’s been in the locker room with Bill O’Brien, they will tell you stories about behavior you don’t often see from coaches.”
If you want to roll your eyes at those messengers, since that pair played one combined regular-season game after leaving Houston, remember that earlier this year Hall of Famer Ed Reed said that during his season with the Texans in 2013 he saw coaches “talking reckless” to players and the environment on the team took him “back to the South,” and he didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Also remember that in 2017, at the height of the fervor over player protests, Texans team owner Bob McNair said in a meeting with fellow owners that he “didn’t want the inmates running the prison.” The comment so angered players in Houston that Hopkins walked out of the team facility the day they were published, and the majority of players kneeled while all linked together in protest before its next game.
Do we know for sure that O’Brien said what Irvin claims? No.
But there has been enough said about the culture inside the Texans in recent years to believe it. This is a man, after all, who was nicknamed “Teapot” by Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer during his days with the New England Patriots because his short temper caused him to frequently boil over.
Cal McNair, who took over after his father’s death as team owner, has let O’Brien seize basically all control within the organization. There are no checks and balances, not on the man who trades one of the greatest receivers in the game for peanuts, nor the man who has a growing history of being disrespectful to his players.
Because make no mistake, O’Brien’s treatment of Hopkins as relayed by Irvin was pure disrespect.
If Hopkins showed up to the facility every day he was supposed to be there, prepared and on time, as the fact he played and started in 110 of 112 regular-season games with Houston would attest, if he didn’t miss training camp or practices because he was embroiled in a child support ordeal, O’Brien has no right to mention anything about Hopkins being a father.
It isn’t any of his damn business. It’s not entirely clear how many children Hopkins has, but if it’s two children with two women and that’s not a path O’Brien took, that’s his choice. It’s not his right to knock Hopkins for it, and it’s certainly not a reason to send off a star player. Unless NFL teams suddenly have morality clauses that we’re unaware of, in which case be ready for dozens of more trades and releases, including coaches.
As for the supposed reference to Hernandez, that’s just vile. Hernandez killed himself in a Massachusetts prison cell, where he was serving time after being found guilty of a 2013 murder and just after being found not guilty in a 2012 double-murder trial. He had been tied to numerous violent incidents in his short life.
Hopkins has no such record. Not even close. There’s never been a report of him being in trouble.
On a roster of 60-plus players, no one expects a coach to be friends with every one of them. In any group dynamic, there are always hiccups or interpersonal issues. NFL players and coaches spend 10-12 hours a day under the same roof during the season, which goes four-plus months at minimum. It’s impossible for there not to be disagreements.
If O’Brien wanted to trade Hopkins to the Cardinals for some magic beans and an autographed picture of team mascot Big Red, that’s his right. It’s also our right to criticize him endlessly for it, as has happened in all corners of social media.
But here’s a tip, Teapot: you’re not going to win many more vaunted AFC South championships running off your best players, and you’re not going to win the respect of those on the roster by trashing a leader on his way out the door.
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