General Manager Brian Gaine
Head Coach Bill O'Brien
GENERAL MANAGER BRIAN GAINE
Being a general manager for the first time, what’s been the first priority for you and what do you spend most of your time on?
“Well No. 1, building relationships with people in the building and the football operation and within the football organization. No. 2 was getting in-depth in our player evaluations as it relates to our own team, knowing what we have before we start the process of externally scouting players outside our building. And then No. 3 is setting up a plan and putting an organized procedure in place so our process as it relates to free agency, to the draft, how it will work with the coaches, what the scouts’ assignments will be. And the fourth phase of that, really, is setting the agenda for the football operation, providing direction and leadership and organizing our procedures on how we want to do football business.”
When you look at the roster, what do you see in terms of being able to turn it around quickly?
“I see a great opportunity. I know we don’t have a first or second round pick, but we have three picks in the third round, which gives us three picks in close to what’s approximately the top 100. So, I feel like we have an opportunity to fortify the roster in that round as well, but at all levels. I think history has shown, it’s been proven that you can find starters at variating levels of the draft. I’ve had history of doing that myself and then try to supplement the roster through any free agent opportunities that might present themselves. So, we feel like we have a good core in place. We certainly have needs like every other NFL team does, and we’ll address those needs either through free agency or the draft.”
What did you take away from your time with the Buffalo Bills last year?
“Great experience with great respect. Special thanks to the Pegula family for bringing me into their organization and Brandon Beane. It was a special season. Naturally, it was a start over there and had a chance to get to the playoffs and play in a playoff game. So, for year one of that program, while I was there, we were certainly excited about the future. I certainly learned the value of people and relationships, organization, teamwork, that people matter and that relationships matter and direction certainly did as well. Learned a ton about leadership from Brandon and especially Coach (Sean) McDermott, and the Pegula family were a special group of people to work for.”
How much did your time with the Bills help you get this current role?
“Certainly learned about handling adversity. I mean, the season wasn’t perfect by any means, but they put me in position to evaluate a lot of the top players in the draft in the role that I had. They put me in position to evaluate a lot of the top players in free agency as well through the fall season. So, at least when I came to the Texans, I felt prepared as it related to what was available in the draft and what was available in free agency as it related to the available market.”
What kind of advantage is it for you having been involved in the last four drafts and free agent periods with the Texans, as well as knowing people in the office?
“It’s a great advantage. Naturally, when I reinserted myself, I was very familiar with our grading system, the current grading system that existed, how they evaluated players, how the scouts and the coaches wrote reports, what the expectations were from those evaluations. But also, I had some working relationships with people. So, that presented a little more of a seamless transition for me in terms of reinserting back into the operation.”
What advice has Bill Parcells given to you since stepping into this role?
“Just having the opportunity to work under Bill (Parcells) for the years that I did was a great opportunity and I did it in three different organizations and I learned a ton from Bill about how the coaches mesh with the scouting end, how coaching meshes with the personnel end, how to build a championship roster, what those core positions are, how to evaluate through the eyes of what the coaches are looking for. But, the most important thing I would say was learning about football program, football culture and what that looks like. What it looks like in the locker room, what it looks like in the training room, what it looks like in the weight room. How to build standards in terms of how we look for players – the personal character, the football character, all those critical things that are maybe things you might not see on the film but are critical to the success of a player succeeding in an NFL environment.
What areas do you want to improve in free agency?
“Any area that we have the opportunity to improve the roster and upgrade the roster, we’ll do that. As it relates to free agency, the draft, if there’s trades, if there’s waiver claims, tryouts, workouts. We’re going to try to improve the roster from spot No. 1 all the way to spot No. 90 at any time and any place during the calendar year.”
What can you do to avoid the amount of injuries suffered last year?
“Well, some of it is situational, some of it is circumstantial as it relates to that. I won’t get into detail of as it relates to what injuries are which. But, I do believe that with the hiring of Luke Richesson in our sports performance and in the strength and conditioning area that that’s going to be a great benefit to the future of impacting such a question that you had. I think Luke’s very well-versed and very experienced in that area, has had a great amount of success as it relates to his profession and we’re happy to have him. He’s going to be a great asset for the organization.”
As a former player, how much does that speak to your experience now that you’re on the other side evaluating players?
“About myself? I would use the word ‘overachievement,’ No. 1. I would put a strong emphasis on ‘long snapper.’ I was also a tight end. But, I also feel like I understand the culture of the locker room, the culture of the training room, the culture of the weight room. I understand the calendar year as it relates to what the players go through. I feel like I have an understanding of what they deal with Monday through Friday as it relates to the grind and the process of preparing to play a game on Sundays. I also know what they go through physically and mentally as it relates to going through the full tilt of a season, what the offseason program is, what a training camp is like. So, it gives me a unique perspective from that standpoint.”
How important is it to get faster?
“Very important, at all levels. That will always be a point of emphasis for us at all levels, at all big skill and skill positions, equally athleticism. That’s equally as important to us.”
How much are you looking for continuity with the offensive line?
“That’s very important. I think any offensive line coach or offensive coordinator would tell you that that’s a critical part to building an offensive line unit. So, that’s something that we’re working on to address both in-house and externally as it relates to options both either through free agency and/or the draft, but continuity is critically important, I think, to the success of any offensive line. They communicate. I mean, there’s parts of the game now that, at least I feel like I’m familiar with, that outside of the physical part of it, the communication part of playing the offensive line and working together as a unit is critically important to the success of the group.”
How tough was it to leave Buffalo?
“Very unique circumstance on a personal level, having just left Houston just nine months ago, but also, a very positive experience to come back to this city, raise our family here and re-insert ourselves into the community. Buffalo, and living in Orchard Park, N.Y., was a very special experience, one I’ll always cherish and never forget, but we’re certainly excited about the opportunity to come back to Houston.”
What’s the progress report on QB Deshaun Watson and DE J.J. Watt?
“Well, I won’t get into specifics of injuries, I would just tell you that things are going positively as it relates to their timeline and I’m optimistic that once the season comes around, that things will be in good standing.”
Do you think that QB Deshaun Watson will be able to participate in OTAs in some capacity, as he alluded to at the Super Bowl?
“I’m optimistic about that, and a lot of it is because of his work ethic and his football character and his personal character. But (with) the makeup of the individual, I wouldn’t be surprised about that at all.”
After being there when QB Deshaun Watson was drafted, what did you think about his performance from afar?
“The physical part you see on tape, everybody sees the ability and the demonstrated performance on the field, but what I can speak to is, a little more importantly, is the character of the individual, the makeup of the guy, the work ethic, his passion for the game, his commitment to the game, in there early, staying late. All the intangible profiles that you look for in a quarterback, he possesses those. Now, he’s only played six or seven games, so there’s a lot of progress to be made, a lot of improvement ahead of him, but when you’re breaking down the physical profile and the intangible profile of the player, the physical profile’s all good but I would equally say that the intangible profile is equally positive as well.”
How's it been working with Head Coach Bill O'Brien and what is your relationship like?
“Excellent. It’s been a great partnership in terms of working, coming together again. Our relationship is seamless. We share a lot of the same philosophical belief systems on how to build a football program, how to build a football culture. We don’t agree always on everything and when we don’t, we talk about those things, but we certainly have a lot in common in terms of our football belief system and how to build a winner.”
How important is communication with people like Head Coach Bill O’Brien and others in the building?
“Very important. It happens on a daily basis, hourly basis. Any time we have inquiries or questions about what’s going on in the football operation, we’re always communicating, but that’s not just with Coach O’Brien, it’s with the balance of the coaching staff, it’s also with the scouting staff. It’s with the football operation, it’s with Chris Olsen and our football administration department. It’s with our training room, it’s with our strength and conditioning areas. So, (in) all those areas, communication is critically important for the success of our program.”
CB Johnathan Joseph would like to come back. Is that something you’re considering?
“We’re evaluating all of our free agents. Naturally, your reaction is you’d love to have them all back, we just know that’s not fiscally possible to bring everybody back. But that’s certainly an option for us that we’re considering.”
Would you like OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney to sign an extension before training camp?
“That’s something that we’re currently evaluating right now, about the feasibility of that. It’s certainly something we have interest in.”
Would you like to sign guys to extensions now with all the cap space the Texans have?
“Well, one thing I will say is, personally, I believe in drafting, developing, growing and extending our own. The more times that we have the ability to do that, the more confident I’m going to be on doing extensions.”
What do you think of ILB Benardrick McKinney being a core part of the defense and is he in line for a possible contract extension?
“I was here when we drafted him and I was here for the three years to watch him grow and develop into a full-time starter. I’m excited about the opportunity to consider that as well. He’s certainly a core piece and a guy that we would consider doing that with as well.”
How important is it for players being evaluated to fit in with position coaches?
“Critically important. You asked about earlier about building the program together and communicating. So, we’ve spent our time with our coaches. One of the first things that we did here when we got here was to find out what the critical factors are for every position, for the scheme and the system that we currently play for. So, when we scout players externally, we make sure we’re finding or identifying the players either via the draft or free agency who fit our system, who fit our scheme. And then No. 3, do they fit our program, do they fit our culture? The third part is equally, critically important that if they’re coming into our building, I can see the physical part and I can approve the part that they fit the system and the scheme, but I also need to make sure that any player that we acquire fits our program, fits our culture and fits our work ethic environment.”
Are you optimistic that RB D’Onta Foreman will be able to return by Week 1?
“I won’t speak specific to injuries but I’m fairly optimistic that the answer would be yes.”
How much does the Jacksonville Jaguars quick turnaround give you hope?
“Certainly our focus is always going to be on the AFC South. Our first focus is always going to be on trying to win the AFC South. No. 2, the landscape of the division has changed a little bit since I left and returned. So, it’s a very competitive division from the Jaguars to the Titans, hopefully to ourselves, to the Colts. A lot of changes have been made, head coaches have changed, regimes have changed. So, a lot of new direction within the division, but certainly a formidable foe and right now they’re the division champs and we’re chasing that.”
What do you want to see with the prospects when you interview them?
“So, I alluded to this earlier – when you can watch the tape you see the physical dimensions of the player. The opportunity to come here and to evaluate the players on a personal level, the interview portion, the medical portion equally as well, but it’s a chance to get to know these guys to know exactly what you’re getting when they come into the building. For the most part, we want to get to know who they are, we want to get to know what their support system is and we’d like to talk about football as much as we can, but we need to know everything we can to find out about these players so when they come into our building that they’re a good fit for us in the locker room, in the weight room, in the training room, in the meeting rooms and on the practice field.”
How important is it to have prototypes for positions you evaluate?
“Critically important. In terms of prototypes, we break it down by position in terms of the height, weight, speed and physical parameters that we might be looking for. Equally, specific skillsets that we may be looking for at variating positions, whatever they may be. Part of that is the execution. The important part about that is the follow-through and the execution for the vision that you’re trying to build a team, what do you physically want them to look like, what’s the intangible profile of these players that you want them to have and then you indoctrinate that into your scouting system.”
What went into the decision to release ILB Brian Cushing and how difficult was that?
“Very difficult decision, and I think the best compliment that I can say to Brian Cushing is the following – in my 20 years of scouting, I probably have not enjoyed evaluating a player more than watching Brian Cushing play football. And that’s the best compliment I can say to Brian.”
Why was ILB Brian Cushing enjoyable for you?
“It’s the temperament, the tempo and the energy and his instinct and his effort on how he played the game, but also how he prepared.”
HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN
What do you think about some of the potential rule changes, like the catch rule?
“I think at the end of the day, when we all get together as coaches, there’s a lot of great communication on whatever rule there is on the table to talk about. Then, at the end of the day, the decisions are made above us. We give them our thoughts and then we try to put the thoughts together in a concise manner and then those decisions are made, and then whatever the rules are, that’s what we play by. I’m not going to speak for every coach but I don’t think we lose too much sleep over it. We just give them our thoughts and go from there.”
Can you talk about Senior Director of Sports Performance Luke Richesson’s role with the team?
“Luke was a very important hire for us. Craig Fitzgerald did an awesome job for us and left to go to the University of Tennessee with Jeremy Pruitt, which was a great opportunity for Fitz. So, we had an opening and Brian (Gaine) and I sat down with Cal (McNair) and Bob (McNair) and we kind of revamped our thinking on that. We brought in a couple guys to interview – Luke being one of those guys – and he just did an unbelievable job in his interview, talking about not just strength and conditioning but nutrition and hydration and sleep patterns and all the different things that go into sports performance. We thought that he had a real good grasp of all of it. We liked the sounds when he talked to us about the staff that he was bringing in and wanted to bring in. We liked the sounds of those guys. He’s been here for maybe two weeks right now and he’s working, and the players that are back working out in Houston are there and they’re impressed with him. It’s going well.”
Where is QB Deshaun Watson in his rehab and what do you think about him going to Germany?
“In his rehab, I believe he’s ahead of schedule from what I see, what I hear. I think he’s doing real well. He’s been through this before, unfortunately. He knows what the rehab process is and I think he’s doing a real good job. Relative to him going to Germany, look, he’s a young man and he wants to explore the world and he has a chance to do it. Go for it.”
Where do things stand with TE C.J. Fiedorowicz right now?
“We’re looking at our roster. We’re talking to a lot of different players. I don’t think any decision’s been made in that regard relative to C.J. I know that Brian and Chris will probably meet with his representative and him at some point in time, but as far as the coaches are concerned right now, C.J. is still with us.”
Where did your history start with Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone and what did you think of what the Jaguars were able to do last season?
“Doug and I have known each other for a long time. 1995. So, almost 25 years, not quite. Our families, our wives are friends. Our wives went to Boston College together, our families know each other. He’s a good friend and he’s a heck of a coach who did a great job this year. I think it’s pretty well documented we worked together at Georgia Tech and we’ve known each other for a long time.”
What advice did you offer to Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel about being a first-time head coach?
“He’s in the division, so I didn’t offer him too much advice. No, he’s a very bright guy, very smart, really good coach, good communicator. Every situation’s different and I think that, like I said, the type of intellectual ability that he has, his ability to teach and communicate, he’s going to do a good job there.”
What is it like working with General Manager Brian Gaine and what do you see of him as an evaluator and a teammate?
“Brian (Gaine) and I, we worked together for three years in Houston and worked closely together during his three years there as the director of player personnel. We worked a lot together. We knew each other before that. We have a lot of the same philosophy as to how to build a football culture, a football team. We believe in the same things. We were kind of, in many ways, brought up the same way in football, especially in the NFL relative to Coach (Bill) Parcells and Coach (Bill) Belichick. So, there’s a lot of common language that we use and we talk all the time. We communicate really well. We’re both from the northeast, although he’s from New York City and I’m from Boston, which there are some – that’s another story for another time. He’s an easy guy to talk to. We don’t always agree on everything, but we agree quite a bit of the time as to how we see a player, how we want to set things up in the football program that we’re trying to put together. So, it’s been really good.”
There are five former Penn State players in this draft. Do you still have any relationship with those guys? And do you take pride in what they’ve accomplished after what happened to the program?
“No doubt. There were a lot of those guys at the Senior Bowl. So, Mike Gesicki was there, DaeSean (Hamilton) was there, Adam Breneman – who I know he transferred to U Mass (University of Massachusetts), but he was a guy that we recruited and coached when I was there. So, it was great to see all those guys. When they made the choice to go to Penn State, that was a different time at Penn State than what it is now – and give a lot of credit to James Franklin, where he’s taken that program now – but when those kids committed to Penn State, there was no Big Ten championship to play for, there was no bowl game to go to, there was no National Championship to play for. They made a commitment to come to Penn State during a tough time and so those are guys that are wise beyond their years. They’re bright guys. They love their teammates. They were very, very good at the Senior Bowl, in the interviews, in practices and things like that. I think that all of us that were at Penn State in ’12 and ’13 are very proud of what’s going on at Penn State right now with that football program and where they’re at and looking forward to continue to see it build.”
What were your impressions of QB Baker Mayfield and QB Josh Allen at the Senior Bowl, even though they weren’t on your team?
“Yeah, they weren’t, but we were able to kind of be around them. We met with them the last day. We kind of switched teams so the coaches could talk to the guys from the other team which was a pretty unique thing there. I think that they do a good job, Phil Savage does a great job with that. So, I really enjoyed talking to those guys. Baker and Josh had great energy about them. They were smart. They had good questions. They remembered things well from their own offenses, their week at the Senior Bowl. I really enjoyed getting to know them for that little time that we got to know them.”
Can you talk about hiring Senior Defensive Assistant/Outside Linebackers Coach John Pagano and what you want him to do for you this year?
“John is a guy that I’ve known for a long time, obviously known his brother Chuck (Pagano) and John comes from a football family. He’s coached in a lot of different systems. He’s coached a lot of different types of players. He’s coached a lot of different type of positions. He’s coached D-line, linebacker, secondary – he’s coached them all. He’s another guy that was very impressive in his interview when he sat down with me. Romeo (Crennel) was in there. I thought he did a really good job of teaching and communicating and being able to answer different situational type questions. I think we’re lucky to have John. I think he’s really going to bring a lot of knowledge and energy to our staff.”
How do you evaluate the running back depth considering that RB D’Onta Foreman is coming off an injury?
“D’Onta’s doing well. I mean, he’s in there every day. I know that’s not the easiest injury to come back from. Obviously, an Achilles is tough, but he’s doing everything they’re asking him to do and he looks like he’s on schedule, maybe even a little bit ahead of schedule. He’s positive about it. Look, our running back situation is something that has been very productive for us. D’Onta’s been productive, Lamar’s (Miller) been productive. We’ve gotten production out of Alfred Blue, so we feel good about it. But it’s just like every position on our team, we’re constantly talking about it, evaluating it and thinking about ways to improve it relative to maybe how we coach that position better or maybe it’s something else. That’s where it’s at with the running back position.”
What were your takeaways of Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta from the Senior Bowl?
“Did a good job. (He’s) very smart, very attentive. I thought that he picked up on the things that we were trying to do. He improved from day one to the game. He played well in the game. I thought he played real well in the game. Great guy. (I) saw him after the game with his family and he was all excited about the way he played in the game. Just a good guy that really seemed to love football.
How different is Penn State RB Saquon Barkley now from when he visited Penn State for a game as a high school sophomore?
“That was unbelievable. He was going to Rutgers. Nothing against Rutgers and I don’t mean anything against Rutgers, but in 2013 he came to the Michigan game and we beat Michigan in four overtimes. He came into the locker room after the game and I just remember him being very excited to be there and I said, ‘Yeah, but you’re committed to Rutgers.’ And I think at that time he said, ‘No, no, no,’ one of those things. He was a great guy in the time that we got to know him and then James (Franklin) came in, recruited him. He committed to James and his crew and I mean the guy’s been (an) unbelievable player. I’ve never met him other than that night at that game, but since then I have not seen him but he seems like such a great guy and (I’m) looking forward to meeting him here. He’s meant a lot to Penn State, I know that.”
What kind of coach was Titans Quarterbacks Pat O’Hara like on your staff and how will he transition to his role with the Titans?
“Pat’s a great guy. He’s very smart, played the position. He played for a long time. He played in the Arena (Football) League, played a little bit in the NFL. He’s coached all kinds of different players at that position. He can evaluate that position. He’s very knowledgeable about the mechanics of a quarterback. I thought that was one of the things he brought to the table for us. He was really knowledgeable about footwork and throwing motion and all those different things, and he’s a great friend. Pat’s a great friend and he’s a really good guy.’
Was it tough saying goodbye to ILB Brian Cushing?
“Yeah, no doubt. Those decisions are always really tough, especially when it’s a heart-and-soul guy, captain of your team. A guy that’s played so tough and competitively and with great energy for all the years that he played in Houston. But those are decisions that have to be made at certain points of guys’ careers. Brian will always be a Texan, no doubt about it.”
What’s your evaluation of TE Ryan Griffin and TE C.J. Fiedorowicz?
“I would say – I’m not going to really get into my evaluation of them, I’ll just tell you that they’re both great guys. They’re both big, good pass-catching, run-blocking tight ends that have played a lot of good football for us. No doubt about it.”