For six-plus seasons, John Harris had one of the more unusual jobs in media, reporting as part of the Texans’ broadcasting and media department on a team coached by his college friend, Bill O’Brien.
It was not, Harris acknowledged this week, an easy job. But he said the emotions associated with O’Brien’s firing as Texans coach and general manager last month were not that unique for those who spend years as team-affiliated broadcasters.
“It’s the nature of the business,” Harris said. “I’ve been in football all my life, and I’ve seen it happen to a lot people that I have known. I look at it as just the way football is, and I trust the McNair family to make the right decisions for the organization and for the city.
“There’s not much to do but do your job and hope they can bring in people who can get a championship here. It obviously was not going to be Bill. It’s unfortunate. I hate to see anybody lose their job, but we weren’t getting to where we needed to go.”
Harris, who was a college teammate of O’Brien’s at Brown University, was reticent to discuss details of his professional relationship with O’Brien but said it was “difficult on both sides, to be honest. That was the thing. It was a difficult dynamic.”
“You have to look at it as coach O’Brien and John Harris vs. OB and Johnny, who knew each other for a long time,” he added. “You have to keep those things separate. There’s no doubt about that.”
Harris grew up the Houston area and played at Lamar Consolidated before playing at Brown, coaching high school football in Florida and returning to Houston to work at CBS Radio and Gow Media before joining the Texans in 2014, a few weeks after O’Brien was hired. He works as the sideline reporter for games and does weekly shows on Texans Radio properties.
“It’s not totally unusual for people to have known each other before, but it’s usually two coaches who have coached together,” he said. “The role that I was in and am in is unique. I’m never going to put it out there that ‘this was wrong’ or ‘this was bad.’ That’s not my role.
“Some people will consider that blowing sunshine or whatever, but we’re not going to look at it as ‘that guy played a horrible game.’ If we get beat, it will be ‘we didn’t play well, we didn’t do the things we needed to do,’ a more collective thing than an individual thing.”
Harris said O’Brien will be remembered for his role in leading the team to four AFC South championships but that circumstances “have gotten to the point where it was time to take some next steps and (Texans chairman Cal McNair) didn’t see what he needed to see.”
As for his future relationship with O’Brien, Harris said, “We’ll see what happens in time. I wish Bill all the luck in the world and hope he moves on and does great things, and I want the organization I work for to have great things, too.”
The Texans are 1-6 coming off their open date, but Harris isn’t ready to give up on the season.
“I still think there is plenty to play for,” he said. “If we show up to play, we can play with anybody, and if we don’t we can get beaten by anybody. That’s the rule in the NFL. Hopefully the better side of us shows up.”
As a former pitcher, Astros radio analyst Steve Sparks sees trouble on the horizon for his collective former brethren.
Health is one area of concern. Arm injuries laid waste to the Astros’ projected rotation this year, topped by the loss of Justin Verlander for 2020 and 2021. Of 456 players who spent time on the MLB injured list this season, 272 were pitchers, according to Sportrac.com, and 73 were on the list for 50 or more days.
“Going what I remembered from the 1995 season after the strike, I didn’t think it was going to be this bad,” Sparks said. “I think part of it was the mental hurdles, with the pandemic, the discord among the union and owners on stopping and starting, and so pitchers were caught in between without knowing if they needed to stay ramped up or not.
“I would imagine someone who was in between physically but mentally stayed sharp was able to get through the season. I haven’t looked up the numbers, but I know there were way more pitching injuries than in a normal season, and I don’t know what that means for the next year or two.”
Sparks also sees teams reassessing how to value pitchers. He was taken aback, for example, that the Indians chose not to pick up a team option on closer Brad Hand and also noted the Rays’ decision not to pick up a $15 million option on Charlie Morton.
“I think we are starting to see teams like the Rays not want to pay high dollars to very many pitchers,” he said. “”They’re trying to be more cost efficient.
“Charlie probably came in at less than six innings pitched, and perhaps in the Rays’ roster scope might be worth maybe $9.5 to $11 million because of the lack of innings. I think we are going to a lot of rosters get reconstructed this year.”
If the universal DH stays and with the roster limit at 26, Sparks expects more job opportunities for pitchers, and he also expects a payroll squeeze on middle of the roster-type players. One question associated with that latter trend, however, is how it will or will not be affected by the expected minor league reductions.
He also expects a continued trend toward versatility, as evidenced by the multiple lineups that the Rays were able to employ against the Astros in the American League Championship Series.
Sparks also did a stint Tuesday morning on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio to discuss the Astros’ plans for free agency in light of the potential loss of George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick. His suggestion: the return of Jake Marisnick.
Meanwhile, Sparks said he was pleased with this week’s news that A.J. Hinch will become manager of the Detroit Tigers.
“I know how much he cares about the game and how much he enjoys competing and being part of people’s lives,” he said. “I’m glad he’s in Detroit. He’s got people there who care about him. I was in that organization, and A.J. and I were teammates and I know he had good relationships with the front office there, and that will help the transition.
“He’s so sharp. He’s going to confront things head-on, so there won’t be any more questions asked.”
Four DVRs, no waiting
• In a worrisome development for the sports TV industry Sinclair has written down the value by nearly one-half of the regional sports networks that it purchased from Fox, including Fox Sports Southwest in Irving.
Sinclair paid $9.6 billion in August 2019 for the 21 RSNs but said in its quarterly earnings statement it has reduced their value by $4.23 billion. Bloomberg Intelligence reports that RSN profits may drop by almost half this year because of the reduced MLB and NBA schedules.
The Sinclair decision also has potential implications for the potential sale of AT&T SportsNet Southwest, which carries Rockets and Astros games. AT&T is said to be interested in selling its RSNs in Houston, Denver and Pittsburgh, but other than Sinclair, there have been few prospective, logical bidders that have come to mind. …
• Believe it or not, there’s an international gymnastics meet this weekend in Tokyo host city for the 2021 Olympics, called the Friendship and Solidarity Competition. Among the competitors is Sophia Butler, who trains at Discover Gymnastics in Houston and could be the area’s next gymnast of note. The event airs live at 10 p.m. Sunday on NBC Sports’ Olympic Channel. …
• Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta will call the Texans-Jaguars game Sunday on CBS. …
• ESPN informed employees Thursday that it is cutting about 500 jobs, with 300 coming through layoffs and 200 through open positions that won’t be filled. Sports Business Daily reported that remote production cutbacks will account for much of the workforce reductions. …
• Former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson and boxer Marlen Esparza are subjects of the Chronicle’s current “In Depth” edition of Texas Sports Nation, which appears throughout the month on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. …
• Announcer pairings on college football games of regional interest this weekend include Sean McDonough/Todd Blackledge on Houston-Cincinnati (ESPN), David Saltzman/Taylor McHargue on UTSA-Rice (ESPN3), Mark Jones/Dusty Dvoracek on Texas A&M-South Carolina (ESPN) and Joe Tessitore/Greg McElroy on West Virginia-Texas (Ch. 13).
Also, Brian Custer/Robert Smith on Baylor-Iowa State (FS1), Dave Leno/Ken Dunek on SMU-Temple (ESPN+), Eric Collins/Ben Leber on Texas Tech-TCU (FS1), Anish Shroff/Tom Luginbill on Kansas-Oklahoma (ESPN2), Dave Ryan/Corey Chavous on Louisiana Tech-North Texas (CBS Sports Network) and Brant Freeman/Steven Foster on Appalachian State-Texas State (ESPN+).