Jack Easterby steps down as VP of Football Operations

If you ask anyone what Jack Easterby has been up to in nearly four seasons with the Texans, chances are they still don’t fully know. Never in Houston football history had there been such an enigmatic executive whose influence went so far beyond his qualifications, whose cryptic job title gave him a wide enough range to claim or receive. both praise and reproach even for things in which he was not supremely involved. .

Maybe there never will be again. The Texans fired Easterby on Monday, a crucial move by chairman and CEO Cal McNair that, in terms of Easterby’s direct impact on the team’s on-court performance, was arguably delayed by two seasons. Easterby’s peak of power had passed, but he was allowed to sit in the background while the franchise’s new management rectified the roster and budget mistakes that still mired the Texans below mediocrity.

The timing of Easterby’s departure is curious, although the decision was inevitable. Easterby’s responsibilities as executive vice president of football operations have been significantly reduced since the hiring of general manager Nick Caserio in January 2021. McNair said in a statement that Easterby’s role may be absorbed by the team’s football operations staff, “with immediate effect”.

Teams don’t typically shake up their front-office structure mid-season without a plan in mind, and Houston Open Week presented a convenient platform for the two sides to go their separate ways. Coach Lovie Smith declined to comment on Easterby’s ousting, but said he was “well briefed on what’s going on right now” and how the franchise’s organizational structure will unfold for the players. 12 matches remaining.

Easterby oversaw the logistics and technology groups that supported the football operations workflow – such as the nutrition programme, weight room and sports medicine team – and each department has a head who now reports directly to management. of Caserio. The streamlined executive leadership should provide immediate clarity for a franchise deciding during the offseason whether those departments need a shared manager.

Easterby’s ambiguous job title often defied definition. The nature of his status left room for complications. Only three people reported directly to McNair – Caserio, Easterby and team president Greg Grissom – and none of them reported to each other. None of them could shoot each other. Easterby could stretch across departments and create conflict, but ultimately would only be answerable to McNair.

McNair opted to retain Easterby beyond the 2020 dismissal of former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien. Problematic personnel decisions made during the O’Brien-Easterby era led to roster disarray and salary cap chaos that prevented the Texans from pursuing top free agency talent for two offseasons. consecutive. Caserio said he knew the reconstruction would be a “massive undertaking” when he was hired.

Beyond a lopsided trade that sent All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals, Easterby negotiated contract extensions in 2020 with linebacker Zach Cunningham, defensive end Whitney Mercilus and cornerback Bradley Roby all of which included at least $18 million in guarantees. None of those contracts lasted beyond Caserio’s first year in Houston, and the Texans still rank second in the NFL with $69.7 million in dead money, according to Over the Cap.

That Easterby was involved in personnel decisions was astounding. He had arrived in Houston in 2019 after spending six seasons as a character coach with the Patriots. He held the same position at the University of South Carolina from 2005 to 2010, when he joined the Kansas City Chiefs as a chaplain for two seasons.

Easterby has built an impressive reputation in New England. He earned the respect of coach Bill Belichick, who in November 2020 told reporters that Easterby was a “very valuable person” who could connect with everyone within the organization. The Patriots coach covered his comment again by saying “Jack is not a staff member, no.”

Belichick was expressing his own surprise that Easterby has moved on from a similar team development role in Houston. Easterby’s influence grew with O’Brien, whose power-hungry tendencies led to the ousting of former general manager Brian Gaine. When O’Brien was fired after an 0-4 start in 2020, Easterby was named interim general manager.

Easterby then handed over all personnel decisions to Caserio, a longtime Patriots executive whom the Texans had tried to hire twice before. Caserio immediately absorbed all roster-focused football decisions — draft, free agency, trades, contracts — and was also the go-to man in each of Houston’s two head coaching searches, which have been approved by McNair.

Still, Easterby’s presence was palpable. The mere sight of him on the sidelines in 2021 angered a Texas fan base that was increasingly losing interest in his hometown team. Easterby and the Texans did little to quell the scorn. Easterby’s only media appearance in the last 25 months was a rare interview with a Philadelphia-based sports podcast during which he defined his front office role with Caserio.

Easterby had not appeared in an official availability with the Houston media since the announcement of the extension of the quarterback’s contract since traded Deshaun Watson in September 2020 – a timeline that has spanned several controversies, including a series of critical Sports Illustrated articles about Easterby’s relationship with the team.

Easterby’s best defender has been Caserio. The two worked together in New England from 2013 to 2018, and Caserio defended Easterby in a January interview with Sports Radio 610’s morning show “Payne & Pendergast”, saying Easterby “has been a punching bag. since he got here” and “quite frankly, some of them have been unfair.

How Caserio goes about organizing football operations will be notable. He is five games into the second season of a six-year contract, and any eventual success or failure will now fall more squarely on him.

Caserio’s first head coaching hire, David Culley, lasted just one season 4-13. The Texans then nearly hired former quarterback Josh McCown, who had no college or professional coaching experience, before turning to Smith, who was already on staff as a defensive coordinator and didn’t was officially interviewed only after runner-up Brian Flores filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL.

Easterby’s potential influence in both searches could not be ignored. As interim general manager, he had signed McCown to the Texans’ practice squad and secured three interviews with McCown for Houston’s head coaching job in less than a year. But Smith and Caserio are now indelibly linked.

What success do the Texans expect? How will Caserio handle the future?

The punching bag has been removed.

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