Jack Easterby gone as VP of football operations

If you were to ask anyone what Jack Easterby was up to in nearly four seasons with the Texans, chances are they still don’t quite know. Never in Houston’s football history had there been such an enigmatic director whose influence extended beyond his qualifications, whose cryptic job title gave him a broad enough scope to lay claim to or be given both credit and blame for even things he was not very involved in .

Maybe there will never be. The Texans fired Easterby on Monday, a crucial decision by chairman and CEO Cal McNair that was arguably delayed by two seasons in terms of Easterby’s direct impact on the team’s performance. The peak of Easterby’s power was over, but he was allowed to remain in the background as the franchise’s new leadership rectified the roster and budgetary blunders that still put the Texans below average.

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 CEO Nick Caserio was hired in January 2021. McNair said in a statement Easterby’s role could be taken over by the team’s football team, “effective immediately”.

Teams usually don’t shuffle their front office structure mid-season without a plan in mind, and Houston’s open week provided a convenient platform for both sides to part ways. Coach Lovie Smith declined to comment on Easterby’s ouster, but said he is “well aware of what’s going on at the moment” and how the franchise’s organizational structure will play out for the remaining 12 games.

Easterby oversaw logistics and technology groups that supported the workflow of football operations — such as the nutrition program, gym and sports medicine team — and each department has a leader who is now directly under Caserio’s direction. The streamlined executive leadership should provide immediate clarity to a franchise that will decide off-season whether those departments need a shared manager.

Easterby’s ambiguous function 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 fire each other. Easterby can stretch across different departments and cause conflict, but would ultimately only answer to McNair.

McNair chose to retain Easterby following the resignation of former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien in 2020. Problematic staffing decisions made in the O’Brien-Easterby era left roster cluttered and chaotic. salary cap, which prevented Texans from pursuing top talent from free agencies for two consecutive years. Caserio has said he knew the remodel would be a “huge undertaking” when he was hired.

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

It was astonishing that Easterby was involved in personnel decisions at all. He had arrived in Houston in 2019 after spending six seasons as a character coach with the Patriots. He held the same role at the University of South Carolina from 2005 to 2010, when he spent two seasons as a chaplain with the Kansas City Chiefs.

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

Belichick expressed his own surprise that Easterby had risen to a similar role in team development in Houston. Easterby’s influence grew along with O’Brien, whose power-hungry tendencies led to the ousting of former general manager Brian Gaine. When O’Brien was sacked in 2020 after a 0-4 start, Easterby was appointed interim general manager.

Easterby then turned all staffing decisions over to Caserio, a former Patriots director who had tried to hire the Texans twice before. Caserio immediately absorbed all roster-related football decisions — the draft, free choice, trades, contracts — and was also the punt man in each of Houston’s two head coach searches, which were approved by McNair.

Yet Easterby’s presence was palpable. The mere sight of him on the sidelines in 2021 angered a Texas fanbase that was increasingly losing interest in his home team. Easterby and the Texans did little to quell the disdain. Easterby’s only media appearance in the past 25 months was a rare interview with a Philadelphia sports podcast, defining his front office position at Caserio.

Easterby hadn’t appeared in an on-the-record availability with the Houston media since the announcement of the contract extension of since-traded quarterback Deshaun Watson in September 2020 — a timeline that endured several controversies, including a series of critical Sports Illustrated articles about Easterby’s relationship with the squad.

Easterby’s strongest 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 ride program “Payne & Pendergast,” saying Easterby has “been a punching bag since he’s been here” and “honestly, some of it has been unjust.”

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

Caserio’s first tenure as head coach, David Culley, lasted just one season from 4-13. The Texans then nearly hired former quarterback Josh McCown, who had no experience in college or professional coaching, before turning to Smith, who was already employed as a defensive coordinator and was only officially interviewed after finalist Brian Flores filed a racial discrimination lawsuit. had filed against the NFL.

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

How much success lies ahead for the Texans? How does Caserio deal with the future?

The punching bag has been removed.

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