Yesterday, Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair was interviewed on Sports Radio 610. He explained his decision to fire head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien, making Vice President of Football Operations Jack Easterby the acting general manager until a new GM is found, and starting the head coach and general manager search. He also defended the DeAndre Hopkins trade, which continues to define the Texans existence, to which Hopkins himself responded.
McNair first tackled his decision to fire Bill O’Brien after an 0-4 start:
I’ve heard that as sort of ‘why now’ question and I think it is a good question. But we were 0-4 and the last several quarters I just felt deserved some attention. In the Pittsburgh game, the second half, we really struggled. Then the game against the Vikings. I felt we just weren’t playing the caliber we should be playing. A phrase that’s not my favorite phrase, but sort of a ‘product on the field’. Again, it’s not my favorite phrase, but it is one that I just felt wasn’t there. At 0-4, I just felt we need to change directions and that’s why we did it at that time. Typically, people would do that at the end of the year after the season. We certainly could have waited. There’s sort of another off ramp there around the break on our bye week. Also I had thought about if we hadn’t played better in the Vikings (game) and then against Jacksonville I would need to make the hard decision. It was after the Vikings game that I jut felt it was the right thing to do.
McNair was fully aware of the offensive incompetency and was likely not happy of the team’s performance given how much capital was invested just in the past several months. He also mentioned later in the show that he, “...want[ed] to see our guys having fun.” Here’s the full quote:
I want to see our guys having fun. I want to see the defense flying. I want to put the [Rockboyz] band back together. I want them to play their songs. I want Justin Reid to take a pick back 99 yards. I want to see Deshaun playing air guitar. He’s got a great dance in the end zone my wife really likes to see. These are things I want to get back to. I want to get back to having fun. I want the guys flying around. I want us playing fundamental [football]. And that will lead to wins and get us where we want to go.
It’s encouraging to see McNair realize the failure of O’Brien’s conservative playcalling and his disinterest in taking advantage of the new talent they’ve invested so heavily in. The inability to string together any sort of consistency, along with flat out losing in embarrassing fashion, was enough to suck the fun out of the game for the players. All these factors, according to McNair, were the primary reason for O’Brien’s ousting.
Since Bill O’Brien was both the Head Coach and General Manager, his termination leaves two large holes in the Texans’ staff. McNair’s decision on how the Texans will address this in the coming months is both calming and unnerving at the same time:
That’s how we’ve been structured traditionally, with the head coach and GM. I’ll look for us to go back to that. We’ll spend a lot of time working on getting the exact fit and getting the right guy in each of those seats. Typically, you would do the GM first and then use his expertise in your search group to find the right head coach. And I’m confident we can do that. We’re coming up with lists. We already have lists. We’re working on those, we’ll refine them. We have plenty of time to do that. And again, there’s a lot of constraints within the league while the season is going on, and we totally respect those. But we’ll cast a broad net and look at all of our options and try to find just the right guys that are really going to work hard together, be smart, be dedicated, bring championships to Houston.
It’s comforting to hear that McNair believes in separating the GM and Head Coach duties and encouraging to hear the Texans will hire a GM first, and then find the perfect fit for Head Coach. If the 49ers’ John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan and the Bills’ Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott are any indication, finding a GM/Head Coach that are on the same page will lead to exceptional results.
The frightening part of this news, however, is Jack Easterby’s assumption o duties as acting General Manager and the fact he will stay in the organization after a permanent replacement is found. Easterby, as already mentioned by PFT’s Mike Florio, has a questionable rise in the professional football industry. His roots in the NFL begin in Jacksonville, where we was...something...for the Jaguars. After his brief stint there, Easterby has bounced around from NBA team to NBA team, US National Teams, the University of South Carolina, and then back to the NFL in 2011 when he was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs in a “character development” role. In layman’s terms, Easterby was the team’s pastor. After spending two years there, Easterby flew to New England in 2013, where his relationship with Bill O’Brien would sprout. Easterby’s popularity would grow gradually in his six seasons with the Patriots, as he accepted more and more ambiguous responsibilities in the facility, all surrounding terms like, “character coach” and “personnel development.” In 2019, he accepted a similar role in Houston as Executive Vice President of Football Operations, and now, General Manager.
For the past several years, Easterby has displayed a meteoric rise in power in internal management across several NFL teams. Hired by O’Brien because of their close personal relationship dating back the New England, both he and O’Brien quickly and disastrously pursued Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio to be Houston’s new General Manager after O’Brien forced former GM Brain Gaine out. However, this move was halted when New England filed tampering charges against Houston, with photos of Easterby conversing with Caserio at a Super Bowl ring ceremony in June 2019 as evidence. That now empty seat left by Gaine was filled by Bill O’Brien and his buddy Jack Easterby.
According the NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal on Around the NFL Podcast, Jack Easterby has also developed a reputation of utilizing his media contacts to raise his standing in organizations and establish rapport in the industry. Another individual that Rosenthal mentions, who uses similar tactics of media politics to gain power, is none other than Bill O’Brien. O’Brien and Easterby had established themselves as the de facto leaders of the Houston Texans, and the only way one was coming down was through an internal power struggle, which is exactly what happened.
As mentioned by Ian Rapoport shortly after O’Brien’s firing, he and Easterby had recently stopped seeing eye-to-eye. After several years of friendship and working extremely close, something snapped between O’Brien and Easterby. Easterby was the victor.
An incredible situation for the #Texans. Jack Easterby comes in to evaluate the program. Fires GM Brian Gaine. Now Bill O’Brien gets fired, with word they had not seen eye-to-eye recently.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 5, 2020
In a year and a half, Jack Easterby had climbed up the personnel ladder, as he had everywhere else, and assumed the highest summit.
Another strike against O’Brien, however, was that he had recently just lost his locker room. In a practice session leading up to the Texans’ Week Three match against the Steelers, O’Brien got into a “heated” exchange with J.J. Watt and Anthony Weaver. A source told ESPN that this was the moment O’Brien “lost the team.” When questioned about this altercation in a recent press conference, Watt deflected and aims to look forward:
I’m not going to talk about what happened at practice or what conversations were had or whatever it may be...The situation is what the situation is and we...right now have a fresh start and we had a good practice today and we’re looking forward to Jacksonville. When you’re 0-4, obviously things need to change. I mean, it wasn’t working. I appreciate and respect what we had. We won four division titles in six years with Bill and I appreciate that and that time, but obviously this year, we’re 0-4 and stuff wasn’t working. When you have the talent that we have, specifically at the quarterback position in this league, we can’t be 0-4.
Watt also added:
The one thing I’ll say about Bill O’Brien is he always stood up for his players...Certainly, he tried to do whatever possible to support his players and give his players the absolute best support. And I truly believe that he always did what he believed was best for this football team. So I don’t have ill will at all.
O’Brien and Easterby’s fallout and his quarreling with players likely cemented O’Brien’s exit from Houston.
Despite all of our certainty that, regardless of his failures and ineptitude, O’Brien’s organizational brawn would deflect any potential challenges to his throne, he is now gone. Despite being a successful coach in recent history, winning a playoff game just earlier this year, and assuming the General Manager role, Bill O’Brien has been fired. If anything, this says less about O’Brien’s recent failures and McNair’s guts; it’s more about the power Jack Easterby now wields within the organization. Going from a team pastor at one organization, to a personnel and “character” coach at another, then to literal presidential level of football operations, and now Easterby’s regicide is complete, General Manager. Jack Easterby has quite the knack for consolidating power, even with very little professional football experience of any sort. He his the new king of the Houston Texans.
This resume of aggressive power consolidation and scarce football expertise is unlike any other executive in personnel management in the NFL. The Texans have stated Easterby was instrumental in all of the trades constructed in 2019, which including the Clowney, Tunsil/Stills, and Gareon Conley trades. He also signed off on the DeAndre Hopkins trade, whom the Texans replaced with Randall Cobb and noted Easterby acolyte Brandin Cooks. Depending on who you ask, Easterby isn’t off to a hot start in managing.
Speaking of Hopkins, McNair used his opportunity on the air to further defend that upsetting trade:
We would’ve loved to have Hopkins on our team but when you have a franchise left tackle, which we re-did his contract, which by the way, he’s playing at a top five level right now. The franchise left tackle is a huge piece of the puzzle. We have a franchise quarterback which is what we’ve been looking for, for years, and what every team is looking for and trying to get. And we have them. And we have a very firm belief that Deshaun is our guy. So we had those two major contracts. As you look across the league, we are paying more than anyone and it’s not really very close on our roster.
So When Hopkins wanted to re-do his contract, it just wasn’t something we could do. We did trade him, we moved him. We moved him to a team that had the salary cap room to extend. We moved him to a team that I know the owners, it’s a great ownership. We moved him to a team that has a n exciting and fun offense. I think we did a good job placing him in a good place. He’s a talented, talented guy. We would love to have him but it wasn’t going to fit financially with all the constraints that we have in operating...under the salary cap. It just wasn’t possible to do at this time.
This is the same reasoning we heard earlier in the year, and this time, DeAndre Hopkins himself wasn’t having it. Hopkins tweeted and then deleted a reaction to this quote, stating he did not in fact want to ‘re-do’ his contract. Hopkins stated he only wanted a “bandaid” deal, which requires a slight raise. He’s happy in Arizona now, of course. Make of this controversy what you will, but seeing as McNair took responsibility for a firing that was likely orchestrated by Easterby, I’m inclined to side with Hopkins.
What an avalanche of information and controversy coming out the Texans organization post-O’Brien. Almost like an immune system expunging itself of all ailments in repulsive fashion, all drama related to Overlord O’Brien is leaking out to the press, with much more presumably to come.
It reminds me of that scene in “Spirited Away” where Chihiro is tasked with cleansing the gigantic and repugnant stink spirit, which she achieves in a most disgustingly satisfying fashion. Bill O’Brien was the stink spirit of the Houston Texans, and we are now being cleansed of him. It is still very clear that we have one more stink spirit remaining in the building, one even bigger and stinkier than the great Bill O’Brien: Jack Easterby. Until we are rid of him, this organization will never move forward.