We’ve been wondering this for a while now. Where did Jack Easterby come from? Who is Jack Easterby? How does someone without a football background have such a grand influence on football decisions? How did he manage to take over the general manager role? Why was DeAndre Hopkins really traded? What does the future hold for Easterby as the Texans navigate their way to a new leadership group?
These questions were rhetorical. Never were any answers provided. These were despairs we screamed into our pillows before the nightmares devoured our brains. But now, thanks to Sports Illustrated, with Jenny Vrentas and Greg Bishop doing tremendously diligent reporting, the curtain has been peeled back on Jack Easterby. He is a snake oil salesman. The singular destruction he took to the Houston Texans, all in the name of his own power grab, cannot be emphasized enough.
You can read the entire article here, and you should read every word. If you don’t want to read, here are some of the highlights.
Easterby arrived from New England and was hired by Bill O’Brien. Immediately after Rick Smith stepped down as general manager, Easterby received a significant promotion.
The promotion Easterby received in January, to executive vice president of football operations, reflected the wide-ranging authority he’d gained since being hired nine months earlier. The Texans’ football operations were divided into what they called “subprograms.” O’Brien handled coaching and had final say on the roster. In addition to strength and conditioning, Easterby oversaw everything from team logistics to salary cap management to sport science, equipment, video, player development and security for football operations.
The flux at the organization’s top levels had created a growing power vacuum leading up to Easterby’s arrival in Houston. Rick Smith had taken a leave of absence as GM at the end of the 2017 season to tend to his ailing wife; Bob McNair—the man whom Easterby heard speak at South Carolina a decade earlier—died in November 2018. The team’s original owner had once been a commanding presence in the building, but cancer had taken a toll in his final years. His son, Cal, newly in charge, hired Easterby in April 2019 as a vice president of team development.
The Texans fired Brian Gaine, allegedly in order to try and bring Nick Caserio to Houston as the general manager. Houston dropped that pursuit once New England filed tampering charges.
Easterby was returning to New England two months after he was hired by the Texans, joining his colleagues turned rivals on the sprawling backyard lawn set up for the outdoor reception hosted by Kraft. Sometime after the cocktail hour started and before drivers took guests home, Easterby was seen huddled with Caserio, New England’s top personnel executive, long enough to draw attention. Fewer than 24 hours later, back in Houston, Gaine was abruptly fired; the Texans then requested an interview with Caserio. (Gaine declined to comment to SI.). A few days following the dismissal, news broke that the Patriots were filing tampering charges against the Texans for the improper pursuit of Caserio.
Without a general manager, Easterby was granted more power and a greater role within the organization.
Easterby weighed in on the handling of injuries and how the post-practice nutrition shakes should be prepared and distributed. He began giving input into the team’s daily agenda, which sometimes resulted in confusion: The schedule texted to players and the football operations division each night was often different from what was on the TVs when they arrived for work at the stadium the next day. To some, Easterby cast this as a mix-up; but others suspect his intention was to test the team, like some sort of Belichickian mind trick. Some of Easterby’s colleagues who have worked for other NFL clubs describe a constant scramble that devolved into a dysfunction unlike any they have experienced, complicating even routine tasks, such as compiling an injury report.
Last January, the Texans fired Chris Olsen, their longtime contract negotiator. Easterby subsequently took on a lead role in negotiating contracts—O’Brien publicly credited him for closing extensions for Watson and linebacker Zach Cunningham—some of which have been widely criticized for their player-friendly structures.
The Texans did not trade DeAndre Hopkins because it would make the team better or because of the salary cap. They did it because Jack Easterby and Bill O’Brien didn’t think the best wide receiver in the NFL was a “culture fit”.
O’Brien, who assumed the GM title nine months before being fired, took the brunt of the backlash for Hopkins’s unpopular trade, which has proved to be lopsided. While O’Brien negotiated the terms—the consensus was that the coach wanted to trade Hopkins as well—the same sources who recounted Easterby’s perceived coldness to Hopkins say it went further: They describe Easterby as the first, and most persistent, advocate for the team’s trading the receiver out of Houston. One of these people recalls hearing Easterby saying about Hopkins in front of small groups of people on multiple occasions in 2019, “We need to move on from that person,” without using his name. Another recalls learning that the Texans discussed trading Hopkins as early as the summer of 2019.
We’ve seen and heard about multiple bizarre and abrupt firings, strange decisions, and odd rumors over the last two years, all coinciding with Easterby’s promotion. Nothing is as strange as the following. Specifically, when a Texans player felt he was being followed by the organization.
A culture of distrust had started to permeate the organization. Multiple Texans from Easterby’s tenure say they began to watch what they would say in conversations with him, nervous that the culture coach was looking for reasons to move out people with different values or lifestyles. Those worries weren’t limited to the workplace. One player was so convinced he was being followed by someone representing the team that he paid a friend to watch the dark sedan he says he observed frequently parked outside his house. He even went so far as to log license plate numbers of unfamiliar cars. Two other members of the organization shared the player’s concerns that members of the team were being surveilled away from the building. (The Texans did not respond to specific questions about these accounts.)
Easterby spoke to Cal McNair after the Texans loss to the Vikings in Week Four, which may in fact pushed McNair to fire O’Brien, making Easterby the general manager of the Houston Texans.
Just like Gaine had been isolated and fired, just like Hopkins had been traded, just like the roster had been made over, another domino would fall. Nine months removed from a close playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs, as the Texans worked their way to an 0–4 start, one player was approached by Easterby. The executive had foreshadowed a coaching change, the player told a person close to him, and asked for the player’s support when it happened. The day after a loss to the Vikings, Easterby wandered aimlessly around the office in a way that struck others as unusual, while telling colleagues that he had spoken to McNair after the defeat. Several hours later, O’Brien was fired (O’Brien, through his agent, declined multiple requests for comment).
After getting what he’s always wanted, Easterby is wriggling, trying to provide guidance and aid in the search for the Texans’ newest general manager, trying to do everything he can to maintain the position he has.
In a statement provided to SI by a Texans spokesperson, McNair said he believes Easterby did “a great job picking up [GM] responsibilities in addition to his other duties,” but that he wants to “make it clear that Jack is not on our internal search committee for the next GM or head coach. ... However, I value Jack’s input and if he has first-hand knowledge about a specific candidate, I will ask for his observations and feedback.” He and the next GM, McNair affirmed, will determine the roles of all football operations employees, including Easterby.
There’s a sense that Easterby is scrambling. Confidants say that the last couple of months have been a tough time for Easterby, as he’s faced what McNair labeled as “personal attacks.” He’s trying to hang on as the roles he once captured slip away. Those who were with him in that first season in Houston know that he’s capable of doing it. As one former Texans staffer says, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the building thinks of him. “All you have to do is convince one or two people, then isolate them from the thoughts and feelings of the rest of the staff.”
One thing is clear throughout all of this. Easterby hurt the Texans in his chase for greater power and control within the franchise. As we and so many others have said before, the Texans need to clean house entirely after this season. Easterby should have zero influence over who becomes the next general manager or head coach in Houston. He’s been able to outlast everyone else thus far. He’s all that’s left. Hopefully Cal McNair is able to do what’s right to ensure the nonsense that has permeated the franchise comes to an end.
The Texans need to fire Jack Easterby. This expose makes that more obvious than ever. If Cal McNair is truly committed to having the best football organization possible, Jack Easterby cannot be allowed to remain employed at NRG Park in any capacity.