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A Look Behind The Curtain

A comprehensive look back at the Easterby experience.

Carolina Panthers v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

In one of my previous pieces, I took a look at the Deshaun Watson press conference and began to do a deep dive into the issues that will likely plague the former Texans quarterback moving forward. It’s almost impossible to discuss Watson and his downfall in Houston without discussing Jack Easterby. On the one hand, I get how tired everyone is of hearing that name. Easterby has almost become a cartoon character at this point.

Yet there’s the point that people have faces that they show the world and faces that they have in private that generated the most discussion behind the scenes. Public and private personas can be costly business when you are looking at a billion dollar industry like the NFL. Having people who can work with others and help them avoid those pitfalls is definitely worth the trouble. At least, that’s the theory behind having a Jack Easterby in the organization.

I’ve been lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to work with teenagers professionally, socially, and now again in my own home. In addition to teaching, I also volunteer at my local church and have done so for more than 20 years. I have seen a Jack Easterby before. I imagine we all have. They mention all the buzzwords and phrases like “servant leadership” while most people don’t quite understand what they are talking about.

A large part of the misunderstanding comes down to the meaning of that phrase. A character coach or life coach doesn’t control who is in the congregation. They take those that do come and help them to be better. They make them want to come back. They help them discover how they can be more fully integrated into the faith community. In the tradition of ministry, there are two competing concepts. There are ministers who are “called” and then there are ministers who are “sent.”

Without getting into specifics of a largely theological discussion, the difference is that one has service thrust upon them while the other gets to choose who to serve. Easterby has somehow taken a role that has traditionally been the first and somehow turned it into the second. He has embraced a role where he takes the players that personnel people choose and works with them and somehow converted it to a position where he becomes intertwined with player personnel.

The Easterby Dilemma is one most of us have seen before. We’ve seen it at work, when someone with an extra helping of charisma has somehow risen to a position they are incapable of doing. For those of us that go to church, we have seen it there as well. Someone on the staff somehow has taken power and has perverted the mission of the church. Years later, you look up and wonder what in the hell just happened.

The results are undeniable. An organization that started with Brian Gaine as the general manager somehow ended up firing him without a plan moving forward. They tried hiring Nick Caserio from New England, with Easterby in the middle of some kind of Machiavellian plot to poach him from the Patriots. That didn’t work. They tried the “flat organization structure” approach with no real general manager. We saw how that worked out.

Then William O’Brien became the general manager, with Bill O’Brien remaining the head coach. He got the ax eventually, too. One man was in the center of all of these gaffes. He’s the same guy who was at the center of pivoting from Omar Khan to Nick Caserio. This was the move that reportedly pissed off Deshaun Watson to the degree that he wanted out of Houston. Somehow, the person at the center of all of this failure not only kept a position within the organization, but managed to stumble his way up to Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Admittedly, I don’t know Jack Easterby. We only know what we have read about him. What I know is that a true servant leader knows what he can do well and what he can’t do well. He knows what he is qualified to do and what he isn’t qualified to do. He is humble enough to take the gifts that he has been given and use them to make the organization better. He certainly doesn’t use them to feather his own nest. Of course, we don’t know for a fact that Easterby was responsible for all of those people being gone. We just have to put two and two together to get four.

Naturally, that brings us to the question of what to do now. Someone who is a character coach or minister thrives on trust. They are only successful as long as those they shepherd trust them. If their flock doesn’t trust them, it really doesn’t matter whether that lack of faith is deserved or not.

We have often been told that perception is reality. A true servant leader would know when to step aside in a situation like this. Whether “culture ball” is a winning philosophy or not is immaterial. Results speak for themselves. Sometimes you are saddled with a losing vision. Sometimes you have a good vision that is just trusted to the wrong people. The end result in this case is the same. Whether it is the man or the mission, they both need to be gone.