Did Caserio express happiness being free from Easterby’s shadow?

Jan 1, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio walks on the field before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Did Caserio express happiness being free from Easterby’s shadow?

In his press conference on Monday evening, Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio revealed a lot about the behind-the-scenes workings of the team and why he wants to change the way they do things going forward.

Caserio has developed a reputation for how he speaks, especially since he doesn’t speak that often. When he does, there are a lot of generalities, a lot of collaborative phrases, and what we refer to as “team speak.” However, if you listen closely, he can reveal things in his indirect way that are quite interesting.

Caserio was clearly sent to the podium Monday night to take the bullets for the franchise. The truth is that the overwhelming number of problems this team has or had are problems he inherited and was brought in to fix. Some of those problems he has been successful in fixing (draft, Watson deal), and some he has struggled with.

Now some of those struggles have to do with the obstacles he has had to overcome (bad contracts by the former regime, Jack Easterby’s meddling), and some are of his own volition (late-round picks traded for players who never played). But the fact of the matter is, Caserio inherited the biggest rebuild in the salary cap era of the NFL.

The team’s failures on the field highlight these issues, but in reality, this Texans team should have started 3-0, not 0-3. They also blew games later in the season that they should have won to the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs with the players they currently have. Despite the record, this was an improved roster.

But as legendary coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”

So Nick Caserio stood before the Houston media and took the bullets for the team. Sometimes that is the job. In doing his job, Caserio revealed some things about the inner workings of the organization.

When asked about changes he intends to make to the team’s head coaching search, Caserio gave a very interesting answer.

“I think including maybe more voices, more people, utilizing the resources that we have in the building. Utilizing our resources throughout the league. Using some of the data and information that might be more available. I would just say, candidly, me allowing other people to be a part of that process because we trust the people that are in the building. I think that’s my responsibility to everybody that’s here. Again, we have an opportunity to get it right, and that’s what we’re fixated on doing is trying to get it right. The only way to improve is to find ways to improve, and you have to be committed to making those improvements. Now, does it automatically mean it’s going to end in the results that we all want, that we’re going to be 17-0 next season? I don’t think that’s realistic, but I think what we want to see is progress in as many areas as possible. We’ve made progress in some areas. There are other areas we have to continue to make progress, but as far as the process in and of itself, I think we’re going through that. We’re talking about it on a regular basis. We’ve had multiple conversations about it today. I don’t want to necessarily get into the depth and the detail about it but utilizing resources that are readily available to us that maybe, quite frankly, we haven’t done as productive a job using previously.”

While it seems Caserio is being evasive and vague, he is actually being very direct. He is telling us that Jack Easterby and his direct influence over the owner are gone, and the Texans can run a coaching search as an organization the way a normal search is done.

Easterby’s influence over the owner should not be understated, nor should it be forgotten just because he was dismissed midseason. Easterby led the firing of O’Brien in what turned into the ultimate power grab. Easterby convinced Cal McNair to scrap months of work by search firm Korn Ferry and an already underway interview process involving five other general manager candidates to get on a plane and hire Nick Caserio (whom they tried to hire the year before and wound up getting embarrassed by the Patriots over). Korn Ferry was recommending Omar Khan, now the GM of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Easterby was considered a problem going back to their 2021 head coaching search when the team was having trouble getting anyone to even be interested in the job. Houston was considered the most undesirable job in the NFL at the time. Adam Schefter even tweeted about it:

Between the lack of draft picks, lack of talent, the Hopkins trade, Watson refusing to play for the team and demanding a trade, and Easterby’s influence that had garnered negative player reaction, top candidates didn’t want the Houston job. The search was set up to fail. They settled on David Culley (and I do mean settled) because they couldn’t get a better candidate to take over what was perceived as an awful job. In fact, not only was Culley never a coordinator, but he never had an interview to be a head coach by any other team, ever. Not in 2021, not in any year before. He was never considered by any organization to be offensive coordinator material, let alone head coach material.

After firing Culley, who proved to be in way over his head as a head coach and continuing to make incredibly poor decisions late in the season, the Texans still had issues getting candidates for the position. Instead of having a lot of the top candidates interested in the job, they had Josh McCown as their leading candidate. McCown had never been a coach at the collegiate or pro level, and his experience was essentially being a high school quarterback coach. However, he was Easterby’s choice, and Jack was pushing hard for him. They interviewed Hines Ward, receivers coach (not the head coach, but the wide receivers coach) at Florida Atlantic. Brian Daboll and Dan Quinn were never interviewed.

The team also interviewed former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, but once he sued the league for discrimination and gave Culley’s firing as an example in his lawsuit, he was 100% off the table if he was ever on the table in reality. Jack wanted McCown.

In fact, Jack wanted McCown so badly that he pushed the team to turn down the few more desirable candidates that actually did interview. Kevin O’Connell, then the Rams offensive coordinator (now head coach in Minnesota), Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon were all passed up for McCown.

It was the lawsuit filed by Flores on Feb. 1, 2022, that ultimately caused the Texans not to hire McCown. They were concerned about the public perception. How could they be cited as an example of racist personnel practices and then hire a completely unproven white head coach to replace a black head coach that was fired after one year on the job of what was the worst job in the league?

On Feb. 6, Lovie Smith got his first interview to be the head coach and was announced as the new coach the next day. It was plainly obvious what happened. They were hiring Lovie to cover their butts. Smith was not requested for a single head coaching interview by any other team.

The team’s (and by team, I mean the owner’s) reliance on the opinion of Easterby essentially cost them any of the potential good candidates and had them pivoting to a candidate even they never really wanted.

This year, the job is more desirable than it has been in at least a decade. They have 11 picks in the 2023 draft and 10 more in the 2024 draft, including two first-round choices in both drafts. They have the No. 2 and No. 12 picks this season, they have approximately $50 million in cap space (more when they release cap casualties/restructure deals), they have a core of young talent, a clearly delineated hierarchy of authority (no more coach reporting to owner like Bill O’Brien), and they don’t have Jack Easterby whispering in the owner’s ear thwarting sound football decisions. Caserio is now running the show, and the coaching search the way a team is supposed to, with input from his assistants and not from the character coach with no football operations knowledge.

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