It seems almost preposterous that Jack Easterby could create enemies in the NFL.
Scott Pioli once described Easterby as a “loud hugger.” Tom Brady called him “a great person and friend.” The Patriots’ website considered Easterby “the most influential Patriot you’ve never heard of,” as the team’s character coach, team chaplain, culture setter, and mentor from 2013-18. When Easterby left for the Houston Texans in 2019, it was considered a great loss for the Patriots.
“You don’t replace Jack with one person,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said last year.
Yet Easterby, whose Texans face the Patriots on Sunday, is now experiencing a lesson he learned from Pioli, who himself learned it from Belichick and Bill Parcells: The higher you climb, the lonelier it gets.
Easterby got a better title in Houston — executive vice president of team development — and has since ascended even higher, earning the role of interim general manager when coach and GM Bill O’Brien was fired in October. It is certainly an unusual rise for someone whose background is in hosting team Bible study, not scouting or coaching.
But with his ascension come the charges, perhaps unfairly, that Easterby, 37, has stabbed a few of his colleagues in the back along the way. Easterby has not responded to the accusations.
The Texans fired former GM Brian Gaine? Must have been Easterby angling for the job. The Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for a ham sandwich? Blame the guy who’s not a scout. The team’s head PR person was abruptly fired two weeks ago? She got “Easterby’d,” as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio put it.
Easterby also was accused of trying to poach talent from the Patriots. The Texans tried to hire Nick Caserio as their GM in 2019, and the Patriots believed that Easterby tried to recruit him at the team’s Super Bowl ring ceremony. The Patriots filed tampering charges against the Texans, prompting the Texans to back off their pursuit and apologize.
But the Texans don’t see Easterby as an opportunist, and are trying to set the record straight. Texans president Jamey Rootes went on the record two weeks ago to take credit for firing PR director Amy Palcic, saying she was no longer an organizational fit. The decisions to fire Gaine and trade Hopkins were made by O’Brien, who had total control over the football team and can be famously difficult to get along with.
This past week, Texans owner Cal McNair took ownership for O’Brien’s firing, while stating unequivocally that Easterby will not be a candidate for the team’s permanent GM job.
“There’s no decision made on Jack until we can talk to the next general manager,” McNair told the Houston Chronicle.
Strangely enough, Easterby wants the world to know he is not trying to become the first character coach-turned-general manager.
This past week, Belichick said, “Jack’s not a personnel guy, no.” Many perceived it as Easterby’s former boss taking a swipe at a former employee whose relationship with the Patriots may have soured.
“He has absolutely no desire to become a general manager,” a league source said. “It would be a waste of his talents.”
Easterby took the interim GM job because he was the only high-level executive in the building who made sense. But Easterby didn’t want the title, according to league sources, and his goal is simply to keep the Texans from falling apart until a new coach and GM can arrive. Easterby has delegated most of the day-to-day GM responsibilities to the pro personnel staff.
Easterby isn’t a guy who should be grinding away on film and setting the team’s draft board, nor does he want to. His forte is in culture-building, player development, and building relationships, not in coaching or scouting. He gets much more excitement, and personal satisfaction, over trying to create a culture and a blueprint for success for a Texans team that is devoid of them.
“Jack would be the first person to tell you he’s not a personnel guy,” Rootes told a group of season ticket-holders this past week. “He doesn’t have enough time in the day. He’s working on sports science, working on nutrition. Spread the word. Jack has no intentions of being the general manager.”
Easterby’s relationship with the Patriots isn’t nearly as fractured as it appears, according to league sources. He still considers Belichick a great friend and mentor, and he remains close with many Patriots players and coaches.
In New England, Easterby helped Belichick smooth out the rough edges of his player development program in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez arrest. Easterby was the guy who hosted college draft prospects on their official visits to Foxborough, and indoctrinated rookies and new free agents to the “Patriot Way.” He helped Belichick identify which players had good leadership qualities, and kept close tabs on players who needed it, such as Josh Gordon.
“I learned a lot from Jack,” Belichick said. “I think we learned a lot from each other and we went through a lot together. So, he had a good, positive impact on our football team and on the organization.”
Robert Kraft tried to bring back Easterby in 2019, and league sources believe his relationship with Kraft turned sour only after telling Kraft “no.” The Globe previously reported that Easterby was put off by Kraft’s 2019 prostitution charges in Florida, but his decision to leave had more to do with other internal politics in Foxborough, per league sources.
Easterby left the Patriots in February 2019 without having another job lined up, and after speaking with the Panthers, Dolphins, and even the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Easterby eventually landed his job with the Texans, where he gets to make even more of an impact in building the team’s culture.
“I think Jack is a very good person,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “In New England, he began his rise in the business, learning about personnel, learning about operations and all of those things. That allowed him to work well with O’Brien when he got here. He’s conscientious. He’s a hard worker. He will do what’s needed for the players and give them a chance to be successful.”
Easterby still raves about how much he learned from Belichick and how much he cherishes the relationships he built in Foxborough. But unlike Belichick, Easterby has no intention of running the football side of a team. He has bigger goals than that.
“I am not sure he would say he’s running the team if you asked him,” Patriots captain Matthew Slater said on WEEI this past week. “He’s just trying to serve and do a good job and lead people the right way.”