When the Houston Texans introduced Nick Caserio as their general manager Friday afternoon, he was asked about the team’s search for a head coach, his plans for the roster and the team’s culture, and the rumored frustration of quarterback Deshaun Watson.
But the most popular topic of the news conference was Caserio’s relationship with Jack Easterby, the former Patriots character coach, and what role Easterby will have on the team. Easterby, who worked with Caserio in New England, was promoted in January to executive vice president of football operations after joining the organization less than two years ago as executive vice president of team development.
“My relationship with Jack is a special relationship,” said Caserio, who spent two decades with the Patriots. “We’ve known each other for a long time. I have a lot of faith and trust and confidence in him. I’m excited to work with him.”
Easterby and the amount of control he has within the Texans, have made headlines lately, but both Caserio and owner Cal McNair said Friday any personnel decisions, whether it be roster management, free agency, or the draft, will belong to Caserio.
“Jack will have a role,” Caserio said. “We’ll work in conjunction with each other on a number of things, for sure. But as it pertains to football decisions, those will ultimately be my decisions and in conjunction with the head coach once we get to that point as well.”
Added McNair: “Jack will do whatever Nick asks him to do to succeed.”
McNair was asked multiple times about his decision to retain Easterby in the front office, despite the growing turmoil that has seemingly correlated with Easterby’s rise. The Texans, who finished the season 4-12, have an unsavory reputation for a number of recent decisions, perhaps the most notable being trading star receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a second-round pick and running back David Johnson.
Even the hiring of Caserio raised eyebrows because the Texans hired a search firm to assist with identifying candidates, yet Caserio was reportedly not among the suggested finalists. Watson reportedly was upset with the decision because he was not as involved in the process as the Texans said he would be.
McNair acknowledged Friday he had consulted Easterby about Caserio, but said that was the extent of Easterby’s involvement.
“There is no secret about Nick and Jack’s working relationship in the past,” McNair said. “Because of their professional history, I sought out Jack’s feedback on Nick as a leader, as I did with others during my decision process.”
McNair has stood by Easterby throughout the criticism, and on Friday, Caserio joined in, too.
“Jack’s, I’d say, unique skill is the ability to invest in people, grow people, and serve,” Caserio said. “I think that serving mind-set has served a lot of people well. I know it’s helped me on a lot of levels.”
With the growing number of former Patriots that have come through Houston — Caserio, Easterby, Mike Vrabel, Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel — McNair also noted he does not consider the Texans to be “Patriots South.”
“We thank the New England Patriots, specifically Robert and Jonathan Kraft, and Coach Belichick for being a first-class organization that builds winners,” McNair said. “With respect to their organization, we do not consider ourselves the Patriots South. We are here to lead this team ‘The Texans’ Way.’ ”
So, what will that look like under Caserio?
Time will tell. Although Caserio has officially been on the job for only two days, he already has his plate full, listing filling the head coaching vacancy as the first order of business.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered a kind endorsement.
“Nick Caserio is one of the hardest working, dependable, and team-oriented people I have worked with, and his ability to handle a wide array of responsibilities is unique,” Belichick said. “Nick’s contributions came on a daily basis and ultimately led to years of success and six championships, for which I am very appreciative. He did an excellent job for us and is extremely deserving of the opportunity to be a general manager.”
Three Patriots have been named to the Associated Press All-Pro Team this season.
Punter Jake Bailey and punt returner Gunner Olszewski earned first-team honors, while gunner Matthew Slater earned second-team honors.
The three players were integral to the success of New England’s special teams unit. Bailey, who also was selected to his first Pro Bowl this year, had the league’s best net punting average (45.6 yards) and second-most number of punts inside the 20-yard line (31).
Olszewski, too, was atop the leaderboards, with a league-best 17.3 average yards per return. He was one of eight players to have a punt return for a touchdown, and would have had a second had linebacker Anfernee Jennings not been whistled for an illegal blind-side block.
Slater, who was also selected to his ninth Pro Bowl this season, has been named to an All-Pro Team seven times in his 13-year NFL career. In December, Belichick called Slater “the very best” special teamer he’s ever coached.
“I can’t think of anybody that’s done more than he has and that’s done it over a very consistent period of time at an extremely high level, in addition to all the other qualities that he brings off the field — leadership, just doing the right thing, just the person and the human being that he is,” Belichick said. “It would be hard for me to imagine anybody going ahead of him.”
Bailey, Olszewski, and Slater are under contract for the 2021 season, though the 35-year-old Slater has been open about his plan to mull his future this offseason.