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Jack Easterby Could Only Fool People For So Long

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 23: Executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby of the Houston Texans walks on the field before the game against the Carolina Panthers at NRG Stadium on September 23, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Outside of a mule’s and a garbageman’s, there are few NFL CVs as inexplicable as Jack Easterby’s. He went from Jaguars intern to South Carolina character coach to Chiefs chaplain to Patriots character coach to Texans executive vice president of team development, and later, football operations, a progression that at least made some sense on an evangelical track in a league ripe for it right up until the moment Houston decided to put him in charge of their entire organization. He came with a recommendation from Bill O’Brien and had previously ingratiated himself with the McNairs, and if none of those people strike you as particularly good judges of character, well, it didn’t matter because you don’t own the team and Cal McNair does.

Just as interesting as Easterby’s rise was the fact that at no point during it could anyone succinctly explain what exactly it was that Easterby did, other than cozy up to people with more power than him: part Svengali, part Rasputin, all huckster. “If you combine a faith-healing televangelist with Littlefinger, you’d get Jack Easterby,” said one colleague in Sports Illustrated‘s definitive piece on him. The comparison our own David Roth reached for was Shingy, AOL’s “digital prophet” who never met a wealthy person he couldn’t flatter or nonsense he couldn’t embrace for the sake of doing the former. You’ll notice a lot of names, a lot of stock characters in this paragraph. That’s because if it was never quite clear what Jack Easterby did, it was always very obvious who he was.

The Texans have finally woken up to that fact; Easterby was fired this morning. In a normal organization, this would not come as a surprise for an executive who had inherited a franchise in obscurity and elevated it all the way to obscure, embarrassing, laughingstock. The Texans, however, are no normal organization—they are a series of power struggles masquerading as a front office, mediocre men shoving each other out of the lifeboat. Easterby shoved a few in his time; now he appears to have been shoved in his turn by GM Nick Caserio, the latest fruit of Bill Belichick’s generally rotten tree to catch a McNair’s wandering eye.

And few will mourn for him. The eminent John McClain, who’s covered the Texans as long as they exist, is airing out some long-soiled laundry. “There’ll be rejoicing throughout the organization,” he says. Easterby “tried to tell everyone what to do and dictate policy where he had no business,” he says. Easterby leaked stories to make people look bad, then lied to the owner’s face about being the leaker, he says. “Good riddance!”

If those broad strokes (and I am already salivating over all the dirt that’s soon to be shoveled atop his gravesite) give a better idea of what Jack Easterby’s day-to-day was like—combatting imaginary enemies and making real ones, mostly—they also reveal the limits of that career strategy. Eventually, and it took Easterby 20 years, you reach the top rung of the ladder and run out of rich people to suck up to. Eventually you get the top job, and all of a sudden you have to perform it. Jack Easterby was given the reins to the Texans and drove them into a ditch. In his three-plus years running the organization, the team posted a worse record every season than the year before, and, fatally for a “character coach,” oversaw the abetting of one of the more repugnant scandals in league history. If you can’t win games, and you can’t actually improve character, whatever it is that you do, you won’t be doing for long.

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