Texans coach Lovie Smith on Jack Easterby: ‘Sometimes, divorce is a good thing’

DENVER, COLORADO - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Denver Broncos works the sidelines against the Houston Texans at Empower Field At Mile High on September 18, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. ( (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) (Matthew Stockman, 2022 Getty Images)

Lovie Smith reflected in greater detail on former executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby, characterizing the parting of ways as a divorce.

The breakup had been in the works in many ways since the offseason as Easterby’s responsibilities had shifted to behind-the-scenes duties years after his stint as interim general manager before general manager Nick Caserio was hired.

“My short time I worked with Jack was all good,” Smith said during a press conference at NRG Stadium. “He did a great job for us. Sometimes, divorce is a good thing. I’ve said that before, too.”

The groundwork for this decision was laid several months ago as the organization shifted its direction in leadership increasingly toward a partnership between Caserio and Smith, according to sources.

With Easterby, 39, no longer working for the franchise and overseeing departments involving sports science, nutrition, strength and conditioning, and player programs, those responsibilities will shift to others within the organization taking on increased duties.

“You look at a football team, you have injuries and there has to be a backup plan in place,” Smith said. “Some guys are out for the season. Of course, things have to move on is what I’m saying. As far as how we’re moving, that’s what we’re doing. Moving forward. We have enough people in place to be able to pick up and keep going.”

Hired in 2019 as executive vice president of team development, the former New England Patriots’ character coach had been promoted to executive vice president of football operations since his arrival in Houston. Now, Easterby, 39, is out of a job with the AFC South franchise.

Easterby had been a polarizing figure, drawing heavy and pointed criticism locally and nationally. He also maintained strong relationships in the building with staff and players, including veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, and multiple other players.

Cooks overlapped with Easterby in New England and built a strong bond. Easterby was also an advocate of trading for Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams.

“My relationship was nothing but great with Jack,” Cooks said. “Just dating back to New England, spent a lot of time together, even here. One of the things I think about is a lot of the positives he had around here. Light gets shed on the negative or whatever the case may be but what he was a part of, building our sub-programs and stuff like that was special.

“Put a lot of great people in place. A lot of people should be thankful for him. I know I am. I know a lot of people are definitely going to miss him and I appreciate our relationship. Obviously, wish him the best going forward and there’s no doubt he’ll get on his feet.”

One of Easterby’s major initiatives was sports science involving the rest, recovery, and training of the players to achieve optimal performance. He was heavily involved in analytics. He had shifted to more of an administrative behind-the-scenes role that didn’t involve him making personnel decisions. Easterby has also worked on restructuring contracts in recent years and negotiations to help manage the salary cap, but that financial role had also shifted to Caserio and Andrew Brown.

“It was just time,” a source said. “No knock on Jack at all. He did a lot of really good things in implementing a lot of the programs they have in place, but the organization has reached a point where it has a lot of great people to work on these programs behind the scenes to help the players and help the coaches. This isn’t like a huge controversy. These things happen in the NFL. Jack will have a lot of great opportunities going forward.”

Easterby was a proponent of interviewing and considering former NFL quarterback Josh McCown for the head coaching position that went to Smith in a promotion from defensive coordinator after McCown received heavy consideration for the job despite only having coached at the high school level. The idea of potentially hiring McCown was regarded as an extremely controversial idea that was ultimately rejected by CEO and chairman Cal McNair.

Regardless of the outside criticism and the ultimate parting of the ways characterized as mutual by McNair, Cooks staunchly defended Easterby

“Perception in this league is one thing,” Cooks said. “You write something and you automatically believe it. At the end of the day, I know what our relationship was and I know how he treated people. Walking around the building, I know how guys felt about him.

“I don’t get into what’s being said. I go off of the actions that are being dealt with by me or the people around me. When I see that, he’s treated everyone with the utmost respect, and that’s all I’ve got to say.”

Among the items that fell under Easterby’s responsibilities; are team development, which is supervised by Dylan Thompson, football technology, analytics, sports science, oversight of the football operations budget, and the development of all football operations system curriculum.

“I met with Executive Vice President of Football Operations Jack Easterby and we have mutually agreed to part ways,” McNair said Monday afternoon. “For the remainder of the season, effective immediately, his responsibilities will be absorbed by our Football Operations staff. We acknowledge Jack’s positive contributions and wish him and his family the best in the future.”

Shortly after McNair’s announcement, Easterby released a statement on social media.

“My family and I are thankful for our time in Houston,” Easterby said. “We appreciate the opportunities the McNair family has provided us and wish the organization well moving forward.”

Easterby has a close relationship with Caserio from their shared time with the New England Patriots and worked closely with former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien before O’Brien was fired. That management partnership was responsible for some lopsided trades and contracts, including the controversial DeAndre Hopkins trade and other deals, including Whitney Mercilus’ $54 million deal.

Easterby helped negotiate Caserio’s six-year contract that averages $6 million annually.

Following an 0-4 start in 2020, Easterby became general manager on an interim basis. Easterby a former team chaplain and character coach with the Kansas City Chiefs who has also worked for the University of South Carolina and is the founder of the Greatest Champion Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization, didn’t execute a lot of major moves the remainder of that season as he exercised a cautious approach and avoided lopsided trades including a low-ball offer from the Green Bay Packers for wide receiver Will Fuller.

After that season, Easterby, a South Carolina native who was a team captain of the basketball and golf teams at Newberry College, helped guide the search for a new head coach and general manager.

Ultimately, the Texans hired Caserio and he worked with Easterby for the past two years before the organization moved on Monday following a bye.

“Helping to bring Nick to Houston, that’s going to be Jack’s greatest legacy, I think,” a source said. “He pushed hard and sold hard to help make that happen, and they got that hire right. Nick has been an excellent hire.”

The Texans are off to a 1-3-1 start heading into Sunday’s road game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Cooks expressed support for Caserio, pointing out that moving on from Easterby didn’t lessen his confidence in the Texans’ top personnel executive.

“I don’t know whose decision that is,” Cooks said. “Nick, we all know, in my opinion, is one of the best GM’s in this game. Starting off in his first couple of years, I think he’s been able to show that with his draft picks, this year, last year.

“Fully trust him moving forward whatever that looks like. That’s his job as far as putting guys in place, players in place, to be able to help this team win. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll do that however that looks. We’ve got a full trust and confidence in him. I got a lot of respect for Nick. Dating back to our relationship as well, I’ve got a lot of love for him regardless of the fact.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com

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