When the New England Patriots celebrated their sixth Super Bowl with a ringing ceremony in June 2019, coach Bill Belichick pointed to a trip to Fenway Park a year earlier that helped them put their Super Bowl LII loss behind them.
The tour, hosted by Patriots Development Director Jack Easterby, was designed as a team-building activity. According to Houston Texans cornerback Keion Crossen, who was a rookie with the Patriots that season, that day at Fenway was “the spark we needed” and eventually helped propel New England to a Super Bowl victory.
It all started when Easterby challenged the Patriots to be the “team team,” Crossen recalled Belichick said at the ceremony.
That was the influence ̵
Now, almost three years after arriving in Houston, Easterby finds itself responsible for football operations after O’Brien was sacked in October after a 0-4 start to the 2020 season. It’s an unprecedented role for someone who was a team pastor a decade ago.
The Texans are facing a crucial offseason, with McNair in charge of hiring a general manager and head coach, and the expectation from McNair is that Easterby will continue to influence the organization in a leadership role tasked with establishing a positive culture within for the Texans organization.
“Let me repeat what I have said before, as there seems to be some confusion – Jack does not want to be our general manager,” McNair said. “But he will play an important role in helping shape our future here within the Texans. He will be an incredibly valuable part of our franchise going forward as he works with our next general manager and next head coach.”
In the week leading up to the Texans, who hosted the Patriots on Sunday, Belichick was asked if he ever thought Easterby would pursue a career on the football staff side.
“Jack is not personnel, no,” Belichick said.
This comment was not intended to shut down Easterby, but it does show the mistake McNair made in giving O’Brien so much power: Because O’Brien hired people to work for him and not with him, there was no natural substitute for space on the staff side when he was fired.
Into the 2020 season, Texan’s front office was a simple operation: O’Brien called the shots with Easterby as his right hand. After O’Brien’s dismissal, Easterby was the person in the building whom McNair trusted to lead Houston through the transition. After the season, McNair said Easterby “is switching back to the job he had before, which is in football tops.”
“When I decided to move on from Bill, there was a void in our organization and we needed someone who could lead football operations,” McNair told ESPN. “It simply came to our notice then [interim head coach] Romeo Crennel to focus on coaching the team. Jack Easterby is a great person, a great leader and a consensus builder, so he is the one I chose to serve as our temporary GM. “
But if Easterby is not a “personnel person”, who is he and how did he get here?
“His genius is not specific to football. It’s specific to leadership,” said Texas A&M basketball coach Buzz Williams, who got to know Easterby when Williams was coaching Marquette. “And I think management applies no matter what industry you are in.”
How Easterby’s career started
Easterby’s NFL journey began in 2011 when then-Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli asked kicker Ryan Succop why there were not many players involved in the team’s Bible study or other off-field groups within the organization. Succop told Pioli that he thought it was because they did not have a pastor or leader.
Did Succop know one? He immediately thought of Easterby, the South Carolina character coach he met while playing for the Gamecocks.
“When Jack came out once, there were people around him, and … when you’re around a guy like Jack, you know he’s a special guy,” Succop said. “… You want to hear what he has to say. I think he was able to really make a big impact as soon as he got there. Our director saw it and they wanted him more involved, and that, of course, just led to more and more things and more opportunities for Jack. “
When he started working for Chiefs, Easterby’s week usually started at. 4 Thursday morning. Easterby drove to Charlotte and took a plane to Kansas City, leaving behind his wife, Holly, and two daughters. He would stay with the Chiefs until Monday before flying back to South Carolina and working with Gamecocks on Tuesday and Wednesday. And it continued until the end of the football season.
Perhaps the most crucial moment of Easterby’s time in Kansas City came in 2012 after linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend and then drove to the team facility, killing himself in front of Pioli and Crennel, who was then the Chiefs’ head coach.
“I always thought that in really tough situations you find out what people are about,” said Succop. “Jack showed exactly who he is through that time.”
On to New England
After this season, Easterby was hired by the Patriots as their character trainer, helping the organization through a time when tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder. In New England, Easterby was involved in many parts of the organization and learned from Belichick.
“Jack did a great job for us,” Belichick said. “His role was varied. He worked with many different aspects of the organization – players, coaches, supporters, etc. He was someone who could connect well with everyone, from the owner of the team to the equipment manager or equipment guy who picks up towels and “He was a very valuable person in this organization during the time he was here.”
It was during that time in New England, Crennel said, that Easterby’s role grew from being a team chaplain to learning more about the NFL team’s operations.
“In New England, he started his business growth, learning about staff, learning about operations and all that stuff,” Crennel said. “It allowed him to work well with O’Brien when he came here.”
Easterby gained such a positive reputation during his time with the Patriots that his name stood out to people across all sports. When Williams was coaching Marquette, he saw Easterby’s name mentioned in a story about his role in New England, but “it did not really mention what he did for the Patriots.” It fascinated Williams enough to reach out to Easterby to learn more.
“After getting to know him, it’s easy for me to see his ability to lead an organization, but that was part of why I chased him down to learn from him,” Williams said. “… His spirit, as far as he is as a person, is incredibly reliable, but because of his skill as a leader, he gets respect right away. Whether it’s a good player, whether it’s a good coach, whether it is someone outside the organization … his spirit as a person and his skill in what he does, it’s just very magnetic. “
George Mason athletic instructor Brad Edwards, who met Easterby in South Carolina and briefly worked with him at Newberry College, said he always thought Easterby would have been “an excellent athletic instructor.” Because of this, he has hired Easterby to help him with coaching searches, including while Edwards was at Jacksonville University and George Mason.
Easterby’s “ability to look at intangibles in people and programs” that helped him find coaching candidates has translated into Easterby’s role in Texan’s front office, Edwards said. South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who worked with Easterby, said consistency and the ability to build trust is why Easterby went from Gamecock’s team chaplain to executive vice president of football operations for an NFL team.
“Like, who really goes into the Patriots and has a good relationship with Belichick and with Tom Brady?” Said Staley. “Who does that? They don’t let anyone in. But they let Jack in. Because he’s consistent. He’s persistent. You know, he’s very knowledgeable. He makes sense.”
After leaving New England after the 2018 season, Easterby got a call from McNair and O’Brien with a job offer. Easterby chose Houston for the next stop in his career, in part because he knew the late Bob McNair of South Carolina and believed the McNair family’s values suited his.
Bigger things ahead in Houston
Easterby was hired as Texan’s vice president of team development in April 2019. He worked for O’Brien and quickly became his right hand man. In June 2019, Brian Gaine was suddenly fired as general manager.
During the time between Gaines’ firing and the start of the 2019 season, the Texans were hoping to replace him with Patriots director of player staff Nick Caserio. The Texans asked to interview Caserio, a request that was denied. Not long after, New England filed illegal charges against Houston, and the team ended the prosecution. Although there was speculation Easterby spoke to Caserio about the job at a Patriots ringing ceremony that took place the day before Gaine was fired, Belichick told reporters the week before the teams played in 2019 that the manipulation situation “had nothing to do with Jack Easterby.”
Without a daily leader in the 2019 season, O’Brien’s power was unparalleled in the NFL. Even in New England, Belichick had Caserio and a front-office staff around him. Over the years, the Patriots have had several front-office staff employed as general managers across the league. In Houston, it was O’Brien who made the big decisions with Easterby helping to execute them. Some of it even included negotiation contracts, including the huge extension to keep quarterback Deshaun Watson in Houston through the 2025 season.
“[Jack has] great organizational knowledge on how to structure an organization, “the O’Brien Houston Chronicle told in September 2019,” everything from the cafeteria to weight loss to contracts to place decisions. He has a good knowledge of football, staff, skills, what we are looking for. … But he has an in-depth knowledge of many different things in relation to football. And then he has a great way of talking about him. “
Now Easterby is the highest ranked front office person in terms of title in the Texans’ organization. Director of Player Personnel, Matt Bazirgan, is also heavily involved in day-to-day operations and has a strong influence, but Easterby has captained the ship until a full-time day-to-day manager is hired after the season.
Although Easterby’s leap to a leadership and staff role might surprise some people around the league, those closest to him said that while they might not have guessed he would ever run an NFL team, it’s not that he’s in a leadership role. a shock at all.
“When he was with us in South Carolina, you just knew he was built for something good,” said former Gamecocks basketball player Courtney Newton-Gonzalez.
And taking over for O’Brien after he was fired?
“Jack is a worker,” Staley said. “Jack is someone who has an insatiable appetite and a desire to learn and grow. And even though he may have been on the surgery side, he does not have blinds on. I mean, he sees the whole picture of what is happening. He is a so this is a bit straight up in his alley, moving over and taking advantage of some of the things that he has become acquainted with while he was in the NFL. “