Jack Easterby may not know much about operating a football team. He definitely knows how to stay one step ahead of anyone and everyone who may be trying to drag him down.
Easterby, who has become sufficiently trusted by Texans owner Cal McNair to basically run the show in Houston, has survived various controversies and questions through shrewd manipulation of P.R. and media.
It started when questions emerged about whether and to what extent his background, as characterized by Easterby himself, reflected a factually inaccurate effort to inflate his qualifications and experience. Because the only person who was in position to do anything about it — Cal McNair — didn’t care, nothing happened. It also didn’t hurt that Easterby (or someone at his behest) managed to get multiple members of the media to write positive profiles of him.
Then, once SI.com took a much closer look at the rise of Easterby from part-time, unpaid chaplain of the Chiefs to the persuasive right arm (and prayer partner) or an NFL owner, Easterby was backed into a corner. So he wisely assumed a very low profile.
From that lower profile, he made his biggest power play, trumping the Korn Ferry consultants who had been hired to help the team hire a new General Manager and bringing in his preferred choice for the job, former Patriots executive Nick Caserio. A follow-up item from SI.com shared a rumor that Easterby persuaded Cal McNair to pray with Easterby for wisdom in deciding on the new G.M., with Easterby fully aware that the new G.M. could end up getting rid of Easterby.
Easterby and Caserio then flirted with hiring Easterby’s good friend Josh McCown before giving the job to relative unknown David Culley, who allowed himself to be micromanaged by Caserio throughout a season that actually went better than expected, given the overall quality of the roster. Easterby and Caserio then came up with an apparently pretextual reason to fire Culley, pushing the implausible notion of “philosophical differences” with a coach who was doing or saying nothing to suggest that he was in any way pushing back against whatever it was that the Texans were planning to do.
Caserio caught most of the public flak for the goofy explanation regarding the Culley firing, while Easterby continued (by all appearances) to quietly push buttons and pull levers in an effort to finally hire McCown, despite the fact that he has no college or pro coaching experience. As one source with a keen eye for such matters pointed out over the weekend, the decision to interview an objectively unqualified Hines Ward for the position of head coach likely was intended by the Texans (and specifically Easterby) to balance out the decision to interview the objectively unqualified McCown for a second straight year.
The Flores lawsuit changed everything, obviously. The Texans, despite a current level of organizational dysfunction unmatched by most other teams in the league, surely realize they can’t choose a completely unqualified and inexperienced white candidate over Flores, who has three years of head-coaching experiences, went 8-1 over his final nine games with Miami, and swept the Patriots in 2021.
Enter Lovie Smith. He wasn’t one of the three finalists as of a few days ago, but once it became clear that Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon wouldn’t be the compromise candidate between McCown and Flores, they had to find another one. They found Smith.
Easterby (or someone else with the Texans) has managed to get some in the media to push the idea that Smith was a candidate all along, even if he previously wasn’t a finalist. The more commonsensical view is that the Texans knew they couldn’t hire McCown, knew they wouldn’t hire Flores (who took aim at the team’s treatment of Culley in the lawsuit filed last week), and knew they needed an acceptable alternative. At least for now.
So don’t be surprised if it’s Smith. And then don’t be shocked if he’s fired due to “philosophical differences” or whatever in a year or two, so that they can finally hire McCown.
Through it all, Easterby will keep playing chess (while most in the media willingly play checkers), finding a way to sidestep any and all controversies, even after he “crip walked on water.”