Nick Caserio deserves a shot, but his hiring is an indictment of ownership

If you actually read this post, and you’re going to respond to me on Twitter about it in good faith, please use the hashtag #ReadThePiece. I know this sounds silly, but it’s an easy way for me to separate responses that I want to honor with a real answer from people who just want to be mad about everything they read online.

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Cal,

I hope this post finds you well. You won’t read it. It’s fine, no big. You seem like an affable guy — slightly awkward in interviews, but who isn’t? — and your only crime is being in charge of a multi-billion dollar organization that people care about and have expectations for. More succinctly speaking, you are in charge of the organization that was lucky enough to trade for, watch, and employ Deshaun Watson, one of the very few quarterbacks in this world that play well enough to create a playoff appearance all by themselves.

You may have noticed that this didn’t happen this season. They made you get on the radio and talk about it, defend the Hopkins trade. I think you got hassled and had to make a statement to Sports Illustrated about some article. In case your eyes glossed over at those games, the Texans finished 4-12. They were almost implausibly bad given the circumstances of having a quarterback like Deshaun Watson.

NRG has gotten to work pretending that this was all about Bill O’Brien, but it wasn’t. There was no magic turnaround. There was no different vibe in the city. In fact, other than beating a Jaguars team that was actively trying to fail twice — and nearly blowing a game to Jake Luton! — the Texans beat two actual opponents this year. One fired their head coach immediately afterwards. The other had the ball in the red zone to tie the game. Nowhere in the “the Texans didn’t win enough close games” calculus will you find it mentioned that they were very close to losing the two that they won, as well.

So let’s call this what it was, Cal:

You have given control of an NFL franchise to a guy who connects with you religiously and who you trust implicitly, but has had a huge hand in dragging the franchise down. Bill O’Brien never made the kind of wackadoodle trades we all now associate with him until you hired this man. He worked with general managers who quashed his worst instincts. Easterby emboldened them. It is not a mistake that the team has floundered under his lead. He is woefully out of his depth, as anyone who cosplays an NFL general manager would be.

Deshaun Watson is going to cover up so much of what is wrong with this team, and I think it would be hard for the Texans to not improve record-wise from last season just because they have so many improvement areas. They failed massively at so many things. That’s how you get scenes like this:

To let a man who is almost universally reviled by the fan base choose the direction of this franchise — and for that direction to be right back to the Patriots tree that just burned down — it takes a special kind of tone-deafness. It takes a person who not only ignores what the fans think, but ignores the things that his star players say, ignores every warning sign the media can put in front of his face, and ignores the results on the field. It is the kind of thing that could only happen to someone who is entirely out of touch with what owning a football team means outside of how it affects them.

The scary thing about it is that Deshaun Watson is so good he might win them some titles anyway. He might get Football Osteen a ring, and Football Osteen can preach that he won something when he was born between third and home plate and thinks he knocked it out of the park. (Rick Smith knocked it out of the park.) I will get to what I think about Caserio is a hire in a second, but I certainly don’t think he’s out of his depth.

This move is a public relations disaster because what has been conveyed to us is that Cal McNair’s friends matter more than the business of winning games. That’s a hard box to close once it’s open. Maybe Easterby will get fired before the season and we’ll all get to look back and Cold Takes Exposed this post — God I hope we do! — but the message that has been sent tonight is that the culture of the Texans is what Jack Easterby says it is. I don’t know how you can expect to sell this any other way, Cal. I really don’t. Listen to the on-field results. Listen to J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson talk about the culture.

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What 2020 and 2021 have been teaching people — over and over again — is that the people who should have your best interests at heart often don’t. I hate that we’re anchored here talking about Jack Easterby instead of being excited about improving the football team, Cal. But it’s really kind of an unavoidable topic. That’s on you.

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Like David Johnson, I feel bad for Nick Caserio because his employment is an afterthought in the grander scheme of this transaction. There’s so little enjoyment in what has happened that it’s hard to talk about Caserio rationally. I think it’s almost impossible for us as outsiders to judge Caserio’s results — not only because Bill Belichick had final say, but also because so little of what happens in a front office is actually public knowledge.

I want to spend a little more time with this once we have more public statements from the parties involved and once I do some deeper research on Caserio’s drafts and what not I will have some stronger feelings. But purely as a reaction, I’ll start with: No matter who the Texans hired as a general manager, it was going to be an upgrade because it was guaranteed to be somebody who had an actual background in this business instead of Coach Napoleon and Smeagol.

But, yes, to have a bushel of rings with the Patriots is impressive. To be only 45, to have coaching experience, that’s good. To be as widely desired as Caserio was over the last six seasons before finally taking the Texans job, that’s a good sign. His presser with the Patriots after his hiring was blocked the first time was a total stonewall and, frankly, makes me think we’re in for some unexciting times whenever he actually speaks:

One thing that I think is very great about the hire is that the Patriots have quite a history of trading down and collecting picks. I don’t know if that follows Caserio here — nobody knows for sure what happens without Belichick — but the fact that he was exposed to that culture is good because this is a team that needs to be doing some trade downs to accumulate assets. They did trade down out of the first round last season.

Diving into, say, the transcript of his post-Day 2 draft presser last year. The Pats picked Kyle Dugger in the second round, who played pretty well this season. I think you can see a lot of nuance and appreciation for the bits and pieces of his job in his answers.

Now, the big question here is something we don’t know the answer to: How will Caserio react to having to fix this defense?

How creative is he willing to be? What does he see as the answer? Can he keep J.J. Watt in a Texans uniform? Some of that is about the head coach, yes, but the general manager of this football team is in a very special predicament where they have a preposterously bad defense and not a lot of cap room to play with to fix it. How do they take an honest stab at it and not waste the offense’s time? (Do they take a stab at it in the first place, or are they writing off 2021 as previous regime’s fault?) This is his main task off the bat, and it’s something I think we need the Houston media to sit down with him and talk about before I get too deep into the weeds about it.

I don’t think this is a job that Caserio is unprepared for. I don’t think he’s a bad general manager candidate at all. I am willing to reserve a lot of judgement on his evaluation skills and what they mean for the team going forward because he never had final say. He talks the talk and I’m looking forward to getting deeper into what that means for Houston.

The problem is that the process that creates him as general manager is a process that should, rightfully, infuriate a fanbase that just wants to move on from the 2019-2020 Texans and get the people around Deshaun Watson that can make him a champion. Easterby has done enough damage to call into question why he should be involved in any of the decisions around this, and yet, here he remains, given the reins to pick the general manager. For all I know, Caserio is the next Tex Schramm. Maybe it turns out that way. But this is not the person who should have been making that decision.

It feels like the entire football world, everyone in it, knows that except for Cal McNair.

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2 Replies to “Nick Caserio deserves a shot, but his hiring is an indictment of ownership”

  1. Thank you Rivers for being a voice for Texans fans. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Cal just doesn’t get it.

  2. Very much needed article Well Done! All this negativity surrounding Jack Easterby truly makes it hard to celebrate the “change” that Nick could be bringing to this team. All but hopeful. Thanks for shining more honest light on the topic.

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