Meditations on watching your favorite franchise turn into a dumpster fire

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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Enough of this miserable, whining life. Stop monkeying around! Why are you troubled? What’s new here? What’s so confounding? The one responsible? Take a good look. Or just the matter itself? Then look at that. There’s nothing else to look at. And as far as the gods go, by now you could try being more straightforward and kind. It’s the same, whether you’ve examined these things for a hundred years, or only three.

Meditations

I want to start with humility. One of the things that you learn when you first start caring about how football works is that you are going to take a lot of losses along the way. I believed Robert Quinn would be a better fit for the Texans than J.J. Watt would in 2011. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to correct course on my priors to get to where I am as a mind today — I started with background in football analytics and had to unlearn some parts of it. I am only beginning to grasp the technique and play calling area of the NFL in a manner I find acceptable. In three years, what I believe will likely change again in some ways. I never thought defensive back play was as important as pass rusher play, but studies have borne out that it is. I’m always open to being wrong and open to learning the lessons that are inherent in that.

So when you take that mindset, and apply it to the place the Texans currently are at, it’s easy to scan the situation looking for reasons to believe that they are coming from good faith. It’s easy to approach this situation believing that logic is guiding something. I see a lot of rationalizations around this tone. The Texans are interviewing Josh McCown, but actually the wording on this Tweet might mean that it’s not for a head coach position. The Texans are doing this interview because they might want McCown to be an offensive coordinator, and it’s a favor to him. I’ve seen many variations of this sort of idea.

The problem is that this isn’t an isolated incident. The Jack Easterby Texans have made many, many irrational decisions. They aren’t a rational actor. There was never any logic in trading DeAndre Hopkins. There was never any logic to believing that trading for Laremy Tunsil would be a long-term winner. There was never any logic in not replacing Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, and so on with anyone better than Eric Murray. When you look at this interview through the scope of the long-term rather than the short-term, it is not out of place. When you look at the rumors that have come out about Easterby’s tenure, when you look at the fact that the team continues to go out of its way to hire people who will not challenge his position in any way, it’s hard to come to any conclusion but that he is basically the owner of the team. The buck stops with Jack Easterby and the buck has been traded for a quarter and two nickels.

The reason it’s hard to believe that whichever of these not-Eric Bieniemy head coaches will work out is because none of Jack Easterby’s moves have worked out. The Easterby Texans as presently constituted have maybe a 5% hit rate on their bold, galaxybrained ideas. I brought up the trades already. The contracts for players like Randall Cobb and Whitney Mercilus were bad before the ink dried. I will give them maybe the tiniest smidgen of credit on Brandin Cooks las year, and that could still look bad in two years.

Normally, I am the guy who is low on most moves as compared to the fanbase. That comes with the territory of having a major background in analytics — I start with an approach founded in probability rather than on feel. You see a first-round tackle who has the tools to be a stud in Tytus Howard. I see a SWAC kid who has a lot to learn and believe the range of outcomes is not always going to solve itself in the positive, or at least not in the first four years. That said, I have learned to love surprises. I’ve learned to love being wrong. I would have dearly loved to have eaten some of the many words I’ve spilled on this blog over Texans trades and signings that they went out on a limb for. That I haven’t is as grave an indictment of the franchise’s direction as anything.

Remember: I’m supposed to be the idiot sportswriter. They’re supposed to be the franchise that has the data I don’t have, the knowledge I don’t have, and they are supposed to use those things to prove me wrong. When we play this game, me playing it with less information than them, I am supposed to lose.

If I would be outperforming you by virtue of just not doing stupid shit every year, that says a lot about how stupid that shit is and how unqualified the person leading the charge of all those moves is. To some people, that would be a sign that maybe they should get back on the trolley. To the Texans? They are permanently emboldened by Easterby’s toxic positivity.

So yeah, I understand in a vacuum that there’s nothing “wrong” with interviewing Josh McCown as a head coach. There’s nothing “wrong” with interviewing David Culley. But when your front office has a predilection for doing dumb shit, well, it’s dangerous. You see the gears working as they figure out how to pole vault off the tracks and into the Dunning-Kruger effect stratosphere. If the Patriots interviewed Josh McCown to be an offensive coordinator? Fawning everywhere. The Texans interviewing Culley? It’s like watching a child fiddling with a book of matches outside of a gas station.

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“I don’t understand why we must do things in this world, why we must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be better to retreat to a faraway corner of the world, where all its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose everything and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this world?”

Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

The Texans are a slave to Jack Easterby’s desires. He holds them in his hands. It is okay to admit that. I know it feels powerful to blame Cal McNair, and he certainly deserves some blame for falling under the spell of this seersucker of a man. But Easterby holds the keys to the kingdom.

This will never be stated overtly, and because it will never be stated overtly, a segment of intentionally dense people will refuse to understand it. But the power dynamics at play here make it very obvious.

In a sense, it’s not hard to blame Easterby for what he is doing. He’s been empowered beyond the wildest dreams he could think of while using edgy Grand Theft Auto fonts on his South Carolina bible study power points. He is making, per reports, a metric ton of money for a long time, and he intends to keep making that money for a long time. So he has worked hard behind the scenes to install a general manager of his choosing. Based on the candidate pool for the head coach job — as well as the reported finalist pool — it’s very clear he has influence on that. Easterby doesn’t want anybody in town that will challenge his authority.

And if that means that Deshaun Watson has to go? Well, the preacher did tell us that his favorite game was watching Jesus struggle on the cross for six hours.

In Easterby’s vision of the Texans, we’re about to watch a lot of competing on the cross, every Sunday.

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A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

Meditations

I have a certain knowledge of how to play with words. If I want to convey “this player fucked up his tackle on this play,” I have many options. I could just outright state it — that’s usually pretty irritating and players don’t tend to like it. I could say something more demure, like “This player makes it to the box, let’s see what happens,” that calls it out without necessarily being quite so direct. I could use my words to paint it as a mental mistake or a physical mistake, I could say that the physical mistake occurred because the tackling technique went bad when the player bent his helmet forward here. I could say that the mental mistake occurred because the player wasn’t positioned properly to begin with. There are many different ways to characterize an action.

What I am getting at as we continue to drown in Deshaun Watson non-action is a very simple feeling: That it all matters. Jack Easterby’s presence, especially, matters. But the season that he just went through matters. Did Bill O’Brien play a part? Look at what happened to the roster under his stewardship as GM. Does not interviewing Eric Bieniemy (until later) and Robert Saleh play into that? Sure, it sucks that one of the preeminent black quarterbacks of our time can’t see a single path to a minority getting in the front office until he speaks up about it. Does Cal McNair have a part in it? He has enabled and allowed a lot of meddling and hasn’t shown much indication that he knows how to steer the course of the franchise successfully. Does watching J.J. Watt throw his career away for this franchise have a part in it? We saw them walk off the field together.

My reading of what we’ve seen leaked about Watson’s unhappiness is that he feels like the main character in a Resident Evil game — not only is everything going wrong, but there’s not really any time to breathe before the next thing goes wrong. When he finds a potential solution, it turns out that the environment around him was five steps ahead of him and that whatever victory he thought he won was Pyrrhic. When the plot is revealed, the plot is actually eight different subplots, and you better be mashing the circle button during this cutscene or you’re going to be eaten. The objectives to creating the culture and team that he wants in Houston are so numerous as to be overwhelming. Nothing ever resolves, it just concludes in a way to create the next obstacle.

As Watson grows into whatever he will ultimately be, he understands a little more each day. We give him a lot of credit for his growth on the field, but I think maybe his growth off the field is undercovered and underreported. I think he’s beginning to piece together more about what he wants and doesn’t want his future to look like. And I think of him walking off that field with Watt as a powerful scene in what he doesn’t want to see.

Watson is the kind of man who has always been able to say that he wants to win a title and then back that up. It was enough to have the goal and enough to be transcendent on his own. He’s learning that this isn’t Clemson. You need the organization and culture to have a drive to win a championship that manifests in actions rather than words. And he just watched his fellow superstar on the team spend his entire season trying to get that across to anyone who would listen:

Watson isn’t turning away from the Texans because he’s mad at them hiring Nick Caserio. He isn’t turning away from them exclusively because of Easterby, even though that is definitely a main issue from what I’ve heard.

He’s turning away from them because, on a very elemental level, he’s growing, and they are not. That’s the wedge.

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Notoriety follows you
like beatings follow rain

McLusky, “Gareth Brown Says”

Where does that leave the readers, where does this leave the fanbase, and where does this leave me? I feel like we’ve collectively tried incredibly hard to get some message to the Houston Texans organization that Jack Easterby can’t be allowed to manage this team. I personally have an honorary doctorate in Easterby speaking appearance forensics. The Texans Unfiltered crew held a rally that Watson had to tell them to call off:

It is, objectively speaking, ridiculous that this happened. I don’t know that I can even recall a similar event in history. Not for the owner, not for a coach, not for a general manager. For a vice president.

Literally everything the Texans put out as an organization is instantly ratioed, #FireEasterby has trended multiple times in the wake of the most high-profile bits, as well as after the second Sports Illustrated piece was put up.

Steph Stradley has put it well when she has noted that the organization has chosen Easterby over everybody. It almost transcends that for me when you consider that the Texans are ostensibly an organization that faces the public. It’s not just that the Texans are choosing people over other people, it’s that they are literally disengaging with one of the purposes of a football team — their community — to serve Easterby.

Since Nick Caserio has been hired, there has been almost nothing of substance put out by the team website about the team itself. It is in a holding pattern, an airplane circling around the port while a hostage situation happens below it. They also have started putting up pictures of players who have worn each number. Did you know Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden both wore No. 3? Guess we’ll get familiar with that sight again soon.

It would be incredibly easy to fire or re-assign Easterby. It would be incredibly easy to make the steps that would be real apologies to Watson for the way this offseason was conducted and hire the best head coach on the market instead of the best one who prays exactly as Jack commands. It would be incredibly easy to have as much respect and concern for Watson as the mayor of the city does.

But it is beyond this cabal of Generational Intellects to do anything but serve Easterby’s ego. To do anything but watch the fire in the dumpster as Easterby throws the next thing in it.

And as we all go into that fire, the organization, the players, the employees, the media, the fans, I want to tell you that I understand perfectly if you want to check out of it. I have zero ill will for you. Life is too short to be tethered to something that brings you pain, and I say that even though it means I have a lot of eyes to lose.

As we get deeper into the 21st century, it becomes more and more obvious that the institutions that were set up to protect us have been underfunded, destroyed, or otherwise incapacitated. The NFL doesn’t have a system in place to demand an ownership recall. It never envisioned a scenario in which a person who made enough money to own a football franchise would be so hamheaded that he’d throw the figurative implements of money-making away for his pastor.

That is what we are on the verge of. We’re all waiting to see what gets tossed in the fire next.

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One Reply to “Meditations on watching your favorite franchise turn into a dumpster fire”

  1. Why all the angst? Texans have been to the playoffs 6 out of the last 10 seasons, including 4 playoff wins. Other teams (Lions, Jets, Bengals, etc) would kill to have a record of “failure” like that. I get that Easterby is not a typical NFL wheeler/dealer, but I thought diversity in background was a good thing!

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