On the eve of the finale of the Texans’ lost 2020 season, Jack Easterby preached. In the preceding weeks, as scrutiny both inside and outside the building swelled around the character coach turned acting GM, Easterby seemed to some to have been keeping a lower profile. But now, he took acting head coach Romeo Crennel’s place at the head of a team meeting.
Easterby delivered a speech that was described in multiple direct accounts as a lengthy missive intended to be rousing. The discourse centered almost entirely on Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ star quarterback at the end of a historically great—if wasted—season. Easterby, those sources said, was effusive in his praise for the quarterback, but to the dismay of many, he did not extend the same attention to: J.J. Watt, the team leader and greatest player in franchise history, who was on the verge of completing only his second healthy season in the past five years; the turmoil that engulfed the organization; the midseason firing of coach Bill O’Brien; or the future of a franchise seeking new leadership.
Easterby, in answering emailed questions from Sports Illustrated via a team spokesperson, described it as a “brief intro speech” and that “afterward, I was thanked by many players and coaches for my words.” But multiple players texted their representatives that night to describe a meandering address unlike any they’d heard. Others, one source said, left the meeting “pissed off,” believing Easterby’s only intention was to curry favor with the quarterback. Watson, if anything, was embarrassed by the show, two sources said.
Four months earlier, Watson had signed a four-year, $156 million extension that tied him to this team through 2025, when he would be 30 years old. But throughout the season, two sources close to Watson say, his frustration grew. Watson was told by team owner Cal McNair he would have input in the search for the franchise’s next general manager and head coach, and the two talked on multiple occasions through the season’s final weeks.
Watson told McNair he wanted to create a “winning culture” in Houston, similar to his experience in college at Clemson, where he won a national title in 2016. He also sought for the franchise decision-makers to “get on the same page,” ending the division created and flamed since Easterby’s arrival in 2019. Watson even made his critiques more public, saying of the organization at his press conference after the season-ending loss to Tennessee: “There’s no real foundation in view.”
The Monday after the season ended, Watson took off for a vacation in Mexico to think about his future. What he didn’t know was that a plan was already underway—one that was not born out of his input or that of multiple high-ranking team executives, prominent consultants or the search firm McNair had paid handsomely to choose the team’s new leaders.
Rather, the person accompanying McNair on a flight out of town Monday morning was the one the owner had asserted would not be part of the team’s search committee, and whose future he said would be decided by the next GM: Easterby. They were en…
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