McClain: Those who know Nick Caserio believe he'll thrive with Texans

by 24USATVJan. 7, 2021, 3 a.m. 21
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As New England’s second-round draft choice in 1995, Ted Johnson played inside linebacker for 10 years and earned three Super Bowl rings.

Johnson was a six-year veteran when Nick Caserio was hired as a 26-year-old offensive assistant in 2001. Johnson watched Caserio progress through the organization to become Bill Belichick’s director of player personnel in 2008 before the Texans hired him as general manager this week.

Johnson, who covers the Patriots for NBC Sports Boston and 98.5 The Sports Hub, joined me on a Texas Sports Nation podcast that’ll be posted Thursday. On Friday, my podcast with longtime Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss, who covers the team for ESPN and ESPNBoston.com, will be posted. Reiss offered fascinating insight into Caserio’s career with the Patriots and the impact he can have on the Texans.

As a former Patriots player and current member of the media, Johnson has an interesting perspective on the Caserio hiring. I asked Johnson: If he were back in Houston and still on the air as a co-host of Sports Radio 610’s afternoon talk show, what would he tell angry fans who are livid about the Caserio hiring?

“I think he’s going to be a great general manager,” Johnson said. “I hope fans give him a chance and don’t automatically assume he’s going to be a failure just because he’s coming from the Patriots.”

But many already have. They’re convinced Caserio will be a failure with the Texans because he came from the Patriots, where he worked with former coach Bill O’Brien and executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby.

“I understand the frustration of the fans,” Johnson said. “Any link to the Patriots they’ve got to be sick and tired of, but Nick’s seen the good and the bad. He’s been around the best of the best. Belichick is the best who’s ever done it.”

Caserio, 45, worked his way up through the personnel department. Two times he moved to the coaching staff before Belichick promoted him to director of player personnel. Caserio became a Belichick confidant and played a substantial role in the Patriots’ reaching nine Super Bowls and winning six.

In practice, Caserio likes to work with the quarterbacks and throw passes to receivers. On game days, he sat in the coaches booth, wearing a headset and communicating with Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

“He’s got a ton of energy,” Johnson said. “He’s done everything you can ask for a guy that’s worked that long in a front office: coaching, game planning, and the college and pro side when it comes to scouting. This guy has been exposed to all of it. I think that’s a huge asset for the Texans.”

Johnson thinks Caserio is his own man and won’t try to be Belichick and implement the Patriot Way that’s caused so many other head coaches and general managers to fail with other teams.

On Wednesday, I talked with five people who worked for the Patriots or cover the team. All spoke favorably about Caserio and how they believe he’ll do as a general manager who’s out from under the Belichick umbrella.

Their observations are in stark contrast to fans and media in Houston who are hysterical about the hiring.

Nobody can say for certain how Caserio will do as a first-time general manager who has power over personnel and will recommend a new head coach to owner Cal McNair. But they’re convinced that of all the personnel experts in the NFL waiting for opportunities to become GMs, none is more deserving. And the others haven’t experienced Caserio’s remarkable success.

Working for Belichick, the greatest coach in history, and having Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in history, was essential to the Patriots’ success, of course.

I’m told Caserio is a good family man and devoted Christian. He’s a hard worker who’s confident in what he does. He was loyal to Belichick and the Kraft family. He was content to let others take credit. He’s not a phony or a self-promoter. Because Belichick dominates the organization, Caserio was fine being in the background.

Character, trust and integrity are important to Caserio. He can speak the language of scouts and coaches because he’s been both. He’ll work hard to try to hire the right coach for the Texans. He’s a good listener who wants those under him giving their opinions, even if they disagree with him. He’s willing to be challenged.

What those who’ve followed Caserio’s career are eager to see is how he adjusts to becoming a general manager who’ll answer to no one but McNair. They wonder how long it’ll take for him to spread his wings, so to speak, and feel comfortable in his new role.

Those who know Caserio believe he’s been under the radar for so long that he’s ready to exert his new authority, connect with co-workers, fans and media, and show that he’s not a Belichick clone who’ll try to create a working environment like the one he left.

“I think Nick’s learned from others who came before him — what they tried to do and the mistakes they made,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys who left the Patriots are accused of trying to be just like Bill and not be their own person. I think Nick’s learned from that, and he sees the game in a way those guys didn’t see at that time. I think he’s better for it.”

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