INDIANAPOLIS – The Patriots coaching staff has suffered another substantial loss this offseason as Jack Easterby, the team’s “character coach’’ and one of Bill Belichick’s closest confidants, is leaving after six seasons, multiple league sources confirmed.
Easterby’s contract with the Patriots expired after last season, and he has decided to pursue other opportunities in football. Easterby helped navigate the Patriots through significant highs and lows over six years — the Aaron Hernandez ordeal and Deflategate fiasco, plus four Super Bowl runs. Last season, Easterby’s foremost assignment was mentoring and keeping close tabs on troubled receiver Josh Gordon.
Easterby’s departure comes at a time when the organization is reeling from team owner Robert Kraft facing charges in Florida for soliciting prostitution. Easterby felt his time with the team had run its course, and the Kraft situation does not sit well with him, according to league sources. Easterby retweeted a message from Saints tight end Ben Watson last Friday about the “entrenched evil’’ of human trafficking.
Easterby worked behind the scenes in Foxborough with the title of “character coach/team development,’’ and he became a crucial voice for Belichick in the personnel department. A 2015 ESPN Magazine article depicted Easterby as the Patriots’ secret weapon, and an article about him on the team website last November called him “the most influential Patriot you’ve never heard of.’’
Easterby’s main responsibility was to establish and set the team’s culture, but he was a jack-of-all-trades. He became a part of Belichick’s inner circle and one of the most important executives in the building, on a par with director of player personnel Nick Caserio.
Easterby not only served as the team chaplain but also was a trusted mentor for players, helped Belichick determine which players would and wouldn’t fit with his program, participated as a coach in on-field drills, and sat in on almost every personnel meeting with Belichick.
“He’s just a great person and friend,’’ quarterback Tom Brady told ESPN in 2015. “You feel a special connection with him and with his genuine caring for all the people in his life.’’
Easterby joined the Patriots in 2013 after two-plus years in a similar role with the Chiefs, where he worked under general manager Scott Pioli, who was in the Patriots front office from 2000-08, rising as high as director of player personnel.
The Patriots hired Easterby in the wake of the Hernandez arrest, after Easterby helped guide the Chiefs through the murder-suicide case involving Jovan Belcher in 2012.
“I can only hope and pray to be half the man that he’s been and impact lives the way he has,’’ Patriots captain Matthew Slater told the team website.
Easterby normally would be a crucial voice for the Patriots this week at the NFL Combine as they sift through hundreds of draft prospects. But the team’s coaches found out Monday that Easterby is not returning.