Nick Caserio is an irreplaceable cog in the machine that has produced six Super Bowl titles for the New England Patriots. So, the Patriots are pretty fortunate they won’t have to find someone to try — and ultimately fail — to fill his role as director of player personnel this offseason.
The Patriots and Caserio agreed to a multi-year contract extension on Wednesday, a source told NESN.com. Caserio was set to become a free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft, and now the Patriots don’t have to fret about losing him to another team. Having already lost longtime and legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia to retirement and quarterback Tom Brady set to hit free agency in March, letting Caserio go wasn’t an option.
Caserio’s job title, “director of player personnel,” is not befitting of his all-encompassing role in the Patriots’ organization. That’s been his position since 2008 but only tells about half the story. It’s true he is the Patriots’ de facto general manager, but he’s also much more as he now enters his 20th season with the team.
Outside of actually taking the field — which we still won’t entirely rule out given his passing prowess — he plays a part in every other facet of the Patriots’ organization.
“The role that Nick has in (the) building is amazing,” New York Giants head coach Joe Judge said last season when he was still the Patriots’ wide receivers coach/special teams coordinator. “The fact that he actually transcends all aspects of the organization from the personnel to the coaching, he understands what we’re doing in player development. He’s very involved with players hands-on. I don’t know how many other personnel guys you can say that about.”
He oversees the Patriots’ pro and college scouting departments. He sets up signings and trades. He’s in the coaches’ booth during games talking to offensive coordinator — and former college teammate — Josh McDaniels. He’s a coach on the practice field during the week. Oh, and he’s the Patriots’ in-house arm for any free agent wide receiver workouts.
“Nick is (head coach Bill Belichick’s) right-hand man when it comes to player personnel,” former Patriots front-office exec Michael Lombardi told NESN. “He facilitates the information from the scouting department to the coaching staff and is able to combine the two departments and have it working with complete synergy on a daily basis.”
Belichick is technically the Patriots’ general manager because he has the final say on the team’s roster, but with a young defensive staff and no coordinator in place, Caserio seemingly took on greater responsibility in the personnel department in 2019, allowing Belichick to focus on coaching.
In fact, at least one person we spoke to said that while Belichick gets all of the credit for the Patriots’ success, Caserio deserves a solid slice. Caserio allows Belichick to multitask, and he sets the plate so the head coach’s decisions are as streamlined as possible.
“He does a great job in all those areas and has been extremely valuable to me on so many levels for such a long time,” Belichick said. “When things pop up that need to be done, and it’s harder to find maybe a younger person, less experienced person on your staff or in your organization to do those things, you look at him and say, ‘OK, he can do them,’ and then that maybe allows you to shuffle some things in other areas.”
THE HUMAN SIDE
There’s a perception in NFL circles that Caserio is robotic.
We are here to tell you that Caserio is not an actual machine. He’s just a human being who’s programmed to retain and process information better than 99.9 percent of people in football. Perhaps his reputation is one earned out of jealousy.
In “Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time” someone anonymously told author Ian O’Connor, “If you slice Nick’s wrist, I don’t think blood would come out. You’d see wires.”
It is true that if someone in a lab were to design a younger, more aerodynamic Belichick robot, it would look and sound a lot like Caserio.
But Caserio is all heart to those who have worked under him. Caserio lives by a quote that has traveled with him from office to office within Gillette Stadium: “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
It’s written on a whiteboard behind Caserio’s desk, and it’s been there since at least 2005, when former Patriots scouting assistant Timothy Pichette was hired. It comes from entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes.
“I think that’s basically how he runs things with the scouting assistants, with everyone in the personnel department,” former Patriots scout and current Philadelphia Eagles national scout Patrick Stewart told NESN. “He’s very respectful of everyone’s position and time and what they bring to the table, to what our families sacrifice. When we get together as staff, he was always very appreciative of the wives and families that give up their husbands for the fall and winter for us to scout and do all these things. He’s a great boss.”
Scouts, coaches and executives from outside of the Patriots organization regularly ask about Caserio, because they have a hard time getting a read on the long-time Patriots exec who has held a role in the organization for all six Super Bowl titles.
“Nick has a job to do and he’s going to do it,” Stewart said. “He doesn’t go on the road a lot, so when he goes out to a school to evaluate players for the draft and such during the fall, he doesn’t have time to sit in the room like the rest of us do and tell jokes to each other or just small talk.
“Nick makes the most out of his time in whatever he’s doing. He’s efficient, and he’s structured, and he’s regimented. He just lives his life that way. That’s everything top-down with Nick. He’s very disciplined. Robotic, to me, is kind of mean. He’s a great person. He’s really a fun guy to talk to and BS with. We text all the time and have a good relationship. He’s a normal dude in that regard. Just when it comes to work, he is disciplined and regimented, very structured, very detailed. And that’s what makes him so good. I envy that about him.”
Caserio’s tireless work ethic is the stuff of legend around Gillette Stadium. In the early 2000s, before Caserio got married and had three daughters, former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli did everything he could to convince the young staffer to leave the building.
“He was one of those people that I would have to tell him, ‘Get home at a decent hour tonight. Get some rest,’ and he never did that,” Pioli told NESN. “He worked seven days a week.”
And often through the night.
In 2007, the Patriots were without a wide receivers coach. Brian Daboll, now the Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator, held that role from 2002 to 2006 but was plucked away by Patriots defensive coordinator-turned-Jets head coach Eric Mangini to become New York’s quarterbacks coach.
So, Belichick pulled Caserio away from his duty as director of pro personnel and made him the Patriots’ receivers coach. Caserio’s primary role hadn’t been in coaching since 2002. Scouts at the time were surprised by the development but had no doubt Caserio would get the job done.
“If they would have said anybody else on the staff was going to do it, we’d be like, ‘Really?’ ” Pichette remembered. “But Nick’s doing it, like, ‘Oh, yeah. Of course. We’re going to be great at this position this year because Nick’s doing it.'”
The ’07 Patriots’ wide receivers had the most productive year of any group in franchise history, with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney combining for 3,814 yards and 39 touchdowns. It usually takes receivers a while to get acclimated in New England’s complex offense. Not with Caserio coaching them.
“Scouting is so cumbersome and it’s year-round, and you’re so wrapped in how the system is in scouting and all the details that you have to know and all the people that you have to study,” Pichette said. “Not every scout — or barely any in my experience; there may be some that I don’t know of — they don’t know the team’s offensive playbook, scheme, concept that the coaches are looking for and trying to implement because there simply is too much information to process along with what you currently have to do. And you’re not in there every day. You’re not in those meetings. You don’t know the playbook inside and out. You know your scouting playbook inside and out. But Nick can do both. He has that kind of capability. He can step in and coach at any time without missing a beat. He’s not just filling a gap. He’s going in there and excelling.
“Obviously, (2007) was a record-setting year, but he goes in there and excels, and then he can come right back, like literally the day after the season ends, he’s right back in his pro personnel department office back in the scouting department grinding on that as we’re getting ready for the draft. It’s just incredibly rare that a person can have the bandwidth or just be able to process all of that information and do it at the extreme high level that only Nick can do it.”
Welker described Caserio as “meticulous” in his role as receivers coach. Even if Welker picked up a big gain, Caserio would still nitpick Welker’s route.
“It was just like, I’d sit there and catch an under route for like 20 yards,” Welker, who now coaches the San Francisco 49ers’ wideouts, told NESN before Super Bowl LIV. “I beat the guy real quick and just went. (Casero’s) like, ‘Next time, just try to get to 5 yards, all right?’ I’m like, ‘Man, what are you talking about? That’s a 20-yard gain.’
“He was great. He knew the offense inside and out. He put in the hours and the time teaching me the offense to make sure I was on it and knowing everything. It was good.”
Caserio still contributes with wide receivers in practice. And that certainly helped Judge in his first year coaching wideouts last season. It will be useful to the Patriots’ next wide receivers coach, as well.
“I have gone to Nick, and he’s shared ideas with me at different points that maybe something could help or something he’s done differently or maybe something with a different player,” Judge said last season. “He does a great job of looking at opponents and educating us as coaches leading into the next opponent of what to look at tendency-wise with their personnel.”
There are times when the Patriots don’t need a third quarterback because Caserio, a former QB at John Carroll University, can handle some of the reps in practice. Don’t ask the company expert about Caserio’s mechanics, however.
“I think he’s better in his role now than he was a quarterback, because I saw some film,” Tom Brady said jokingly in 2017. “His throwing form? It’s terrible. Terrible. You probably have a lot of elbow pain with that technique.”
Caserio can sling it, though, no matter what Brady says.
“He can throw,” Welker confirmed. “It was always good to have him as an extra arm just to throw to us and all of those things. That was actually a really good deal to have because he can rip the ball.”
Stewart jokes that the Patriots bring in so many receivers for workouts because Caserio wants to get his reps in. Pichette remembers some veteran receivers being confused when a Patriots personnel exec was going to be throwing for a workout. But as soon as Caserio fired the ball on target with some velocity, the concern subsided.
Caserio can get a good look at a prospective Patriots pass-catcher if he’s the one throwing the ball.
“Nick will go out to pro days, and he kind of takes them over, because he knows exactly what he wants to see out of the workouts,” Stewart said. “So, if there are receivers or corners there, he’s going to be the one throwing. When you go to a pro day, a GM doesn’t get out there and get their hands dirty very often. It’s basically like Nick throwing to wide receivers and (Tennessee Titans GM) Jon Robinson working out defensive linemen. That’s the two GMs that get out there and get dirty.”
It would be nearly impossible for another front-office exec to replicate everything Caserio brings to the Patriots’ organization, so New England was smart to lock him up. Those who have worked under him are not surprised he’s stayed in Foxboro for two decades, citing his loyalty.
“When you have a good job, and you can win, and winning is important, then you’re probably better off staying than taking a bad job,” Lombardi said.
Caserio did look set to take the Texans’ general manager job this offseason after interest last June. Houston handed it to their head coach Bill O’Brien, however.
The longer Caserio sticks around, the better for the Patriots. It would take a village to replace him.
Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots