|Stew Milne/Associated Press|
|Nick Caserio has enjoyed a unique rise in the New England Patriots organization, coaching and managing personnel.|
You might not know who Nick Caserio is. If you do, it's pretty likely you don't know much about him.
That's no mistake.
There are plenty of folks inside the NFL who are with you, who struggle to get a clear picture on the 37-year-old New England Patriots director of personnel.
"He's kind of a weird guy, quirky, not much personality, just a hyper-intense guy," one rival personnel executive said. "He's done a lot of different things. He's done coaching, he's done college, he's done pro. He seems real stiff, a little weird and I don't know if those qualities lend themselves to being a general manager, but he's really smart when it comes to football."
If that sounds like it could be a description of a scouting-side version of Bill Belichick, well, that's probably not by mistake either.
What we know about Caserio, who declined to talk for this story, is the black-and-white. And the black-and-white here -- with the Patriots on the precipice of a second-straight Super Bowl -- is pretty impressive.
The former John Carroll University quarterback (one of his receivers there was New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) rose to the top of the team's personnel department in 2009, after Scott Pioli, then vice president of the player personnel, left to become the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager. He'd previously moved back and forth between scouting and coaching. In his new role, Caserio was charged with leading a youth movement as many of the championship foundation pieces of the 2000s retired.
The promotion -- part of a transition that passed coveted draft-room seats from Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff (who left to become the Atlanta Falcons' GM) to Caserio and new college director Jon Robinson -- had to be earned, of course, and it was.
"To me, what was so impressive about Nick is everything he does, there's a selflessness about it," explained Pioli, who hired Caserio in New England in 2001. "People in this industry, there's a lot of ego, a lot of testosterone, but Nick was always more concerned about the greater good than his own mission. For young guys in our business, that's a vanishing commodity these days, and it's an important quality of his. It's loyalty, but it's more. It's selflessness. He's a team guy."
Dimitroff adds to that saying, "Nick's gotten where he's gotten for good reasons, because he's incredibly driven and intelligent."
And above that, he gets results too.
Offensively, cornerstones remain from Pioli's time, in quarterback Tom Brady, guard Logan Mankins and receiver Wes Welker. But since, New England has rebuilt the tailback position, with Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen; the tight end spot, with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; and the offensive line, with bookends Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.
Likewise, on defense, Caserio walked into his new role with Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo to build around, and went to work by inserting draft picks like Chandler Jones, Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty, giving the Patriots their youngest defensive group in more than a decade.
Now, when Belichick's in charge, there's always the question of how involved anyone else really is, since the coach's fingerprints are all over everything. But given Caserio's acumen, those who've been around him have little doubt.
And there's black-and-white proof, too, in the number of roles Belichick has entrusted him with, from offensive coaching assistant (2002) to area scout (2003) to pro director (2004 to '06) to receivers coach (2007) to his current role, which he started while still holding some coaching responsibilities.
"It's a huge asset to Nick that he can move from personnel to coaching and coaching personnel, and even perform those tasks in the same day," Dimitroff said. "To be able to handle that multitasking and understand what someone as talented as Bill Belichick wants, it's huge. When you work for Bill, you better come to the table with your I's dotted and your T's crossed. Nick is able to do that, and Bill has great respect for that."
But more than just that, Caserio's willingness to play utility man brings insight into his principles, which happen to align perfectly with those in charge at his place of work.
"When he was asked to coach, he coached; when he was asked to work in personnel, he worked in personnel," Pioli said. "He was only concerned with what the team needed. A lot of guys are in there for two years and are worried about being directors or GMs. That's not what Nick's focus was."
And so maybe that provides the best answer to the topic broached at the beginning of this column: Who is Nick Caserio?
While the rise of so many others in the business is part of a personal grand design, Caserio's ascent seems to have happened, if you listen to those around him, organically.
He's been given a coveted chair in the team's draft room, one of the smallest draft rooms in the league. Why? Because in a place where everyone is on a "need-to-know basis," in the words of one ex-Patriots personnel man, Caserio's voice has become important enough to lead him into a decision-making position. Any power he does have, and that part is shaded in gray, has been earned, not politicked for.
That former Patriots personnel man, who worked with Caserio in New England, called him "Type A", but said the idea that he's strangely intense is a "misperception," and that he's simply "really into what he does." Dimitroff added to the point, calling Caserio "misunderstood" and saying he's a "great soul."
Dimitroff, Pioli and everyone who's worked with Caserio agreed that, when the time comes, he has the makings of a very solid NFL general manager.
Caserio's résumé will likely get him that shot, sooner rather than later, if he so chooses.
But the best part for New England? It's a good bet he's not real worried about that right now.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.