There’s a Hu(g)e gleam, Browns fans
Talk about bad timing. Cornered the market on that one today. Should have trusted my instincts to wait on the Hue Jackson situation.
But when Jimmy Haslam III passed on the opportunity to hire Jackson Tuesday as his new head coach after a second interview, the itch in my trigger finger became overwhelming.
Shoulda waited a few hours longer. But you know what they say about woulda, coulda and shoulda. I didn’t and paid the price. That said . . .
Getting Jackson to say yes to his offer Wednesday very likely will turn out to be the smartest move Haslam has made since purchasing the Browns in 2012.
What makes this appointment important and impactful was removing the stigma that no one wanted to coach the Cleveland Browns, a veritable graveyard of coaches since 1999.
Jackson, who is extremely familiar with the Browns on the field after coordinating the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense the past few years, wanted to land in Cleveland, although he kept all options open by interviewing elsewhere.
The fact he cancelled an interview with the New York Giants after Haslam offered him the job speaks volumes. The owner deserves big-time credit for stepping up quickly and not allowing Jackson to slip away.
It’s extremely comforting to know the Browns now have a head coach with previous head coaching experience and not some long-time coordinator who will grovel for any head coaching job and who does not know there is a vast difference between the two jobs.
Butch Davis and Eric Mangini are the only head coaches hired by the Browns since 1999 to bring that kind of experience to the job and they struggled, mainly because they also involved themselves in the player personnel department instead of concentrating on coaching.
Jackson, who becomes the eighth Cleveland head coach since 1999 and sixth since 2008, should have no trouble in that regard. But he also must realize that by accepting the job before the Browns select a new general manager, he places himself in a similar situation that cost him the top job in Oakland in 2011.
After leading the Oakland Raiders to an 8-8 season, Jackson was fired by new general manager Reggie McKenzie, who wanted to name his own coach. This time, though, the new Cleveland coach will be part of the team that selects the new GM.
The big question now is how much input Jackson is given in player personnel decisions. How much say-so will he have in the college football draft? Or the makeup of the 53-man roster?
That appears for the time being to be in the hands of Sashi Brown, whose forte is business, not football. It will be interesting once the new GM is named whether Brown will continue in that role, whether his promotion was just a stopgap in the wake of the twin firings of Ray Framer and Mike Pettine.
What Jackson brings to the Browns is instant credibility. His reputation as an offensive guru, especially with quarterbacks, precedes him. But in the bigger picture, that should pale.
Being a head coach is far different. Someone once told me that the secret to being a successful head coach is hiring good assistant coaches, coaching those coaches and letting the coaches coach the players.
Clearly in Jackson’s favor is his reputation as a players’ coach. He relates well to them and vice-versa. Plaudits from all around the National Football League poured in after the announcement, several of them from former players under Jackson.
The strongest endorsement came from Cincinnati offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. “A leader of men!” he wrote. “He gets leadership and is not afraid to push his best players to develop into leaders for their team, He will challenge every player to take ownership of their effort and performance each day. Being good will never be acceptable to him. He earned and deserved this opportunity!”
It’s no accident the Cincinnati offense is one of the strongest and most productive in the NFL. Under Jackson, Andy Dalton has become one of the league’s rising young quarterback stars and Tyler Eifert has developed into one of the NFL’s best tight ends.
Jackson’s appointment also could have a significant impact on some of the Browns’ free agents rumored to be leaning toward leaving after another miserable season. That group includes center Alex Mack and offensive right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Throw in perennial All-Pro offensive left tackle Joe Thomas, the subject of trade rumors, and that’s 60% of the offensive line. Jackson’s appointment might make a persuasive argument to remain and play in what definitely will be a new offensive scheme.
So many possibilities now exist with Jackson now on board with regard to what the Browns will look like in 2016. It’s safe to say, however, that Johnny Manziel will not be a part of that picture.
So who will be the new quarterback? He might not be on the current roster. He might come from the college ranks – Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch or Carson Wentz to name a few – or from the NFL free-agent market or via the trade route.
Jackson, who has been an offensive coordinator for four NFL teams and knows the pro game inside and out, has a solid reputation in developing quarterbacks or surrounding himself with those who align their philosophy with him. The only X-factor there is whether he will be his own play caller.
Most likely available in the free-agent market will be Robert Griffin III, Zack Mettenberger and Sam Bradford, while Colin Kaepernick appears to have worn out his welcome in San Francisco and might be available in a trade, depending on who becomes the 49ers’ new head coach.
Jackson also will have the luxury of welcoming back Josh Gordon, assuming NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lifts the wide receiver’s one-year ban for substance abuse. One can only imagine how much Jackson can get out of Gordon.
An interesting footnote to the Jackson hiring was an almost-universal Twitter attaboy for the Browns by members of the media. Here is a small sample:
Peter King of Sports Illustrated: Hue Jackson gets the Browns job. Superb hire. Jackson made Dalton better and maximized Cin weapons. Congrats to him and Browns.
Albert Breer of the NFL Network: Another win for the Browns on this one: My understanding is EVP Sashi Brown came off very well in the process of pursuing Hue Jackson.
Tom Pelissero of USA Today: #Browns made Hue Jackson feel they wanted him. Inspired hire for a franchise that needed inspiration.
Michael Silver of the NFL Network: Give Jimmy Haslam & the Browns credit. They went out and got their guy.
And finally Michael Freeman of the Bleacher Report: I know this is crazy talk. I KNOW THIS IS CRAZY TALK. But I think what Cleveland has done will work. I think it’s smart.
Pelissero nailed it best, calling it an inspired hire for a franchise that needed inspiration.
Haslam, after patting himself on the back for finally being decisive, should sit back after finding his new general manager and let his football people do their thing without any interference whatsoever. He has done his job. Now let them do their jobs. Let them succeed or fail on their own.
A new era in professional football has dawned in Cleveland. And the future, finally, has a glow that hasn’t been there for a very long time.