Browns need new offensive voice
Hue Jackson appears to be repeating the same coaching mistake he made last season, which, of course, turned out to be disastrous.
Last time I looked, Jackson bore the title of head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Not offensive coordinator. Not defensive coordinator. Not special teams coach. He is the head coach.
The main job of the head coach of any football team, especially one in the National Football League, is to establish the team’s culture with specific directions in all phases.
To that end, his prime responsibility is to coach his coaches. Let his coaches coach the players. After all, that is what they are hired to do. And that is where Jackson makes his mistake for the second year in a row.
Last season, the season when the Browns won only one game and that just barely, Jackson was, for all intents and purposes, the de facto offensive coordinator. The staff did not have, nor do they have now, someone whose title is offensive coordinator.
Pep Hamilton, who recently left to become offensive coordinator at the University of Michigan, was the Browns’ passing game coordinator last season. He and run game coordinator Kirby Wilson drew up game plans. Jackson called all the plays.
He told cleveland.com recently from Mobile, Ala., where he and his staff are coaching the South team in the annual Senior Bowl game, that he is “leaning toward” not filling Hamilton’s spot on the coaching roster.
“The staff we have down here is the staff we have and I want to see,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments. Greg Seamon (who moves from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach) will help me with the quarterbacks.”
By immersing himself totally into the offense, Jackson is robbing himself of the ability to make smart, quick in-game decisions with an emphasis on anticipating and solving a problem before it erupts. Instead of looking at the whole picture because he is so fixed on one side of the ball, he sees only a part of the picture.
The reason he has chosen this course of coaching for the second season in a row, it appears, is because of the hiring of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. “He raises the level of the building,” Jackson said of his new defensive boss.
“He has a belief in how you play defense and it falls right in line with the vision I have or our defensive football team. He wants to be very dominating on that side of the ball as we want to be on offense. So far, so good. It’s a good marriage.”
It’s a marriage that is barely a week old and already the head coach has anointed the newcomer as thebe-all and end-all cure for what ails the Browns on defense. It also is an indictment against Ray Horton, the man Jackson cajoled and ultimately convinced to return to the Browns after a couple of seasons in Tennessee.
Truth be told, the defensive side of the football was not the only embarrassment for the Browns this past season. Embarrassment lived everywhere up and down the roster, including Jackson’s offense.
That offense, which ranked 31st out of 32 teams in points scored, scored only 264 points, while Horton’s defense, which ranked 30th in points allowed, surrendered 452.
The offense, which scored only 29 touchdowns all season, topped more than 20 points on only four occasions. The defense, which gave up 56 touchdowns, allowed 27 or more points in 12 games. The statistics were a litany of embarrassment and futility.
Instead of bringing in a true offensive coordinator, whose focus would be entirely on moving the football, Jackson piles more responsibility onto his shoulders. It sounds as though he is either unable to trust anyone else to run the offense or has a vastly overinflated opinion of himself.
He is basically doubling down on proving to the fans that what they witnessed in 2016 was an aberration. That this team is really not that bad when it owns the football. In so doing, he takes away from his effectiveness as a head coach.
Most successful teams have a clear division of authority within the coaches’ room. Rarely will you see a successful head coach who doubles as a coordinator, especially one so relatively inexperienced as Jackson, who has only two seasons as a head coach on his résumé.
He needs to take a rather large step back, look at the big picture and reassess. This is a big season for him and his job security. Another season like the one the fans endured very well could give owner Jimmy Haslam III great pause to wonder whether allowing Jackson to do double coaching duty again was wise.