Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mid-week thoughts

Been doing some thinking lately about Hue Jackson’s future.

Will it continue in Cleveland after this season? Has he coached well enough to carry on with a fan base ready to string him up and kick him out the door?

When you post only one victory in 25 games, that’s more than a sign that something is wrong. That’s a raging clarion call for change.

A lot depends on what Jimmy Haslam III and his wife, Dee, do at what is hopefully a merciful conclusion to yet another season of football not played the way it’s meant to be played.

Several scenarios popped into mind, not the least of which is Jackson somehow survives this living nightmare and ends up answering next season to a whole new set of bosses who actually know what they are doing.

Call it a reprieve of sorts for Jackson; sort of what Mike Holmgren did back in 2010 when he retained Eric Mangini after taking over as the Browns’ president. He figured Mangini deserved another chance after a 5-11 season. Bad move. Mangini booked another 5-11 season.

That one does not sound too realistic with regard to Jackson. The fan base, which is thinning to begin with, might storm Browns headquarters in Berea if Haslam or whoever winds up on top of the flow chart next season does not add by subtracting.

Jackson’s reputation as an offensive coordinator and quarterback whisperer, which has taken several severe hits the last season and a half, is still strong enough to warrant a look elsewhere around the National Football League if he is cashiered by Cleveland.

Teams all over the league are on the lookout for seasoned coordinators during the offseason and Jackson’s name, if he becomes a free agent, is certain to land on many of those lists. He shouldn’t have to worry about his future.

But the thought that intrigued me the most, and the one when you stop and think about it makes the most sense, will see Jackson move back downstate with the Cincinnati Bengals, who have struggled the last two seasons.

Marvin Lewis, one of Jackson’s closest friends in the NFL, is in his 15th season as the Bengals boss. He experienced great success from 2009 to 2105 with a slight 4-12 burp in 2010, winning the AFC North three times and finishing second twice.

Jackson spent four seasons with the Bengals, coordinating the offense in 2014 and 2015, when they were 22-9-1, Since he moved north to lead the Browns, the Bengals are 9-15-1, including a 3-6 mark this season and fading fast with a struggling offense.

At one point during his time in Cincinnati, it was thought by a few observers that Jackson was heir apparent to the Bengals’ top job if and when Lewis decided to retire. That was before he took the Cleveland job. At 52, he is seven years younger than Lewis.

With that in mind, here is what I think will happen at the conclusion of this season.

Both men will be dismissed, or in Lewis’ case kicked upstairs out of loyalty, and Jackson will wind up back down in Cincinnati . . . as the head coach.

His abysmal record with the Browns would not be a factor. Most knowledgeable people around the NFL realize he has been saddled with a talent-starved roster that makes it almost impossible to win games.

Jackson would be a terrific and natural fit down there. He knows owner Mike Brown. He knows many of the players.  He could march right back in down there and be comfortable. It’s not as though he would be a stranger.

Such a move would be a plus for both teams. It would mean a smooth transition of the Marvin Lewis football philosophy for the Bengals and inject new blood for a Cleveland franchise desperately in need of it.

Time will tell how accurate the crystal ball is.
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You’ve got to hand it to Tashaun Gipson. There isn’t a disingenuous bone in his body. What you see is what you get from the Jacksonville Jaguars free safety, who began his NFL career with the Browns as a free agent in 2012.

That’s why his anti-Browns remarks on ESPN radio the other day is so refreshing when looking ahead to the Jaguars’ Sunday date with the Browns in Cleveland. He is one of those rare athletes who are remarkably candid about facing former teammates.

Most athletes who face their former team say no, there isn’t a revenge factor in those games. The need to show that team they were wrong to release or trade them is absent. Not with Gipson, There is genuine animus there.

The former Browns free safety, who successfully explored the free-agent market a couple of years ago and signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Jaguars, is eager to return to Cleveland and show the front office it was wrong to let him go.

He does not mince words about exacting revenge and escaping northeast Ohio. “I truly hope we hang 40 on them,” he told ESPN radio Monday. “Their offense probably shouldn’t score against our defense and I’m excited. That’s the true thing.”

Revenge is not the only factor. “It’s personal,” he admitted, “but yet at the end of the day, you’re still blessed . . . knowing I’m in a situation right now where I don’t look back . . . with any regrets. I’m extremely excited with where I’m at right now, but you know it’s going to be personal, man, for sure.” (The Jags are a surprising 6-3.)

Gipson spent four seasons with the Browns, three of which were very productive. He was second in the NFL with six interceptions in 2014 and was named to the Pro Bowl. He was a core player in the secondary.

However, he stops just short of enjoying the misery his former team is experiencing since he left, winning just once. No schadenfraude there. At least not for the players.

“I feel bad for those guys because . . . it’s nothing they can do,” he said. “They just go out there and play. It’s the guys above them who make these decisions and it’s unfortunate.”

Gipson also cited the Browns passing on quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two college drafts. “It’s things like that you just continue to scratch your head,” he said. “ You’ve just got to look back and say, ‘Man, I’m glad to get up out of there.’ “

Definitely the genuine article. Nothing wrong with that.

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