Browns

In Defense of Keeping Hue Jackson

The defense of Hue Jackson is a steep hill to climb, but not so tall and majestic that anyone should risk their life to climb it. The Browns’ record speaks loudly, and those of us who’ve watched every play call, timeout, and challenge know that an exact dissection of the specimen doesn’t help much either. The criticisms that I see levied at Hue Jackson from inside and outside WFNY ring true to me too, and yet I’m still in support of keeping Hue Jackson and the status quo in Cleveland for now. It’s been difficult to explain my stance in other formats, including the podcast. I’m going to try and make my case so that even if we all agree Hue Jackson hasn’t done a great job as a coach, you’ll understand my reasoning why it could be worse to cut him loose and start over on the coaching side of the ledger in Cleveland.

I’m going to do my best not to create straw man arguments, but I want to answer some of the anti-Hue sentiments I’ve seen and argued. So, let’s begin.

1. I thought Hue Jackson was a QB whisperer…

Our own Bode has used this as a point against Hue Jackson. He notes appropriately that Cody Kessler has taken steps back this season and looks worse than he did as a rookie. It’s also questionable how much progress DeShone Kizer has made this season as a 21-year-old rookie as Hue jerked him in and out of the lineup. I’m not sure the QB whisperer thing was ever legit. I think it’s one of those fanciful storylines we use when a coach and a player find the right chemistry, but it’s always about the player first and foremost. Hue Jackson might have been able to get the most out of Jason Campbell, and he might have incrementally helped Andy Dalton a few years into his career. Hell, he might have been an instrumental figure in Joe Flacco’s successes, but that’s as much about those players as it does with coach Hue Jackson.

It’s far too early to say about DeShone Kizer, but in a perfect world, we’d be evaluating this in his third season, not toward the tail end of his first as an early-entering professional from Notre Dame. Cody Kessler might just not have it.

Josh Johnson, John Beck, Troy Smith, and Terrelle Pryor are other quarterbacks that were on the rosters when Hue Jackson was earning his reputation as the quarterback whisperer. Does that mean Hue Jackson did a poor job with Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor as quarterbacks? Holding these guys against Hue Jackson is as arbitrary as trying to hold Cody Kessler against him now.

I think Hue Jackson can mentor a quarterback, but it’s more about prospects than it is about coaching them up.

2. Hue runs a back-channel media campaign…

I agree that Hue Jackson does this. It’s so transparent as we read reports from Mike Silver and see email screenshots from Benjamin Allbright on Twitter. The cliche is that you’re supposed to keep “this stuff in-house.” Public gossip is not appropriate, and in many cases, it would be a fireable offense all by itself. In this case, given the circumstances of Jimmy Haslam and his inability to keep the team pulling in the same direction in all phases of his ownership, I’m going to blame this on him.

The level of tear-down that Jimmy has signed on for with Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry at the helm is radical. For it to work, it requires consistent, passionate, and unequivocal support for all participants who are knowingly going against every instinct to be as competitive as possible all the time. A coach who is willing to put up with a roster this young and this bereft of experience needs to have constant public support because he doesn’t have the guns to win the weekly Sunday shootouts.

While I don’t excuse the bad behavior of running to the media to defend yourself, I would be lying if I said I didn’t get it. Hue Jackson is a man of pride who believes in his knowledge of the game of football and his abilities as a coach. He was in demand when the Browns hired him. Because of The Plan the Browns are enacting, he’s in the middle of season two trying to win with a roster that wasn’t designed to win for at least another year.

3. The Browns could do better than Hue Jackson…

They could do worse too. This is a strange defense of Hue Jackson, but if we’re looking at minimal hurdles for an NFL coach to clear, it’s not nothing that the Browns have continued to play hard for Hue Jackson with the losses piling up for two straight years. Even as he’s made some questionable calls, it’s hard to argue the support for him on the roster is unwavering as the Browns continue to compete hard every single week. We’ve seen teams quit before and they don’t look like the Browns of either the last two seasons.

As we watch Ben McAdoo get fired in the midst of his second season as head coach of the Giants, let us not forget how bad things can get and that the grass is not always greener.

Additionally, I wouldn’t want to be conducting a coaching search to replace Hue Jackson after just two seasons. Can you imagine Jimmy Haslam sitting in an interview with a coaching candidate who is thinking about Chud, Mike Pettine, and Hue Jackson’s tenures with the Browns and knowing that means chances are I’ll have on average 1.67 seasons to enact my strategy? Can you imagine the list of candidates that won’t seriously entertain your job if they have other choices knowing that fact? I’ll never tell you the Browns job doesn’t have appeal, because these posts are in scarce supply, but come on. As badly as someone wants to become a head coach and earn that big salary on a five-year deal, it’s not like they’re losing in life if they remain a coordinator in demand for a couple of years making top coordinator money, which also could be over a million bucks per season.

If you give Hue Jackson three or four seasons, I believe your prospects improve dramatically.

4. By waiting to switch coaches you’re stunting the growth of the young roster!

I think this could be the opposite as well. Hue Jackson might not be the best gameday manager, and he might not be the best at formulating an opponent-specific plan from week-to-week, but I think he’s running an NFL system. That’s a low bar, I know, but hear me out. I have issues with parts of Jackson’s scheme and concepts, but it doesn’t feel overly exotic or detrimental to the learning curve of the players. I think because of the roster, Jackson also has to compromise and is victim to mistakes in execution due to roster inexperience. No NFL coach is perfect, and I have my doubts about Hue Jackson, but I think he’s better than what his team has been able to show in the past two years. That’s a part of agreeing to a plan that guts a roster down to the studs.

If Hue Jackson ultimately needs to be replaced, I don’t think another year learning his system, and its concepts are going to hurt them. In fact, I think the familiarity for some of your key players like Corey Coleman entering his third season next year, David Njoku entering his third season, Duke Johnson entering his fourth, and others will actually benefit for having a year to enter training camp adding to what they know rather than learning new systems. They can add features rather than start fresh with a new base. I can see a scenario where this greatly improves our view of Hue Jackson and the players on this roster.

That’s important to the long-term development of a team. It might feel like a waste of time if Hue Jackson isn’t the long-term solution, but this is supposed to be a process of incremental improvement and fine-tuning over time. One of the Browns’ issues over the years has been their desire to do surgery with an ax in one hand and a hatchet in another and then wonder why they lose the patient every time.

Conclusion

I’ve seen numerous arguments that try to pit the head coach against the front office. I’ve made the case that it doesn’t matter because the owner at the top needs to #SellTheBrowns, but I don’t want to talk about that here today.

Assuming you believe that this entire scheme was about setting the table for the 2018 NFL Draft and 2018 season, that needs to apply to the coach as well. Hue Jackson has frequently been exposed in his first two seasons with the team, but I think this roster would have exposed every coach. No NFL coach makes correct decisions all of the time. There are hundreds of decisions made every week, with thousands of variables impacting those calls. Players then make their own decisions and use their own instincts to execute on those calls. When you have talent and trust and chemistry across the board, the coaches make the players look good, and the players make the coach look good. They both end up making the front office look good. Nobody in the Browns organization is set up to make anyone else look good right now, and we need to acknowledge that.

Right now, the Browns look bad, and the only defense for that is that this was part of the design. I can make an argument that’s a bad plan, but I can’t argue that it was, in fact, the plan. If that’s reason enough to expect incremental improvement by the front office as they go into the draft with “ALL THE ASSETS,” it should hold true for the guy who has been left to try and hold this thing together as they lose unbelievable amounts of NFL games, pretty much on purpose. It must hold true for Hue Jackson who has kept an out-manned team from quitting on him when it’s easy to imagine teams quitting on a coach in similar, or even better circumstances.

I see all the same evidence that the rest of you see and I think we might all end up at the conclusion that Hue Jackson is not the right coach for the Cleveland Browns. But, not right now. To fire Hue Jackson and start over would stand in contrast to the plan that was laid out. It would defy logic in terms of engendering trust that ownership has turned over a new leaf. It would defy logic in recognition of the level of strife and difficulty was heaped on the plate of whoever was willing to sign on the dotted line to work for an owner with an awful reputation who was trying to do things differently with a unique approach for the NFL. In many ways, I think that even if you were able to land a better coach, it wouldn’t make the Cleveland Browns better.

Just look around the rest of the AFC North. There have been different eras of Mike Tomlin, Marvin Lewis, and John Harbaugh. Harbaugh has had five different offensive coordinators through the years. Mike Tomlin has had Dick Lebeau and is coaching in a post-Lebeau world three years later. Marvin Lewis might be out in Cincinnati finally, but Hue Jackson was a part of his overall storyline in Cincinnati. To fire Hue Jackson would to live in a fanciful world where we don’t acknowledge that coaching staffs are like buying computers or iPads. You can upgrade them, or at least buy new apps so that they can achieve more of your goals. In many ways, you could argue that despite many of our valid complaints about his coaching, he’s already accomplished the most difficult by not losing his locker room.

  • CBiscuit

    haha that orange-domed Hue is too much. Perfect. I’m sold. Keep him. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c6ab58e8e7c62d95639b294346caa173596a009d4c8cff81b2eed10a258ebfbe.png

  • mgbode

    Let me add a small but important clarification to my point Craig referenced above.

    I worry about Hue’s handling of a QB because the entire plan revolves around getting the QB position correct. We cannot trust Kizer to be that QB (even if he does develop into it, which would be great). So, we MUST pick a QB with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

    Hue has already used those back-channel media places to state his support for Josh Rosen. I have issues with him doing this for a few reasons:

    1 There is absolutely no way that Hue Jackson has watched enough tape on NFL prospects during the season in order to know who he prefers conclusively.

    2 Josh Rosen is a good prospect who should have some consideration for No. 1 overall pick. However, he also has had inconsistency and injury issues. His “separating factor” is that he is more of an “old school” NFL QB compared to the other two QBs under consideration there (Mayfield and Jackson)

    3 The NFL has been undergoing a dramatic shift in offense the past 5 years or so. It is moving more towards spread concepts w/ RO, RPO, and other items being folded into the tapestry. EIther and offense will adapt some of these or die off. Just ask Jeff Fisher. Hue Jackson has dabbled a small amount here but not nearly enough. If you convince Hue Jackson to add on an OC who will further pursue these concepts, I am much more amenable to keeping him for one more year.

    4 (2) & (3) above go together. Jackson is already digging in when the Jackson I care more about being on the 2018 Cleveland Browns is Lamar from Louisville.

  • Mr. Clandestine
  • RGB

    The Process works on the concept of accruing young talent, and draft capital, aided by not producing any wins.
    Hue is critical to this.

  • Brandon

    I have no problems with them keeping Hue Jackson, but they need to force him to hire an O.C. Hue is WAY too dumb to be able to handle both roles. Why they let him be the O.C. himself is beyond me, and is really the only big issue I have with the front office.

  • RGB

    The orangier orange, too.
    Nice.

  • bossman09

    I’m not sure if I read this correct. Are you arguing that we need a college QB with a simplistic skill set because NFL teams are using simplistic concepts because more and more college QBs are simplistic and don’t understand complex NFL systems? Please re-read my statement because It’s constructed correctly. When given an option not to have a problem, you are arguing we should accept the problem because other teams have experienced it.
    Please name a team with a long term successful offense that is based on Read-option concepts. teams are only adopting them out of necessity as they teach their QBs a full NFL offense.

  • Garry_Owen

    Keeping Jackson is the only reasonable solution, in my opinion. Bill Belichick is not walking back through that door. Paul Brown is not walking back through that door. The team, top to bottom, has acknowledged since the pre-season that this was not going to be a winning year, and frankly, 4 wins – if even possible – is no more satisfying than 0 wins (if it was, we all would have been clamoring for them to keep Shurmur/Crennel/Mangini/et al – and I don’t recall many doing that). We need to build a team, and you do not build anything by continually replacing the architect.

  • JM85

    Will the Browns win a game and in defense of keeping the coach columns? Gotta love December in Berea!

  • mgbode

    No. The NFL is adding these elements into their system and expanding upon them. There is nothing simplistic about it. Having a QB capable of handling ALL of the possibilities becomes difficult to find. Lamar Jackson, I believe, is one that can. It is one of the reasons I list him as a near-elite prospect.

    Again, it is not “based on RO” concepts (and RPO). It is adding them in. Your “full” NFL offense includes the RO and RPO now.

  • mgbode

    Don’t forget projecting which players on the 53-man roster will still be on the team in 2018.

  • mgbode
  • RGB

    Sam Rutigliano is not walking through that door.

  • Garry_Owen

    Let’s be honest, nobody with prior NFL head coach experience is walking through that door if we fire Jackson. Instead, we’ll get yet another guy who gets OJT, while the fanbase screams about how “stupid” or “incompetent” he is and how the Browns need to fire him when he isn’t able to win games with the last guy’s team. Re-runs of the same bad sitcom that has already run too long.

  • MartyDaVille

    It’s hard for me to blame Hue for finally letting some of his disenchantment leak out because that 1-27 record goes on his permanent record, Chip, and he’s not getting any help from the front office. This debacle is less his fault than Sashi’s.

    Compounding the problem is that the front office has denied some of Hue’s requests as to who to keep and who to cut loose, thereby showing him no respect while throwing him to the media wolves several times a week. Hue’s been a good soldier for the most part, but you reach a point where you’re tired of taking all the arrows and you just can’t defend the boss anymore.

    I say keep him if he’s masochistic enough to go through this again next year.

  • Fred

    another factor with Hue is that he doesn’t throw players under the bus like some previous coaches did. I’ve heard him take responsibility many times when he could have blamed a player for not executing. he does point out though that it’s up to each individual player to perform their particular assignment, so there is an expectation and accountability.

    He’s made his share of mistakes, no doubt, but I really think he’s a decent to good coach who could hire someone to help him with challenges and clock management. As an aside, I’ve wondered many times why teams don’t statistically study time remaining, down and distance, and other variables, to better manage the clock. Maybe they do, but in my opinion, all teams are pretty bad at clock management.

  • Steve

    Hang on now. We just did get a guy with prior head coaching experience despite the turnstile at the job prior to him. I’m not sure we’re destined to have to pick some up and coming coordinator. I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing, this fanbase would take the next Sean McVey or Doug Pederson in a heartbeat – this is where you possibly get the next Belicheck, but that is neither here nor there for this discussion. But even if this is the 32nd best job, whatever that number is exactly, it’s still lower than the number of guys who will have experience who want one of those jobs.

    Agree with just about everything else you’ve said. Judging these guys on the number of wins is futile. No other team has taken the tank-job this full-scale. The only way to evaluate them is on how much the team is learning, which is near impossible for us laymen. Bode and Burns do a great job in breaking down what is happening, but even they are not going to know what the internal learning goals are for the guys who take the field.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi CRAIG … yes , I do firmly believe that this entire scheme was about setting the table for 2018 NFL draft & 2018 season. the HBT has themselves set-up real nice heading into 2018 … they should ALL be here to see-it-through , including Hue.

    99.7346% of coaches that are 1-27 will almost always be fired … but this situation is a little different & quite unique. Yes , Hue has us wondering about many of the things he has or hasn’t done , but when you honestly look at what he has had to work with , it’s hard to be super-critical of him.

    Hue is not a bad coach & deserves to taste some success after what he’s had to endure these past 2 seasons. i would almost be willing to bet that every single player on this squad likes him & wants him here … that is important as well.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi BRANDON … i would say Hue calling his own plays was one of his conditions for taking the job.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post , FRED.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post , MARTY … but don’t you think the ground rules were set between the HBT & Hue before he was hired ? And we don’t know what those ground rules were as it pertains to personnel … like who had the final say on QB matters.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • Pat Leonard

    Hue’s the biggest issue with the Browns, from my perspective. Sashi and the HBT have done a great job of adding talent, with the exception of the QB position, and I think they’ll get that one right heading into 2018. But with Hue, switch him with a decent coach and I think the Browns have a couple wins under their belt and the freaking out isn’t as pronounced. His shaky play calls, clock management, challenges, and preparing of the team are too much for a young roster to get past.

  • tigersbrowns2
  • Harv

    As I read this wasn’t so sure you strongly believe in keeping him, Craig. Here’s what’s relevant to me:

    – Does he possess requisite HC skills? I’m talking game planning, time management, in-game decisions/ adjustments to the extent possible, disciplined play, oversight of assistant coaches. I don’t see it, and don’t see improvement in the manifestation of those skills since last year. His guys play hard for him, but without HC skills they’re running hard in the wrong directions. Hue is a self-promoter, with his constant refrain of “you know me guys.” No, we only know how you’re players are playing. No one looks particularly well coached up.

    – If Hue can’t coach, I don’t fear someone who coaches worse. I’ve seen Pat Shurmur.

    – This thing about “QB Whisperer” makes me nuts. Who is whispering? When we’re hiring the OC or the QB coach (Chris Palmer, Bill Billick, Holmgren at Green Bay) we claim it was the assistant who gets the credit for Montana, not Bill Walsh. When that guy is HC we pretend he’s doing the same job. Now, if Hue cannot/will not delegate, who’s doing the HC stuff? Either the same guy, maybe accounting for probs with other areas of the team, or an assistant that we ignore. Is Hue spending hours breaking down film and bucking up Kizer and Kessler last year? If he is, he doesn’t understand how to be a HC.

    Every hire we claim we’re not going to fall for the guy who Wins the Pressers. But that’s what most of us are doing right now, because we’re understandably sick of the re-boots. I don’t know Hue, and I care about him as much as he cares about me. Gimme the a-hole grouch, the dude players fear. Gimme the Quiet One. Just make sure the players suddenly play like they know what the rules are, don’t repeat the same mindlessness mistakes, and show improvement. In 15 years there will be a group of coaches we’ve never heard of who will be considered the best in the game. One of them would take this job.

  • KFunk

    I don’t think any of us has ever watched a team with such young players on it. I’m trying to be very objective, and put myself in the Browns’ building. Try to imagine working with a bunch of newbies in your job. Like almost *all* newbies. You’ve been there for 6 mos, and you’re an elder statesman.

    What’s going to unfold is a bunch of dumb sh*t. People are going to have hard time getting the basics right, and the bosses won’t be able to do anything remotely sophisticated. Your company will not be as good as the competitors with more experienced people.

    I think it’s very easy as a fan to sit back and watch players in jerseys and lament calls, decisions, etc. But remember these are real people, in their first real jobs out in the real world, the most talented of whom are like 21 y-o, with no professional mentors to speak of. Successful football teams are not built this way. Football is very nuanced & complicated, and requires the most collaboration & intelligence of any sport, where veteran mentorship and competition is absolutely critical. Ironic that the HBT discounted the learning/growing that results from peer interaction.

    I think fans are foolish if they believe that any coach who Haslam could have hired in Jan 2016 would have done any better (assuming such little roster control). The fact that the players are still playing for him is so much more than I would expect, given this W-L record. The strip-down was way too severe, I think we can all agree. They “threw the baby out with the bath water” instead of spending some $$ to keep what was good. Joe Thomas has said as much.

    IMO, Pat McM hits the nail on the head here:
    http://www.espn.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/260353/whats-next-for-nfl-teams-out-of-playoff-race

    Haslam knows how to blow up regimes with dynamite. Maybe what he needs in this case is a scalpel.

  • tigersbrowns2

    great post …

  • tigersbrowns2

    players make plays ?

  • tigersbrowns2

    maybe Rosen & Jackson will both be good NFL QB’s

  • CBiscuit

    “This thing about “QB Whisperer” makes me nuts. Who is whispering?”

    This. This is the most damning…beyond the “trust me” evaluative stuff on Kessler, it’s his lack of track record on developing QBs that is most bothersome. He benefited in Cincy by having a competent offensive with weapons…and a QB in Andy Dalton, who has…well looked roughly the same level since he came into this league. I’m not sure that qualifies as a legit bullet point in Jackson’s development resume.

    Or then again, maybe WHAT is he whispering is more accurate. Maybe he’s whispering, “Your tight football pants make you look fat under center and nobody will ever love you.” Poor Kizer looks heartbroken and lost.

  • mgbode

    Yes, I believe they both could be. I worry about Rosen’s injury history and his inconsistency, but they are both closely graded players. I just also don’t like eliminating the evaluation of one of them (include Mayfield) without a full analysis.

  • Pat Leonard

    And how!

  • MartyDaVille

    I don’t think the ground rules included, “I don’t care what you think, Hue, we’re doing this my way. If you happen to agree, fine. If not, tough beans. After all, I am a Harvard contract attorney.”

  • tigersbrowns2

    Mayfield has one hell of an arm & i like his toughness , but doesn’t he slightly reek of Chad Kelly & Manziel ?

  • tigersbrowns2

    great post , K … i’m hoping Haslam has the gumption to keep everyone together for 1 more season.

  • mgbode
  • Pat Leonard
  • KFunk

    Only if they strip Sashi of his “final say” power and put a real NFL talent evaluator in place (one who has a good relationship with Hue). That is the minimum sane thing to do

    BTW, isn’t the Tribe so much more refreshing, where the moves they make actually make sense to most people..?

  • mgbode

    YES!

  • paulbip

    OK Bode…you make sense. Try this one… with the first two picks take two QB’s as long as one is Mayfield. The Browns have been dicking around with this long enough. You can always trade the loser for a future draft choice.

  • Skulb

    This reminds me a little of the essay I once wrote in seventh grade called “The good thing about Genghis Khan”. I got a C and a note saying that I was unable to argue my case convincingly. Looking back at it I think my teacher was probably right.

  • BenRM

    Your teacher must not have understood analytics.

  • Vash Stampede

    Two keys are No coach that is better then Hue wants to come to Cleveland and every time they change everything it takes time to get better and they have shown they do not have the patience. Obviously Hue did not advise to draft Kizer, guy looks exactly like he did in College. He pushed for AJ, who is a better player and the front office screwed it up. Haden, even though he is now injured, I think that was a mistake, especially since they cut him and got nothing.

  • Pat Leonard

    Don’t be fooled, Hue has a ton of input on which QBs are on the roster. It’s widely believed it was a stipulation of his agreement to coach the Browns. Remember when he said “trust me” with Cody Kessler? Kessler was a Pac-12 QB, a conference where Hue still has a ton of contact with coaches and alumni. I had a lot of faith in Hue when he was hired and I really believed the Browns had finally hired a good coach who would turn things around, but his inability to prepare his players, tailor an offense to his players’ skills, and make crucial in-game decisions has me convinced that just about any coach off the street would do better.

  • mgbode

    That would be something especially if those two picks land in the Top 7.

    I wouldn’t do it myself.

  • jpftribe

    Agree with this. I think hiring Williams and playing 10 guys on D is still an improvement from Horton playing 11 (or 12). With an OC hire in the offseason it would be worth sticking with his strong points save the public dissension with the FO. To me, that is a deal breaker. His meddling in the FO almost resulted in the AJ trade, which is probably Sashi’s Lucroy deal.

    It’s great he’s got the players motivated and playing for him, but what kind of example is being set leaking frustration to the media? How is that helping Sashi gain credibility with player agents? It’s really destructive behavior that just furthers the franchise dysfunction and shouldn’t be tolerated from arguably the most prominent face of the franchise.

  • jpftribe

    I think there’s an argument to separate process from results here. No amount of whispering is going to get Kizer to hit the 20 downfield TD’s he’s missed this year. The kid has made progress in reading D’s and slowing the game down. He’s horribly inaccurate and makes huge mistakes in the red zone. Not sure how coachable those problems are.

  • Skulb

    No, he did. But he was more commenting on my rather lame way of arguing the point I was making, as I recall. I have no complaints. He was the only good teacher I can remember having growing up.