I’m not going to try and tell you that Hue Jackson is a good NFL head coach. The team drives me crazy under his leadership. They make mistakes with the clock. The play calling is suspect. They always seem to get outmaneuvered in second halves of games when coaching and scheme adjustments are at a premium in the NFL. All that said, and knowing that I’ve just made an unimpeachable argument to fire any head coach in the league, the Browns would be nuts to let Hue Jackson go right now or after 2017.
When I’m in the midst of watching a Browns game, I like to note the moment that I realize Jackson has abandoned the run. On Sunday in London, the last run the Browns called was with 1:09 left in the third quarter with the Browns down 23-16. It was a six-yard gain for Isaiah Crowell. The Browns called 16 passes over the duration of the game as they trailed by two touchdowns. The Browns completed seven of those passes — three of them on the final “drive” when the game was so very over. On the one hand, I understand that once you’re down two scores, you have to change your plan and go for it. On the other hand, you can’t make yourself a good passing team just because you need to do it. To abandon the running game so completely is ridiculous. You can’t imagine any scenario where a coach with this roster would do that. I go back to Eric Mangini who had no business winning football games with the roster that he put on the field. He doubled down on running the ball, trick plays and keeping his quarterbacks out of trouble because he knew the limitations of the roster. Hue Jackson does the opposite.
Hue seems hard-headed and insistent on coaching this team as if it’s chock full of talent all over the field and then getting upset when they can’t out-execute more talented opponents. While the Browns aren’t winning games — and it’s infuriating to watch — I’m not so sure this is the wrong approach with such a young team. Scraping together wins with gimmickry is noble, but is it the right way to coach up the youngest team in the league? I don’t know if what Hue Jackson is doing is part of the “master plan,” but I’d be willing to listen because the Browns do not have the talent or experience to win in a conventional manner. Why not coach them to play the way they will when they are more seasoned?
On another topic that drives Hue’s critics insane: The Browns’ penalty total is out of control. If they aren’t giving free first downs on defense, they’re pushing off for pass interference on offense. To say the Browns are undisciplined is an understatement. They are one of the most penalized teams in the league. At the same time, they’re undeniably young and inexperienced. Is it Hue Jackson’s fault that David Njoku and the rest of the Browns’ receivers can’t seem to get off their man without pushing off? Is it bad play calling when the Browns jump offsides on 4th-and-4? Would any coach who was forced to use so many young players right away do any better? It’s debatable.
The NFL is about the talent on the roster. The Cleveland Browns, when fully healthy, have a couple of guys who might make an opposing coach think a little bit. Between Myles Garrett and Corey Coleman, you have a couple of play makers. They’re just prospects right now, however. Jackson is being asked to turn water into wine, but you want him to do it without stomping some grapes and letting the new mixture ferment over time.
Maybe the Browns would be better off with someone better, but it’s also too late for that. This is the guy they brought in for their soulless, gutting, rebuild of a process. The timing of changing coaches now is miserable just two seasons after you were lucky to get Hue Jackson to take your gig. The Browns are kryptonite in search of Superman, and there’s no reason why anyone with those kind of powers would agree to come here and wear those colors that would automatically limit their ability to fly. If you were a head coaching candidate, you wouldn’t do that with the Browns’ track record before Hue Jackson. You especially wouldn’t do that with the extension of that track record if it included Hue Jackson getting fired after just two seasons. There’s not a coach in the NFL who thinks they could win with this roster, even if they think they might be better than Hue Jackson.
I understand the displeasure with Jackson. I share a lot of the same criticisms. They might ultimately lead me to the conclusion that Hue Jackson needs to be relieved of his duties in Cleveland. That time is not right now. It’s not fair to anyone involved, from Hue himself, to whoever ends up doing the search for the next head coach, to the fans that are supposed to buy into some “process” that absolutely included stinking up the joint for at least two seasons. When you set the table the way the Browns have and load the kitchen the way they have in terms of ingredients, you aren’t allowed to get ticked off when Hue Jackson serves up sloppy joes every week.