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.
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.