This is a script we have seen many times before in the NFL. The script where a struggling coach, hanging onto his job for a survival season, hires a coordinator for the duties he was previously handling. The idea is that the head coach will have less stress on his daily duties and can focus on the team as a whole. Seems simple enough from the outside, but the dynamic is much tougher on the interior of a coaches office than one would think.
Coaches are full of confidence and bravado – even at the lower levels. Now, in order to accomplish the task of reaching the highest level of coaching football offers, you have to have a certain insane amount of that self-confidence and bravado. This self-confidence can be an asset or it can be the downfall. So often we see coaches take in failed players and other coaches with the thought process that they can turn them around and make the necessary changes. We see the pride and arrogance that all coaches carry reveal themselves in tiny spurts. The public only gets a small glimpse of these power struggles and HBO’s Hard Knocks showed us that Hue Jackson is no different.
It’s never easy to welcome former head coaches into your coaching staff. Those former head coaches always think they have the answer for team issues even though their history is usually filled with failure at the position. Jackson brought on two former head coaches with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. When Hue Jackson decided to give up the play-calling duties he did so reluctantly and he did so as a way to save his job. There were issues all over the field that needed to be rectified and in stepping aside from major offensive planning, Jackson was looking forward to helping in those areas. The Browns interviewed several offensive coordinator names but settled on what many thought was the “home-run” hire of Todd Haley. Haley left Pittsburgh on a rough note following their AFC Divisional round loss to the Jaguars, but his pedigree calling plays in the NFL for the Cardinals, Chiefs, and Steelers made him a logical hire for the Browns. Despite other offers, Haley settled on the Browns for the opportunity to work with the first overall selection at quarterback, and full autonomy over the offense.
The Problems Arise
Whether Haley has full control of Hue Jackson’s offense, or his own terminology and schemes is something we don’t know But it is clear Haley has full procedural control of the offense in practice and game days. The season started out roughly as the offense consistently sputtered behind the direction and relationship of Todd Haley and Tyrod Taylor. The two did not mesh well from a gameplay standpoint as Haley’s offense is built on blitz answers and Taylor consistently missed those options built into the offense. Taylor thrives on a run-heavy system that builds deceptive play-action off it, and that is not what the Browns have been able to muster.
Enter Baker Mayfield in Week 3, and the hope began to rise. Mayfield played well against the Jets who blitzed from depth as he ate it up. Then the Browns ran the ball well against Oakland, and it opened up many levels of the field. Many were starting to think the Browns were turning an offensive corner. Then the Ravens, Chargers, and Buccaneers games brought reality back. The Browns wide receiver depth issues have given rise to coverage success for the opponent, and a changed pass rush game plan focusing on Mayfield’s line of sight has left the Browns struggling. The use of the Browns biggest weapons–including Duke Johnson–have left many fans and media members asking tough questions that have forced Hue Jackson to feel even more pressure. As the offensive struggles have mounted, you could sense Jackson wanting to get more involved. After Sunday’s loss, it reached its boiling point.
Via text: "The ice under Hue [Jackson] is as thin as it can possibly get. Not sure he makes it to the bye."
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) October 21, 2018
Reports from Cleveland say that ownership and the GM aren't happy with Hue Jackson. Will John Dorsey let him take a larger role in the offense, like Jackson promised? https://t.co/Jk9iphdAl2
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) October 22, 2018
It seems as though the situation is getting warmer in Berea than many want to admit. The Browns leadership appears to think they have a roster that can win, and the late game letdowns are beginning to leave their mark on Jackson’s future. In his post-game press conference, Jackson noted his desire to be more involved with the offense moving forward.
Calling offensive football his “specialty,” #Browns HC Hue Jackson says he needs “to be a little more involved” in team’s offense: “I’m not going to continue to watch something that I know how to do keep being that way.”
(Note: Jackson was Browns playcaller in 2016, 2017) pic.twitter.com/TUhB8A0pgD
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) October 21, 2018
The media battle seems to only be beginning as NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala went on a rant about Jackson’s failures as a play-caller, and Haley previous success before arriving in Cleveland. The jockeying for public opinion has already started seven weeks into the season.
How does this all shake out?
The string of tough losses has worn down the franchise. Being 2-4-1 with what seems to be an easy route to explaining how they could be 6-1 is tearing down the morale. I was all for Jackson passing off the offense to focus on other issues within the franchise, but the problem is that those other areas have not improved. It’s clear the defense is still under full control of Gregg Williams but the special teams has been one of the league’s worst, and Jackson has mentioned being involved with Amos Jones on rectifying the issues.
Head coaches are ultimately responsible for player discipline and mental mistakes. The Browns approach double digit penalties weekly, and the amount of mental mistakes we see week in and out are tough to swallow. Even as Jackson has taken on less responsibilities from a play-calling perspective, the areas we would like to see improve as a side effect of this have actually become less stable. The Browns are mentally weak and among the league’s least disciplined. This falls on the head coach eventually.
I am not calling for firing Jackson. At this point, I would prefer they keep him and ride the year out. Firing coaches mid-season rarely brings about positive results, and it’s hard to see it benefiting the young Browns right now. Haley’s job security will be interesting to track as it will boil down to who is in charge of his job and with John Dorsey, seeing how much say he has in Jackson’s job as well. If Jackson’s job is on the line, he should do everything he can to protect it – including calling plays if that’s what he views as his best trait. If the organization believes in giving Haley a chance to prove himself, removing Jackson and letting Haley take the interim role could be in the fold.
We don’t truly know what way the franchise is leaning, but you can feel the patience wearing thin. This team has shown they have enough talent to win games, and they have had their chances. The NFL is a bottom-line business and that bottom line is approaching Hue Jackson quickly. I expect some kind of shake-up soon. What that shake-up will be is going to be interesting. All possibilites seem to be on the table and Jackson and Haley move into uncomfortable territory.