The great ones aren’t afraid of rolling up the sleeves, and when it come to the world of professional football, there is no more difficult task to undertake than the Cleveland Browns.
Since the Browns rebirth in 1999, the franchise has had eight different coaches and a host of impotent front-office executives who have turned season after season directly toward the cliff.
Owner Jimmy Haslam’s latest attempt to reboot the franchise started with the removal of head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer, moves that had to be made after a disastrous 3-13 2015 season.
Haslam went the unconventional route in rebuilding his front office, first putting a lawyer who champions analytics, Sashi Brown, in charge of football operations, and then dipping into the baseball world to hire Paul DePodesta, the former vice president of player development and scouting for the New York Mets, as the organization’s “chief strategy officer.”
Trust me, more than one old-school football mind in this league chuckled over Haslam’s latest antics while others who believe anything that is new is by definition innovative, championed his out-of-the-box thinking.
Whatever side of that fence you camped on, though, most stipulated that at some point the Browns would have to hire a traditional football mind in a position of power and they got their guy Wednesday by keeping highly-regarded Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson from boarding a plane to North Jersey.
“I didn’t have any preconceived notions (about the Browns) and my mind didn’t need to be changed,” Jackson admitted. “This is a tremendous organization led by some great people and there’s only 32 of these (jobs). So I understood where they had been and where they’re trying to go, and I like challenges. And boy, what a challenge.”
In one fell swoop, Cleveland, the league’s laughing stock, somehow convinced the most accomplished of this year’s presumed “hot-coaching candidates” to choose the Browns despite concrete options in San Francisco as well as the opportunity to be Marvin Lewis’ heir apparent in the oh-so-stable world of the Bengals.
Late interest by both the New York Giants and Philadelphia also did not sway Jackson away from tackling the task at hand in Berea.
He went 8-8 in a one-and-done stint as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011, something that looks better in hindsight because that’s the high-water mark in the Bay Area since Bill Callahan and Rich Gannon were teaming to take the Raiders to the Super Bowl after the ’02 season.
Jackson started rebuilding his reputation under Lewis with the Bengals, first coming in as an assistant special teams and secondary coach before assuming control of the offense once Jay Gruden got the head-coaching gig with the Redskins.
An inventive mentor who is among the most creative in football using formations to mask intent, Jackson helped put Andy Dalton in the MVP conversation with the Bengals before injury derailed his season. The veteran coach is also practiced in the art of accentuating the strengths of the talent as his disposal and masking as many deficiencies as possible.
“(Jackson) embodies all the qualities that will provide strong leadership for our football team,” Haslam said. “He is highly experienced, deeply passionate about winning, and relentless in trying to find ways to put his players in the best position to succeed. He possesses that unique ability to reach the entire locker room in a way that demands accountability while getting the buy-in and team-first mentality that leads to positive results.”
And he’s also smart enough to run away from Johnny Manziel as quickly as possible.
In short, the Browns finally got one right.
“We got the right guy for the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said of Jackson. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s confident He’s competitive. He’s been a head coach before. He’s got a great offensive mind. He’s got a tremendous track record developing quarterbacks. He’s very, very competitive. He understands the AFC North. He’s going to be a great head coach for the Cleveland Browns.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season every day at 4:05 ET on ESPN South Jersey, on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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