No figure in Cleveland sports may be more polarizing than head coach Hue Jackson. Hue seems to be the wet blanket that is getting thrown on fans’ expectations. So can Hue be saved from himself?
Every fan has the prerogative to be an armchair quarterback. We pay our money. We buy our gear. We have earned that right. And there’s nobody we like to second-guess more when it comes to the Cleveland Browns than Hue Jackson.
Hue is clearly out of excuses. The roster has been completely rebuilt. There is proven talent where before there was only potential. But fans are holding back their enthusiasm in large part because they don’t believe in Hue.
True, 1-31 has a lot to do with that. In fact, the only NFL coach that I can remember who retained his job after such a poor start was John McKay back with the expansion Buccaneers. That team finished 0-14 in their inaugural season, and followed it up with a 2-12 season. Still 2-26 trumps 1-31. So it’s easy to understand why the fans have put Jackson on a hot seat.
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However, the anti-Hue sentiment seems to go beyond his record. After all, it’s impossible to blame all 31 losses on Jackson. I think it goes to some of what I’ll call Hue Jackson’s greatest hits:
While Jackson was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he claimed his trade for Carson Palmer was “the greatest trade in football”.
Jackson lavished praise on Robert Griffin III, saying “it felt like the Earth moved beneath my feet,” when describing him throwing a pass … in a workout.
After selecting Cody Kessler in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft Hue famously said, “you’ll have to trust me on this one.”
You get the point. Hue is prone to exaggeration, and that means that sometimes you have to question if Hue believes some of the things that Hue says. It sometimes feels like he’s trying to convince himself of some things. Or maybe George Costanza was right when he quipped to Jerry Seinfeld, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
It’s kind of funny because those of us that remember the Browns teams of the 1980’s remember Marty Schottenheimer. Marty could be as guilty of hyperbole as Hue (anybody remember Mike Junkin the “mad dog in a meat market”). It’s true that there was an underlying sentiment against Marty by some fans (and remember he helped lead the team to two AFC Championship games), it’s just more obvious in this age where social media gives every fan’s opinion a platform.
Like Hue, Marty was also stubborn. He was the reason the phrase “Marty ball” got adopted. In fact, it was largely his refusal to change his coaching staff to Art Modell’s liking that was at the core of his parting due to “irreconcilable differences”.
We may be heading there with Hue. Jackson seemed to reach an impasse with former general manager Sashi Brown. If there were any doubts that the two gentlemen had irreconcilable differences, they were laid to rest in the aftermath of the “I thought you called in the trade” moment regarding then Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron. Amazingly, Jackson retained his job while Brown was dismissed after the season.
But there may be time for Jackson to save himself. So I offer these two marketing suggestions. First, remember your audience. Cleveland Browns fans are some of the most loyal fans in the world, but we’re not stupid. We may not know all the intricacies of the game, and we don’t have access to the decisions that take place at levels above you. But we know when players pass the eye test, so give it to us straight, just like when you spoke to the players you had to cut.
And second, when it comes to the media, say less. I’m not saying to adopt Bill Belichick’s personality. Hue has to be Hue. But maybe just less of Hue. There is a natural tension between the media and the head coach. Like gridlock in our nation’s politics, that tension can be healthy. However, after a tough loss (which hopefully there will be much fewer of this year), it’s OK to simply let the poor performance of your players speak for itself. Don’t try to spin it and don’t make excuses. Own the mistakes that are yours and move on.
If ‘Hard Knocks’ showed us anything it’s that Hue Jackson is loyal to his players, and they seem genuine in their desire to play for him. So my advice to Hue is don’t feel like you have to sell every decision you make. Just coach football. Because if you don’t succeed this year, it may be your last chance. And that’s no exaggeration.