Thank you letter to former Browns coach Hue Jackson
Not everything was Hue Jackson’s fault, but should any coach survive 0-16?
The Cleveland Browns owe a debt of thanks to their now embittered coach, ‘Hugging’ Hue Jackson. Hue kept the team together and got them ready to play every week despite mounting losses week after week.
For the most part, the team played hard and they played their best. Jackson has been in the news after complaining in an ESPN 850 interview about being lied to, and being the fall guy for the Browns draconian rebuilding effort.
You know what? That’s probably true, though little is gained for him to rant about it to the media.
Remember, Jackson took over for Mike Pettine, a terrific football man who somehow got stuck with a toxic radioactive quarterback in Johnny Manziel, who almost single-handedly demoralized and destroyed the franchise. Jackson, at the very least, brought back an air of professionalism to the players.
It is hard to blame Jackson for being bitter, though it is probably not a good idea to announce it to the national media. Being paired with Sashi Brown guaranteed a rocky road ahead.
Brown had developed a tanking strategy of cutting salaries to hoard salary cap dollars and accumulating draft picks in order to rebuild the team. That part was actually viable because the San Francisco 49ers did the same thing at the same time and took their team to the Super Bowl. The Browns are still spending the war chest that Brown accumulated in his brief tenure.
Where Brown went wrong, however, was in thinking that the first overall pick was so important that it was acceptable to go 0-16 in order to nail that down. After going 1-15 in 2016, Brown appeared to fear that his 2017 squad might be too potent to qualify for the top pick again in 2018, which was going to be a quarterback.
Remember, the 2017 team had Myles Garrett. Do you realize how hard it is to lose 16 games when you have Myles Garrett on your team, even as a rookie? Incredibly, he decided to cut Joe Haden, the two-time Pro Bowler, who was coming off successful surgery to repair torn muscles in his abdomen and looked ready to make a comeback.
Haden, naturally, wound up playing for the Steelers, while the Browns would be charged $11 million dollars in salary cap charges for his services, and Brown saw nothing wrong with that.
Brown also decided to rid the team of veteran quarterbacks Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, and Brock Osweiler. Not that any of them were a threat to go All-Pro, but the suspicion is that Brown feared that they might have won too many games and the Browns might not have qualified for the number one draft pick.
Instead, Brown sandbagged the team, forcing Jackson to choose from among kiddie quarterbacks Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, and rookie DeShone Kizer, a quarterback who should have been in his junior year at Notre Dame. Jackson placed his faith in Kizer, and it just did not go well.
So yes, Jackson was sandbagged. That part of the story was true.
Hue and Sashi each pointed fingers at each other. JH3 tried to be a nice guy and act as a referee, which was a terrible mistake. The most appalling part of the situation was that either one thought that they might survive an 0-16 season.
In this writer’s opinion, 0-16 has to be the automatic death penalty for both the coach and the general manager for any NFL team, not just the Browns. It’s the ultimate failure and cannot be rewarded under any circumstance.
Brown appeared to believe he had permission to go 0-16 in pursuit of the first overall pick. Fair or not, someone had to save the franchise from epic disgrace, and coach Jackson came up short. Yes, he was shafted by Brown and there were a lot of things out of his control, but it does not matter. Year two was 0-16 and in NFL football, that is a disaster of epic proportions.
Instead, JH3 should have told them both, “Guys, I know that the team is going to win at least one game because if you do not, you will both be gone. If you cannot work together, I don’t care whose fault it is. You cannot go 0-16. You and your entire staff will all be gone, every last one of you.”
Brown’s clever tricks on Hue — cutting Joe Haden and trading away all the veteran quarterbacks — should never have been played. The fact that he felt he had the freedom to do those things is the fault of ownership.
Despite these Brownsian tricks, Hue did a good job of keeping the team motivated to play hard. At least they did that. Despite their unhappiness with losing, they supported their coach, for the most part.
By the way, Hue’s desire to stay friendly with the players, especially Baker Mayfield, after almost immediately turning against them and accepting an assistant coaching position with the Cincinnati Bengals was misplaced, in this fan’s judgment.
It would be very understandable for the Browns players to feel betrayed when Jackson immediately started working against them, seeking to keep them out of the playoffs at that point. The business of demanding hugs after a Bengals loss to the Browns was ludicrous.