The Insanity of the Jackson Era

I rarely use the word immeasurable. We live in an era of measurements. Analytics, science and a general desire for intel have created an overflow of data and empirical quotient. Society loves measurements. Particularly, when it comes to sports. There’s nothing more chic than seeing something on a playing surface or field and being able to measure it against numbers and fact.

There are exceptions to this; sometimes what one sees is simply enough and no numbers or explanations, are required.

In the case of the Cleveland Browns, during the Hue Jackson era, what you see seems to be what you get. The question is – should Browns ownership have known exactly what they were getting in Jackson? Was this historical abomination predictable? The case can be made that it was.

Jackson was hired in January of 2016 and has assembled a 3-36-1 record since that fateful day. The abnormal nature of what has gone into that record, over a period of roughly two and a half seasons, is matched only by the abnormal nature of the Jackson hiring process itself.

Talk of the Jackson hiring began near the end of the 2015 season –  as head coach Mike Pettine fought through extreme difficulties with personal inexperience, infighting within the Browns organization and alleged interference from Browns’ ownership – which could only be described as unprecedented. It was, allegedly, so bad that reports of the club’s vice president scripting plays for game use, have never been refuted (even off the record) by those close to the program.

The organization was vulnerable, fans were desperate – after the team had lost 18 of its last 21 starts – and the environment was ripe for an opportunity to sweep in and steal the hearts of Browns’ ownership.

Enter Hue Jackson.

After an unceremonious but ‘hush hush’ dismissal by the Oakland Raiders, following one season, Jackson had been rescued by longtime friend Marvin Lewis, who offered him a job filling in multi-positional cracks in a similarly dysfunctional organization in Cincinnati – culminating in an opportunity to eventually coordinate the team’s offense.

The convergence of some exceptional offensive talent in Cincinnati, a modestly settled quarterback situation and Lewis’ solid support of Jackson gave the nomadic coach an uncharacteristically solid and true home. Arguably, the first of his transient and disjointed career. A solid tenure calling plays and a modicum of looking just flat out great caught the eye of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. 

Especially during a late 2015 game, where Jackson seemed to choreograph a series of ultra creative and flashy Bengal plays (feasting on an awful Browns defense), to specifically impress Haslam.

As soon as the season was over and Haslam lopped off the heads of Pettine and his staff, the Jackson watch was on. With at least a few brazen but well known NFL scribes lauding Jackson as the best hire, Haslam became singularly focussed on him, as a candidate.

Reports of the New York Giants being ultra interested, to the point of making an offer, began to surface. Despite these reports never being substantiated and later softened, they appeared to drive Haslam into a frothed frenzy to hire Jackson immediately. Which he did – pulling the trigger decisively and as quickly as can be remembered in a recent NFL hiring.

After Jackson received the day one welcome of a quasi-deity, at Browns headquarters, there was no turning back. Media support, the unwavering shilling of at least one national scribe and a desperate Browns fan base and media, caused many to believe the Browns had found their man.

Many said Haslam acted with decisiveness and swiftness and praised him effusively. In retrospect, the abbreviated hiring process begs a few glaring questions:

Did the Cleveland Browns and their ownership group properly vet the long-term history of Jackson? Did they ever get to the bottom of what happened in Oakland? Did they ever ask the question of why Jackson has no permanent or fixed attachment to any particular coaching tree or fraternity? Did they ask him, and participate in measurable verification of, his ability to attract and retain quality coaches?

At first blush, the answer to the aforementioned questions would seem to be ‘if they did, it was not thorough or detailed enough.’

The California coaching fraternity, where Jackson cut his teeth, is an especially close one. However, it is also very spread out across North America. California coaches that know Hue Jackson are everywhere. And yes, people talk. Many coaches who have known Jackson dating back to his early years have commented, off the record, about his extreme ambition, his inability to work well with others and to be trusted in a team environment. In an era when employers are going back and scouring the history of candidates, like never before, is it actually possible that the Haslams chose not to take this deep dive in referencing their man? Infighting and human resource chaos under Jackson’s bailiwick, since almost day one, would suggest the Haslams either ignored the results of a proper vetting of Jackson, don’t know how to execute a proper vetting or chose not to participate in one.

No one really knows what truly happened with Jackson in Oakland. It is one of the NFL’s great mysteries. People as famous as Shannon Sharpe have publicly chortled and referenced it, some have exonerated Jackson of his part, but you won’t find a handful of people who will say it was not an abject mess and mysterious in the way it ended. Reports vary, from the new general manager choosing to go in his own direction, to players making it known that they would never play for him again. There are even grumblings that Jackson had bamboozled owner Al Davis as health clouded his faculties. Others say that the incoming General Manager Reggie McKenzie was never comfortable with Jackson’s trustworthiness. Yet another theory is that Jackson attempted an overthrow of McKenzie’s leadership, within hours of the current GM’s name surfacing as a potential general manager.

With no way to verify these theories, they remain innuendo. We do, however, know that Jackson’s Oakland era ended with an onfield collapse and Jackson ‘throwing his team under the bus’ at an infamous press conference. A pattern that has been repeated multiple times in Cleveland – with both abysmal performance and the public scorching of both players and staff members.

Evidence has also indisputably linked Jackson to, at most, a thin sheath of separation from profound and damaging organizational leaks in both Cleveland and Oakland. As well, whether the innuendo regarding his relationship with the ailing (and since deceased) Davis and an attempted overthrow of McKenzie are true, nothing about his time in Cleveland makes those theories implausible or hard to believe. He has shown very little evidence of a usual fraternal code of respecting workmates. Equally obtuse has been Jackson’s systemic nuzzling up to Haslam, in a manner that has often made him the most powerful man in the organization and seemingly devoid of accountability to any type of football oversight or governance.

As for Jackson’s nomadic past, it is clear that his personality could easily rub employers and ownership wrong and that this is, quite possibly, the reason why he has not maintained true permanence in a combination of any particular location, position or fraternity – during a two-decade career that has seen multiple demotions, horizontal moves and a general ability to survive but a general inability to gain traction. Jackson has feuded with (or at least needled) his fellow coaches, players, superiors, media members, regularly during his time in Cleveland. He has continually shown a lack of filter or respect in his communications with and about those surrounding him. Perhaps the worst of which was when he publicly mocked a running back (Isaiah Crowell) after a brilliant run –  stating that members of the media could have achieved the same type of result. Another doozy was when he joked about rookie Quarterback Deshone Kizer’s probability of jumping off a building, after not having much success on the field.

His battles with his front office staff and coaching staff have also been well documented. Included in these events, have been the flexing of his proverbial leadership muscles over his fellow coaches and a masterful (possibly diabolical but at least natural) shapeshifting to avoid blame – other than perfunctory and seemingly disingenuous proclamations of “need(ing) to be better.”

As for not being able to find or retain familiar coaches, Jackson’s record in this area smacks of extreme ineptitude. His time in Cleveland has seen an unprecedented number of unfamiliar coaches being brought in and dismissed, unceremoniously and without generally accepted protocol. A glaring example would be the dismissal of Ray Horton being reported in the media, before Jackson informed the coordinator, after the 2016 season. Most recently, an inability to publicly treat another round of assistant coaches and coordinators with respect in 2018, reflects brightly on Jackson’s seemingly antisocial and anti fraternal core, within the workplace. With that said, it’s no surprise that Jackson was fired after two plus seasons with the Browns. While some people predicted he was going to be fired soon, others didn’t expect that he would actually be the first coach to go this season.

So, whether Browns’ ownership chose to ignore the need for a proper vetting process or chose to deny what would have most likely been turned up with an adequate drilling down of Jackson’s background, they find themselves in yet another organizational mess. Perhaps even a coaching armageddon and arguably the worst on-field situation in NFL history. Standing at the core of the situation is the man they were so QUICK to hire in 2016 – Hue Jackson.

A situation so dire and bleak, in the eyes of almost anyone who is perusing the situation in Cleveland, that it is nearly unanimous that it can only be fixed with a swift and immediate dismissal of Jackson. At stake is widely believed to be the emotional and professional well being of yet another crop of young players, staff members and the already beaten reputation of the organization. Equally important, but seemingly overlooked by the Haslam ownership group at every turn, is the psyche and well being of what is widely recognized as the most loyal fan base in professional sports.

Even with a swift dismissal of Jackson, all the analytics, data and intel in the world, may not be able to gauge the damage that has been done during his era.

Yes – the destruction caused by the abbreviated and seemingly half-baked Hue Jackson hiring process may, indeed,  be……immeasurable.

The Author, Cam from Canada!

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