It's Not Too Late for the Browns to Do the Right Thing and Fire Hue Jackson

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 1, 2018

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson attends a post-game meeting with reporters following an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. The Steelers won 28-24. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Don Wright/Associated Press

Hue Jackson issued more self-serving, passive-aggressive and downright mind-boggling statements before you drank your first cup of coffee on 2018 than most people will utter all year.

Jackson held a 9 a.m. ET New Year's Day press conference to mark his territory as the Browns head coach for next season and to kick off 2018 with some typically Orwellian pro-Jackson propaganda.

Jackson reaffirmed his commitment to "get this organization turned toward winning." He carefully used the word "winning" over and over as if delivering "winning" football (like, a 9-7 wild-card team) and delivering a single win were easy-to-confuse, roughly-equivalent accomplishments hanging just beyond the Browns' reach.

Jackson referred to coaching the Browns as a "situation" that would be hard for the "average person" to endure. To be certain, all of us are perfectly capable of going 0-16 as NFL coaches, and most would agree that the best way to alleviate the stress would be to actually win some games.

Jackson countermanded a report that GM John Dorsey and the front office would select a new offensive coordinator. In fairness, coaches typically have autonomy over their staffs, even coaches named Hue Jackson who hire coordinators named Hue Jackson. It was just fascinating to hear a winless coach get snippy and territorial with the bosses who just gave him a wholly undeserved professional reprieve.

Jackson even talked up his chance to scout prized quarterback prospect Baker Mayfield at the Senior Bowl, throwing a bone to the Dawg Pound while warding the Browns off any sudden change of heart (retain me and I will finally find a quarterback). Jackson later name-checked quarterback DeShone Kizer as one of the prospects he kinda-sorta-maybe successfully developed in two seasons which were supposed to be about prospect development. Internal logical consistency is as rare in a Jackson press conference as a discussion of a Sunday victory.

None of the themes of Jackson's New Year's Proclamation were new. In the Hue universe (the Hue-niverse?), Jackson is a heroic martyr leading a team to 0-16 that would have gone negative-4-and-20 or something without him. Authority is always centralized with Jackson—the general manager had better not meddle with my staff—but responsibility is diffuse. Losses are events Jackson suffers through until he can take credit for preventing them.

Under Hue Jackson's guidance, DeShone Kizer led the league in interceptions and in producing the worst completion percentage in the NFL.
Under Hue Jackson's guidance, DeShone Kizer led the league in interceptions and in producing the worst completion percentage in the NFL.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com even challenged Jackson on Monday morning about the victim narrative Jackson has spun around himself, chronicling the coach's circular responses to his questions in hilarious, harrowing detail. Jackson can't even accept responsibility for the last two seasons when pinned down, drifting from "I'm the leader of this" to "part of the leadership group of this" mid-sentence while wriggling away from comments by Jason McCourty that players are weary of hearing (sometimes from the organization itself) that the team lacks talent.

Jackson's morning manifesto was a shameful travesty that paves the way for a 2018 season that promises to be just as bad as the 2017 season, with the obvious caveat that for once it is impossible for things to get any worse.

But it's not too late to end this.

The Browns should fire Jackson now.

Jackson's defiant thumb-to-nose neener-neener of a news conference chisels nothing in granite. Firing Jackson after letting him announce his 2018 return might look silly, but it wouldn't crack the top 10 list of silliest things the Browns have done in the last five years, a list that includes retaining Jackson in the first place.

Yes, Browns ownership made promises, but...seriously, it's hard to finish this sentence without giggling about the retail value of a Browns ownership promise. Why suddenly start honoring them now, at the worst possible time?

Fire Jackson now, and Dorsey and the Haslams can leap onto the coaching carousel on equal footing with all of the other franchises. The Browns aren't exactly a marquee organization right now, but they still rank among the top 32 NFL teams in the world, and both the presence of the well-regarded Dorsey and a stockpile of draft picks and cap space are enough to lure coaches skittish about getting trapped in the Browns' eternal misery cycle.

Fire Jackson now, and the Browns can assemble a real coaching staff, not the current collection of yes-men, cronies and perma-vacancies. Fire Jackson now, and a new staff can appraise with fresh eyes a slew of youngsters Jackson appears to have written off. Fire Jackson now, and there's a chance of marrying a new quarterback to a fresh scheme instead of cramming him into Jackson's mold.

Jimmy Haslam told the media that Jackson would return next season after completing the second 0-16 campaign in NFL history.
Jimmy Haslam told the media that Jackson would return next season after completing the second 0-16 campaign in NFL history.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Bold prediction: Fire Jackson now, and the Browns players will respond with a lukewarm chorus of 'Welp, that's the business' instead of howling at their beloved leaders' fate.

Most importantly, fire Jackson now, and the Browns can prevent a Jackson-versus-the-front-office turf battle that already appears to be inevitable.

Jackson's greatest accomplishment over the last two seasons was foisting all of the Browns' failures on former team vice president Sashi Brown and the analytics wing of the Browns organization. Brown and Team Moneyball helped Jackson's cause by waiting for the cosmos to align at quarterback and noodling with draft reaches and cutesy-poo cap maneuvers. But Jackson was never on board with his role of a glorified baseball minor league coach—it's hard to fault him there, except that it's the job he signed on for—showing little patience with the prospects he was tasked with developing, most notably Kizer.

And when old-school and newfangled approaches clash within a failing NFL organization, the fresh (i.e. different, scary) ideas never stand a chance. Jackson knew he had cover when owner Jimmy Haslam grew impatient late in the season.

An outgoing administration can only draw fire for so long, even when it's an outgoing administration of easy-to-mock "non-football" people. Now Jackson wants total control; Dorsey expects a more traditional division of duties (and a healthy measure of control); there's a vestigial Moneyball organ still dangling from the power structure like a pair of inflamed tonsils; and Haslam is never happy unless the pressure cooker is about to explode.

This is the recipe for another set of power struggles, starting with the already-contentious question of who will fill out Jackson's staff.

Jackson and Dorsey are likely to battle over quarterbacks. Despite his promise of returning from the Senior Bowl with goodies, Jackson prefers veterans and will want to make plays for everyone from AJ McCarron to Kirk Cousins.

The Browns decision-makers may squabble about their draft tactics: Jackson will want a quick fix that will immediately be seen in the standings, Dorsey will want infrastructure, and both will pretend that silly ol' Sashi's pocket-protector gang had nothing to do with all the resources at their disposal.

New Browns general manager John Dorsey may find he and his coach are often not in agreement, a state of affairs that has become the norm in Cleveland.
New Browns general manager John Dorsey may find he and his coach are often not in agreement, a state of affairs that has become the norm in Cleveland.David Richard/Associated Press/Associated Press

Jackson and Dorsey will squabble because coaches and execs always squabble when they were not hired together and yoked to a clearly defined hierarchy. Jackson will battle for control because he forged his blame-assignation and power-acquisition prowess during his brief reign over the Raiders in 2011 (when Jackson traded two high draft picks for a midseason rental of then-quasi-retired Carson Palmer).

All the seeds were sown in Monday's eye-opener of a New Year's Day press conference. Jackson doesn't have any solutions right now, but the excuses are all lined up.

The Browns can end all of this by firing Jackson now and starting over. It won't stop the Browns from being the Browns, but it will end the era of this particular version of the Browns, which has become the worst version of the Browns ever.

'Tis the season to fire bad coaches, after all. Only the Browns would start the new year off by saddling themselves with one of the worst.

    

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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