Browns Needed to Fire Hue Jackson and Todd Haley to Save Baker Mayfield

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterOctober 29, 2018

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, left, and head coach Hue Jackson watch the video board in the second half of the team's NFL football preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Cleveland. Buffalo won 19-17. (AP Photo/David Richard)
David Richard/Associated Press

Hue Jackson was never interested in developing Baker Mayfield.

He has never been into player development in general. You can tell because he never bothered to do it. But it showed with Mayfield.

From the day Jackson decided to deny the top overall pick first-string reps in the offseason, it was clear that slowing Mayfield's development was practically his mission statement. It was like a Munchausen-by-proxy approach to running a team: weakening it on purpose to keep expectations low.          

Jackson, who the Browns fired Monday after he amassed a 3-36-1 record in Cleveland, did care about winning games. But he cared only in the abstract sense that winning games was the most direct means of accomplishing his real goal: making sure he remained employed. That's always been his most marketable skill, and it must have been what attracted him to the Moneyball Browns in the first place, with their baked-in emphasis on long-range rebuilding and tanking-friendly, failure-is-a-good-option undercurrents. 

Jackson planned to bury Mayfield on the bench this season because veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor was theoretically more likely to generate early wins. And taking the low-and-slow barbecue approach to quarterback development buys a coach even more time to keep his job without producing results.

When Mayfield inevitably outplayed and replaced Taylor—making it clear that something beyond talent had been holding the team back—Jackson resorted to another tried-and-true method of saving himself. He pushed prickly offensive coordinator Todd Haley in front of the charging grizzly bear.

Jackson and Haley had been openly squabbling since the summer, when they sounded like a pair of competing reality-show contestants on Hard Knocks. Jackson, who coached without an offensive coordinator in his first two Browns seasonsone less coordinator means one less potential replacement, after allwasn't about to play nicely with an obvious threat to his job, and Haley doesn't appear to play nicely with anyone.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 07: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley of the Cleveland Browns reacts after an incomplete pass where interference was not called during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohi
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

As of Sunday, Haley appeared to be the one headed for the guillotine. But according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, general manager John Dorsey finally shook owner Jimmy Haslam to his senses and ended two-and-a-half years of Jackson's gaslighting.

Haley, a skilled backroom politician in his own right, joined Jackson on the gallows as the Browns cleaned house, leaving defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the interim head coach.

Viva la revolucion.

And long live Baker Mayfield, who is better off without a pair of coaches more interested in power squabbles than football. 

The current sorry state of the Browns is a direct result of Jackson's standard operating procedure. Dating back to his brief coup to take over the Raiders in 2011, Jackson has always been better at consolidating power and deflecting blame than doing anything that can help the football teams that hire him.

Thanks to the toxic Moneyball chemistry between Jackson and former general manager Sashi Brown, the Browns offense is remarkably short on talent. Brown drafted talented long-term projects like Corey Coleman, David Njoku and DeShone Kizer. Jackson tossed them on the field as is and let their mistakes fester.

Neither Brown nor Jackson felt any sense of urgencyMoneyball takes a long time, doncha knowso the pair squandered two years by operating at cross purposes. That's why Mayfield has no offensive tackles to protect him or quality young veteran receivers to throw to, despite three years of stockpiled draft picks.

Jackson hasn't bothered to mesh with the current administration, either. Dorsey had to trade Carlos Hyde to get rookie running back Nick Chubb more than three touches per game, even after Chubb gained 105 yards against the Raiders on those three touches. Dorsey also extended Duke Johnson Jr.'s contract, expecting him to play an Alvin Kamara-esque role, but Jackson couldn't seem to figure out how to use a talented all-purpose running back.

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns looks on alongside offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the game against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns won 21-1
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Haley did to Jackson what Jackson did to the Browns front office: He tuned out instructions and pursued his own agenda. That helps explain the incoherent game plans and sloppy, penalty-filled play. The two coaches were playing tug-of-war with the offense, Mayfield and the future of the organization.

The Jackson-Haley double knockout looks like another example of Browns ownership locking itself in a van and then smashing all the windows to get out. The pairing was ill-advised from the start; replacing Jackson with Haley outright when Sashi Brown was fired would have made more sense.

Had the Browns taken an either-or approach to Jackson and Haley, Mayfield would have been stuck with the NFL's most notorious buck-passer or trapped in the quarterback room with a human honey badger.

The potential for Mayfield career sabotage was enormous. Give the Haslams and Dorsey credit for realizing that both were bad ideas. Jackson and Haley could fall off a cliff while trying to choke each other, but they couldn't drag Mayfield over with them.  

Removing both Jackson and Haley from Mayfield's support structure is like sending a child to live with the grandparents during a messy divorce, which isn't always the worst decision. Mayfield gets a clean slate and a chance to develop under coaches who will adopt a do-no-harm approach to his short-term care.

The defensive-minded Williams is unlikely to tamper with the offense, so senior offensive assistant Al Saunders and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, long-tenured coaches whose roots go back to coaching legends like Don Coryell and Dick Vermeil, can manage the offense without any win-now pressure or power games for professional advancement.

Mayfield will get a chance to be a prospect, not a pawn in a power struggle. So will other players whose progress has been stunted by two-and-a-half years of Jackson thumb-twiddling and nine months of Jackson-Haley arm wrestling.

With Jackson and Haley gone, the Browns can finally go about the actual process of rebuilding.

No, the Browns have not spent the last three years rebuilding. They've acquired some talented players, but any team that finished in last place every year will acquire talented young players, with or without the Moneyball trappings.

Rebuilding means developing, supporting and nurturing those young players, finding pieces to put around them and tailoring schemes to suit them while training them to thrive within the schemes. It's difficult, detail-oriented, unglamorous work, which means it was never Jackson's bag.

The entire Jackson-Haley-Sashi-Moneyball era may be remembered as one of the most tragic three-year sinkholes in NFL history. The only way for the Browns to prevent that from happening is to make sure some good comes out of this lost era.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Mayfield can be good enough to do so. Chubb, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and the other building blocks scattered around Cleveland's disorganized roster can help.

Welcome back to square one, Browns fans. You'll yet again be a team seeking leadership the moment the season ends, but at least you'll be starting over with Mayfield.

Jackson did a lot of damage, but he got fired before he could do his worst.


Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.