Hiring Hue Jackson a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen for NFL Teams

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 4, 2019

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson walks through with the team as they warm up before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Don Wright/Associated Press

As far as NFL head coaches go, Hue Jackson was a history-maker. Over two-plus seasons at the helm of the Cleveland Browns, he won three times in 40 games. His .205 winning percentage as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders and Browns is the second-lowest of all time.

However, despite that run of futility and a messy divorce from the Browns that led Baker Mayfield, Cleveland's star quarterback, to call Jackson "fake," the Cincinnati Bengals are interviewing Jackson for their head coaching vacancy. Reports also linked him to the Minnesota Vikings as a potential permanent successor to fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

If there were any question that NFL teams needed to think outside the box more, the fact that two franchises would consider giving a job to the worst head coach in modern NFL history settles it.

Hiring Jackson would be a catastrophe, and that franchise will have no one to blame but itself—because this is a disaster anyone can see coming from a million miles away.

David Richard/Associated Press

In his farewell press conference, ousted Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was the first to mention Jackson as his potential replacement.

"I think he's more than qualified," Lewis told reporters, per Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com. "I think he's been in a couple of difficult situations, and that's tough, and it hasn't broke his way. But I think he's an excellent football coach. He's a great motivator. He's detailed. So I think he deserves an opportunity. If not here, somewhere else."

To be fair, some pundits and sportswriters suggested Jackson as well—including me.

The difference? I was kidding.

Yes, Jackson went 7-4 over his first 11 games as coach of the Raiders in 2011. But during that stretch quarterback Jason Campbell got hurt, team owner Al Davis died and Jackson stepped into the power vacuum created by Davis' death and engineered a disastrous trade for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer—calling it at the time, "the greatest trade in football."

The Raiders went 1-4 over their last five games, finished 8-8, and one of Reggie McKenzie's first acts as Oakland's new general manager was to show Jackson the door.

Ed Zurga/Associated Press

Jackson's second stint as a head coach was worse. So, so much worse.

There's no other way to put it: His 2.5 seasons in Cleveland represent the worst tenure by any head coach in the Super Bowl era. Maybe any era. A 1-15 record in 2016. The second 0-16 season in NFL history in 2017. And a 2-5-1 mark over 2018's first half before GM John Dorsey fired Jackson.

Afterward? Cleveland went 5-3—three more wins than Jackson had in a sample size that was five times as big.

What part of that sounds like a good idea for the Bengals?

Well, at least we can say Jackson has learned from his mistakes.

Oh yeah. That's right. He didn't do that even a little bit.

After that winless 2017 season, Jackson told reporters he should be praised and not criticized—for not quitting his multimillion-dollar job:

"I don't think anybody else could've did this job. I don't think anybody else could've stayed in this job for two years and been 1-31. A lot of coaches would've said 'uncle' after last year. I know that. I think you guys do, too. I think a lot of coaches during this year would've said, 'Forget it.'

"I'm not walking out on these players or this organization. I came here to win. We're going to get this thing turned around, and we're going to get to winning."

Wait. It gets better.

After getting the ax, he wasted zero time in blaming just about everyone on Earth not named Hue Jackson for Cleveland's failure. While speaking to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Jackson blamed the team's offensive struggles on his giving play-calling duties to Todd Haley and said the franchise's long-running search for a quarterback (a quest that appears to have ended with Mayfield) wouldn't have been so long if he had the final say on personnel.

Don Wright/Associated Press

Jackson said:

"We passed on three franchise QBs the first two years in [Carson] Wentz, [Deshaun] Watson and [Patrick] Mahomes. We played with a QB room with zero wins in the league. We played with street free agents and practice squad players in WRs. Yet our offense was the same or better than what we were doing this year. There is no way that should happen."

"You can't pass on quarterbacks. You never pass on a potential franchise quarterback because you don't know who's going to be there in the future."

There's just one problem with this pity party. OK, two problems: Cleveland's offense was just as awful when Jackson called the plays in 2016 and 2017. And per NFL.com's Michael Silver, the former head coach never stumped for Wentz the year the Browns traded the No. 2 pick to the Philadelphia Eagles:

Not long after Cleveland fired Jackson, he signed with the division-rival Bengals as a special assistant to Lewis. Per Pat McManamon of ESPN.com, that's why Mayfield put Jackson on full blast—a stance the QB didn't back down from even a little when the Browns played the Bengals in Week 16:

So it appears Jackson lacks the ability to engender respect from and communicate with players.

Finally, there's his reputation as an offensive guru.

In eight full NFL seasons as either an offensive coordinator or head coach, Jackson had more finishes outside the top 20 in total yards (four) than inside the top 10 (two). Those top-10 marks came in 2010 and 2011 with the Raiders. Since then, a Jackson-helmed offense didn't finish higher than 15th, and the average season finish was 19th in total yards.

Woo-hoo. That's some high-end scheming—and by high-end we mean slightly below average.

The only reason Jackson's name is being floated in Cincy and the Twin Cities is familiarity. Familiarity with Lewis and Bengals ownership. Familiarity with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota—from their time together in Cincinnati.

For a Vikings team with Super Bowl aspirations or a Bengals squad at a rebuild vs. reload crossroads, familiarity is just about the worst reason to hire a coach in a key position.

David Richard/Associated Press

Jackson is an overrated offensive mind who was an unmitigated disaster in his last job and a coach who appears unable to accept blame or criticism when things don't turn out the way he'd hoped—something you'd think he'd be used to.

If the Vikings hire him, it would be an even bigger blunder than Kirk Cousins' fully guaranteed contract. Kiss the Super Bowl goodbye.

If the Bengals hire him, Cincinnati will finish its descent back into the bowels of the AFC North. Say hello to the return of the Bungles.

If any NFL team hires him, it will be a hot mess.

And that any would even consider it makes my head hurt.

Who can I blame for that?

     

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