In a move both unexpected and not, the Browns announced Monday they have fired head coach Hue Jackson halfway through his third season with the team. Jackson went just 3-36-1 in Cleveland.
Former executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown was the first to go. The Browns fired Brown late in the 2017 season, but retained Jackson for another year. But when the wins didn’t start coming despite a much improved roster, Jackson was let go.
“We greatly appreciate Hue’s commitment to the Cleveland Browns organization over the last two and a half years,” Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. “We understand how critical this time period is in the development of our football team, individually and collectively, and believed it was in the organization’s best interest to make the move at this time, in order to maximize our opportunities the rest of this season.”
It wasn’t just Jackson either. The team also parted ways with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Taking over at head coach in the interim is defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a long time assistant coach who once spent three years as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. And taking over as offensive coordinator will be Freddie Kitchens, a former Alabama quarterback who spent the last 11 seasons on the Cardinals’ coaching staff.
Why was is this (kind of) a surprise? When Brown was fired, team owner Jimmy Haslam said at the time that Jackson’s job was safe.
“Hue Jackson will remain our coach and will return for the 2018 season,” Haslam said.
So it’s a little surprising a team patient enough to sit through one win in two seasons would shut things down now. But in the grand scheme, patience was getting old and new Browns general manager John Dorsey is the one calling the shots. He’s the one who reportedly convinced owner Jimmy Haslam to send Jackson packing.
Detail on #Browns: Owner Jimmy Haslam was conflicted over blowing up another coach mid-season. Late last night he was leaning toward staying course. But Haslam spoke to GM John Dorsey, who said the Hue/Haley dynamic couldn’t continue. Some decision had to be made for the team.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) October 29, 2018
After Cleveland finished 0-16 in 2017, Haslam changed his mind, just like he did with Mike Pettine in 2015. Haslam said the Browns would “absolutely” keep Pettine, but fired him a week later after two seasons at the helm.
This wasn’t quite the same flip flop. Jackson’s ousting was earned by his historically poor tenure in Cleveland.
So why did the Browns fire Jackson now? The easiest answer is the most obvious one: He won just one game over two seasons with the Browns and couldn’t straighten things out in his third year.
The Browns’ plan for the past couple of years has been to stockpile draft picks and build from the ground up, which sometimes meant parting ways with veteran players and trading down in the draft. That was not going to win them many games in the present, but a historically bad two years put Jackson on shaky ground.
Then the team invested heavily in the offseason and added premium talent like Jarvis Landry on offense, and several new starters in the secondary. It should’ve made the Browns a contender, but it didn’t.
The NFL, like every other pro sport, is a results-driven league. Jackson didn’t get results.
The Browns looked good early in the year, opening the season with a tie and then finally getting a win. But after a 2-2-1 start, Cleveland has lost three straight and the coaching has been the main reason why. The final straw was a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, something that has cost several Browns coaches before.
Here’s a streak Cleveland would like to snap after Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh: The last five Browns’ head coaches - Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rod Chudzinski, Mike Pettine - were fired after the second Steelers’ game of that season.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 29, 2018
After the game, defensive lineman Myles Garrett criticized the team’s game plan, which was different than the one that led to a 21-21 tie with the Steelers in Week 1.
Jackson was hired based on his reputation as a brilliant offensive mind and developer of quarterbacks. He didn’t exactly have a roster stacked with signal-calling talent to work with when he arrived. But he failed to turn Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, or DeShone Kizer into a viable starter, and there wasn’t much reason to believe he was working wonders with 2018 first-round pick Baker Mayfield.
That wasn’t entirely Jackson’s fault, either. The 2016 season saw injury after injury to Browns quarterbacks. Griffin only lasted one game before he landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. McCown separated his shoulder, Cody Kessler had a couple of concussions, and the Browns even had to sign Charlie Whitehurst because Hogan injured his ribs.
Injuries weren’t the issue in 2017. Kizer was mostly healthy, save a migraine issue. But his tendency to commit costly turnovers in the red zone earned him a few trips to the bench. And it’s possible Jackson rushed Kizer into the starting role. Most draft analysts believed the second-rounder was too raw to be an immediate starter in the NFL.
The Browns failed to improve in one key area: scoring. They were next-to-last in the league in 2016 with 16.5 points per game. They averaged only 14.6 points per game in 2017, which put them dead last in the league.
So far in 2018, with Mayfield at the helm, the Browns are No. 24 in total offense and points scored. That wasn’t enough.
What’s next for the Browns? Any chance at the postseason is probably lost for the Browns, but there’s still time to string together wins and inspire hope for the future with Williams at the helm. There’s too much talent on the team to be sitting in the AFC North cellar yet again.
New general manager John Dorsey will eventually have a say in the new hire, which probably won’t be Williams, but that’ll likely come after the season ends. Dorsey, the former general manager of the Chiefs, has a reputation as a skilled talent evaluator. But for now, the Browns will have to make do with Williams and the other coaches they have.