Much to the chagrin of desperate Cleveland sports fans everywhere, it’s safe to say the era of Johnny Manziel in Cleveland is officially over. As if it ever began in the first place.
While Manziel’s days in Cleveland might be numbered, with the Browns’ cliff-hanging search for a new head coach finally over, a new era might be beginning in Cleveland.
The Browns hired former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as the team’s 19th head coach and successor to Mike Pettine, the team announced last Wednesday, and the hire might be the wisest administrative move we’ve seen from the Browns in years – or at least during the Jimmy Haslam-led searches for a new skipper.
If you compare Jackson’s hiring to just a few of the Browns’ more recent hirings at the head coaching position – at least since Haslam purchased the franchise back in 2012 – it’s not difficult to see why Jackson is prominently different and stands out from the rest of the pack.
In most recent memory, the Browns have gone 23-57 the last five seasons while cycling through three different head coaches. Pat Shurmur, who replaced Eric Mangini in 2011, one year before Haslam bought the team, was fired after posting a 9-23 record over the course of two seasons in charge. Ohio native Rob Chudzinski took over the reigns in 2013 as Haslam’s first hire as general manger and posted a 4-12 record before getting sacked. Then there’s Pettine, who leaves behind a laundry list of grievances and complaints, some of which have more to do with the situation Pettine was thrown into than Pettine himself.
Pettine went 10-22 in two seasons with the Browns and dropped 18 of his last 21 games after a strong 7-4 start to the 2014 campaign. The Browns announced Pettine and General Manager Ray Farmer’s dismissals the night of Cleveland’s embarrassing season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As per usual with the Browns, the problems in 2015 arose at the top – in the front office – and trickled down to the coaching staff. Spanning as far back as last summer, Farmer and Pettine constantly butted heads over the decision-making process. According to many reports last year, disagreements created a “rift” between Farmer and Pettitne, and a power struggle ensued. With Farmer and Pettine’s relationship labeled as dysfunctional at best, on top of Johnny Manziel’s persistent shenanigans, it’s no surprise Haslam decided it was time to retool. The latest overhaul can start no better than with Jackson.
After compiling a list of seven apt candidates for the open position and conducting several interviews, the Browns determined Jackson was the right man for the job. Sashi Brown, new vice president of football operations, and Paul DePodesta, new chief strategy officer, found Jackson to be a strong, confident leader open to collaboration with the front office.
Jackson’s collaboration skills will undoubtedly be held under intense scrutiny, as Haslam and company have made it clear that they want to eliminate tenuous ties between GM and head coach. Last season, disgruntled Browns fans called for the dynamic duo of Farmer and Pettine to be fired for their lack of cooperation.
In the past, the Browns have dealt with this kind of situation before. Haslam was forced to try to maintain order as Pettine and Farmer’s egos collided. Now, he hopes Jackson will restore the team’s lost direction and bring a change in culture to Cleveland.
It’s easy for Haslam to say Jackson’s “the guy,” especially considering he thought Pettine was the guy, too, even though he was the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills and near the bottom of the Browns’ list of head coaching candidates at the time.
Jackson’s resume, though, bolsters his past success and serves as a beacon of hope for the future of a franchise on the fringe of complete collapse. Although Jackson went 8-8 with an undermanned 2011 Raiders squad in his lone head coaching stint, according to nfl.com, he is well respected for his work with wide receivers, running backs and most recently, quarterbacks, a position at which the Browns have lacked skill and depth since returning to the league in 1999.
The league lauded Jackson for elevating Andy Dalton into the NFL elite quarterback discussion and preparing backup AJ McCarron for the Bengals’ short-lived playoff run. Despite Jackson’s refusal to salvage the broken career of “Johnny Football,” he might be able to take a new quarterback under his wing. With the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Browns will likely target a quarterback, a player Jackson can develop and foster to be the next face of the franchise.
Jackson was a strong hire for an unstable team in need of leadership and direction, but it still begs the question: is the current structure of the Browns’ organization conducive for the Browns to succeed? The Browns always preach patience, but they also follow the common theme of starting over, too. Will Jackson actually get a fighting chance to turn things around, or will the Cleveland model of hiring and firing after two short seasons persist?
Only time will tell the answers to these weighing questions. But if the Browns manage to find a way to screw up again, you know what we always say here in the factory of sadness: “There’s always next year, Cleveland.”
Richie Mulhall is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]