It’s easy to say we saw it coming.
The Hard Knocks minutiae, all the tiny arguments and disagreements, all the instances where it seemed Hue Jackson had—then lost—the opportunity to take control of this Browns team and run it with the smooth confidence he once had. It’s easy to point to the record and the trail of bumbling on-field performances that took place over the course of this three-year rebuild. It’s easy to lay out some kind of nebulous progress arc Baker Mayfield needed to hit by now and reason that he may have not be reaching it under the current circumstances.
It’s easy to say Jackson cemented his fate by questioning Todd Haley, who was also fired on Monday, then insisting he infuse his expertise into the game plan as if he hadn’t tried and failed to do so myriad times over the last 40 games.
So maybe that’s why the Browns, despite their best efforts at using this season as a platform to reemerge as a competent, competitive franchise decided to do the one thing competent, competitive franchises don’t do—fire their head coach and offensive coordinator in the middle of a season. Sometimes, it’s that easy.
In the coming weeks we’ll hear about the internal struggle. We’ll hear about how Jackson was a good soldier during an experimental teardown and, despite some moments of understandable human frustration, was a good ambassador for a team that celebrated his arrival as the start of something new. Jackson was legitimately one of the most sought-after coaches on the market when he chose the woebegone Browns. He turned down a chance to be the Bengals’ head coach-in-waiting behind Marvin Lewis, which seems like a lifetime tenured appointment given how long Lewis has been in Cincinnati. All of this made him difficult to fire, especially when firing coaches has become the one thing Cleveland does more frequently than any other NFL franchise.
The fact is, general manager John Dorsey’s arrival made it less about Jackson and the choices he made. Dorsey also made it easy. For the first time in more than 25 years, the Browns have assembled a potent, fascinating cadre of young stars to build around at the game’s three essential positions—quarterback, pass rusher and corner. Once those seeds are in place they must be nurtured like a garden of orchids—so temperamental that even the slightest bit of outside clamor must be kept at a safe distance.
Imagine Mayfield stuck between two offensive coaches. Imagine Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett being asked to speak publicly for a crew bordering on mutiny then eagerly signing up to come back in a few years once their rookie deal expires. Imagine any responsible agent advising a high-profile free agent or draft pick and selling Cleveland with some type of confidence while their staff tries to walk in lockstep.
The Browns have done a good enough job running talent out of the city and state over the last 20 years. Now, it’s time to find a way to keep them there and to grow something.
By making this decision now, Cleveland gives themselves a long head start on what promises to be an arduous coaching search. Given the state of the league, and the discovery of offensive rocket fuel potent enough to propel franchises to the top of the standings, the Browns will be competing for a small pool of extraordinary minds. They will have to dip into the collegiate ranks and study the credentials of a few position coaches who may be ready to make the leap.
They will need to convince a cadidate who could go somewhere else with a better chance of winning—not unlike Jackson a few years ago—that this time, it won’t be that easy for him to wash out.
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