Let’s just imagine that Hue Jackson had been fired at the end of the 2017 season. With a 1-31 record it’s hard to even comprehend why that statement even has to be imagined, however the fact remains he is the Cleveland Browns head coach. Let’s get back to the imaginary world though where a shiny new coaching staff has been put in place and the Browns start the season 2-4-1, we would be happy right? Surely content; even if happy is stretching it a little for some. Competitive in games against teams with Superbowl aspirations and a field goal here or there in overtime from being talked about with a 6-1 record. Unfortunately for Hue Jackson he will be judged on his 3 years here and not the levels of play witnessed through the first 7 weeks of the 2018 season.
So assuming we agree at least to be content on the progress being made in 2018, the debate around firing the coach likely boils down to how much responsibility you throw at his door for the 2 years of the Sashi Brown era. Some people laud Sashi for the job that he did, others, including yours truly would label him the worst GM of all time. Talent was allowed to walk in free agency at the start of Hue’s tenure here – Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin and Tashaun Gipson were all lost on the opening day of the 2016 season and that was just the beginning of questionable personnel decisions that did or perhaps more importantly did not happen over the next 2 years. Carson Wentz could have been the QB of the Browns but we traded that opportunity for more draft picks, DeShaun Watson could have been the Browns QB but we traded that opportunity for more draft picks. The list of possible Browns who never were include Joey Bosa, Zeke Elliot and Jalen Ramsey all pro bowlers and all of whom the Browns needed to do nothing more than turn in the card for them. We valued draft picks that much we decided to pay £16m for a 2nd rounder as opposed to actually help the coach by giving him some players he could actually use there and then. Free agent signings were almost non existent and those who were signed hardly pulled up any trees, Kenny Britt anyone?
Personal opinions aside, the owners ultimately decided that the blame lay with Sashi and made the move to Dorsey. The roster was overhauled to the tune of over 60% from the end of the 2017 season to the start of the 2018 season, showing what an appalling job the previous regime had done and to use the “hard knocks” reference, it felt like a “change was coming”. Hue the coach has been talked about glowingly by the greatest left tackle of all time, Joe Thomas, and from what we have seen on hard knocks, and building the browns his determination to turn this around are unquestioned in my opinion. He has endured an incredibly difficult past few months on a personal level, and anyone who has played sport will know that losing week in and week out is demoralising so I can only begin to imagine how he would have felt after each and every Sunday for the past couple of years. He is still here though, so why should we keep him?
The argument to retain the coach is simply that the signs of change are indeed coming. Taking the Chargers game as an exception the Browns have been in every single game this year. They are leading the NFL in takeaways, they have a core of young talent and most importantly they seem to have found their QB. Our starting offensive unit has a rookie QB, a rookie RB, a rookie LT, a rookie WR in its starting line-up. That means growing pains, especially with the QB playing against NFL calibre defences for the first time ever. Are there too many penalties? Sure. Are there questionable play calls every week? Sure. Are there clock management issues? Sure. This ladies and gents is the NFL, and these issues plague every single franchise around the country. Of course the successful teams minimise these and I am not naïve to not be concerned by this, but remember we have the youngest side in the league, and a side which is so far removed from last year’s team they are almost unrecognisable. People are frustrated that 3 years into the Hue era we are not winning more games, and I get that but I can also see improvements. There is an argument to change coach but how is that working out for the Cardinals? Giants? Raiders? There is no guarantee that a change of coach brings about a change of results, particularly if the coach has a different philosophy and defensive scheme, do we want another 2 wasted years transitioning back from a 4-3 to a 3-4 for example?
My personal view from the opening day of the 2018 season is that Hue Jackson should be judged on the performance of the 2018 season at the end of the 2018 season and I don’t see any sense in making a move now. Based on the opening 7 weeks of the season Hue has a chance to save his job by delivering a winning record and improved play throughout the remaining 9 games, he also has a chance to put the final nails in his coffin if the team spiral into another disastrous losing season. Its safe to say we have reached a crossroads and although I’m rooting for him as that ultimately means the Browns are winning more games, I fear the axe my well be yielding in Berea once again this off season, if not before.
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