If I were Terry Francona, I’d be running for the hills right now. As we've seen in the last 48 hours, it’s open season on Cleveland head coaches. On Sunday, the Cavaliers, who have yet to win a game in the post-LeBron Era, decided to cut the cord on Tyronn Lue, sending him packing after an 0-6 start. A day later the Browns followed suit, canning Hue Jackson along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The move was long overdue as Jackson recorded just three wins during his 40-game stint as Cleveland’s head honcho. That computes to a disgraceful .088 winning percentage. Sean McVay, who was still in Huggies when Jackson began his coaching career in the late 80s, has more wins this month than Hue-Jax did during his entire Cleveland tenure.
That’s no coincidence. The Browns weren’t exactly in tip-top shape when Jackson stepped in as Mike Pettine’s successor in 2016, but the lake-jumping 53-year-old somehow managed to make things worse. Jackson was at least consistent in his inadequacy, never so much as sniffing the playoffs (or even third place in the division) during his two-plus years in the Rock and Roll Capital. Andy Dwyer lives in the pit, but Jackson dug the hole, burying the Browns beneath endless layers of mediocrity.
Among Jackson’s countless failures was his complete mishandling of DeShone Kizer. A raw talent out of Notre Dame, Kizer was set up to fail by Jackson, who benched him repeatedly throughout his rookie year. By the time he was mercifully traded to Green Bay in the offseason, the 22-year-old’s confidence was teetering on the brink of extinction. Kizer was never going to be Cleveland’s quarterback of the future but rather than nurture the young prospect, Jackson took a hatchet to his development, leaving Green Bay to pick up the pieces.
A staple of Jackson’s miserable Browns tenure was a complete and utter lack of accountability. Rather than pin the blame on himself for Cleveland’s offensive struggles, Jackson ruffled feathers by pointing a finger at Haley, throwing public shade at his OC by threatening to take over play-calling duties. Haley has never been an easy man to coexist with (just ask Ben Roethlisberger) and certainly deserves some, if not most of the blame for the Browns’ broken offense, which has ranged from sluggish to non-existent this year. Specifically, Haley paid little attention to Duke Johnson, affording him just 42 touches over his first eight games. That's obviously a drastic departure from the role Johnson had last year when he emerged as one of the top receiving backs in all of football (74 catches for 693 yards on 93 targets).
The Hue Era in Cleveland was ripe with dysfunction and Jackson’s ongoing power struggle with Haley was a prime example of that dynamic. A similar instance occurred a year prior when Jackson alienated lead running back Isaiah Crowell by failing to acknowledge one of his better runs of the season, instead giving credit to the offensive line. Predictably, Crowell skipped town in free agency.
Aside from his tug-of-war with Haley, which ended with both getting pink-slipped, Jackson also squandered arguably his biggest talent by botching the team’s handling of Josh Gordon. After sticking with the star wideout through thick and thin including his various stints in drug and alcohol rehab, Hue-Jax bizarrely pulled the plug on Cleveland’s Gordon experiment, forcing his exile to New England prior to Week 3. The Browns washed their hands of Gordon after he reportedly hurt his hamstring during a photoshoot, but the injury, if it ever occurred, hasn’t hampered him in the slightest since his arrival in Foxboro. Without Gordon’s play-making ability, Baker Mayfield has struggled to ignite the team’s stagnant passing attack.
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Jackson was the first coach to take his medicine this year, but he surely won’t be the last. Vance Joseph’s seat has never been hotter while Jason Garrett finds himself walking a similar tight rope in Dallas. Patience is also running thin for Dirk Koetter and Todd Bowles, who have both exhausted any remaining goodwill. Black Monday can be a snooze-fest some years, but that’s not going to be the case this season. Blood will undoubtedly be shed.
With Jackson and Haley left to scour the classifieds, the question now shifts to who the Browns will tap as their next head coach. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will take over in the interim (a better choice, at least for entertainment purposes, would have been Bob Wylie of Hard Knocks fame), but he’s little more than a short-term Band-Aid.
Whoever succeeds Jackson will almost certainly be an outside hire. Possible candidates include Chiefs special teams guru Dave Toub, Vikings OC John DeFilippo (who has history with the Browns, having served as their offensive coordinator in 2015), Saints tight ends coach and PC Principal lookalike Dan Campbell and Patriots linebackers coach/de facto defensive coordinator (the position has been vacant since Matt Patricia’s departure) Brian Flores. All are considered up-and-comers in the coaching biz and would seem to be far preferable to tired retreads like Rex Ryan or Chuck Pagano (or, god forbid, Jeff Fisher).
Bruce Arians has been sorely missed in Arizona this year and would likely be the frontrunner for the Cleveland job if he chose to pursue it, though the 66-year-old seems content in his retirement, especially after encountering numerous health issues throughout his Cardinals tenure. Jim Harbaugh would also be a huge get for Cleveland, though if Harbaugh ever leaves Michigan to coach in the pros again, it’s doubtful the Browns would be his first choice. Bill Belichick and Sean McVay both have ties to Cleveland—Belichick coached the Browns in the early 90s while McVay was born in Ohio and also went to college there. But it’s hard to envision either of them abandoning their current jobs to guide the Browns through their next rebuild.
Of the current candidates to replace Jackson, the name mentioned most often has been Lincoln Riley, an offensive prodigy who coached Baker Mayfield during his Heisman year at Oklahoma. The siren song of the NFL hasn’t lured him yet—the 35-year-old said he doesn’t plan on leaving the Sooners anytime soon. But the opportunity to reunite with Mayfield in the pros would be mighty enticing. Stay tuned.
Quick Hits: The Buccaneers have made another change at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick will take over as the starter in Week 9, replacing Jameis Winston, who was benched after throwing four interceptions in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. Winston’s fifth-year option is only guaranteed for injury, so the Bucs have incentive to sit him if they feel he’s not their long-term answer … The Patriots cruised to a stress-free 25-6 win over Buffalo Monday night in Orchard Park. Red-hot running back James White enjoyed another standout week, rolling to 94 yards and a touchdown (his eighth of the season) on 18 touches while Devin McCourty sealed the victory for New England with a fourth-quarter pick-six. The Pats will take a five-game winning streak into Sunday night’s matchup against Green Bay ... The Browns weren’t the only team to shake up their coaching staff on Monday. The Cowboys, who are coming off a bye week, parted ways with OL coach Paul Alexander, who was hired during the offseason. His post will be absorbed by Marc Colombo, a former tackle who spent six of his 10 NFL seasons with Dallas … According to reports, the Lions are seeking at least a fourth-round pick in trade talks for Golden Tate. The 30-year-old slot receiver will hit the free agent market this offseason … Giants coach Pat Shurmur doesn’t expect the team to trade Landon Collins. The contract-year safety could command up to $12 million annually on his next contract … When asked if Eli Manning will start after the Giants’ bye week, Shurmur said, “We’ll see.” With no hope of making the playoffs and Manning struggling, the Giants could turn to fourth-round rookie Kyle Lauletta down the stretch … 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed the team has had discussions about moving veteran receiver Pierre Garcon ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. Garcon missed Week 8 with knee and shoulder injuries, though the Niners may have held the veteran out as a precaution … Rams coach Sean McVay believes there’s a “good chance” Cooper Kupp will return to action Sunday against New Orleans. The second-year slot receiver has sat out the last two weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee ... According to Peter King of NBC Sports, the Rams could pursue Dante Fowler if the Jaguars make him available at the trade deadline. Jacksonville declined Fowler’s fifth-year option, making him a free agent at the end of the year ... Demaryius Thomas put the odds of him being traded at “50-50” ahead of Tuesday’s 4 PM ET deadline. The long-time Bronco has reportedly drawn interest from the Patriots, among others … The Packers have reportedly made Ha Ha Clinton-Dix available for trade. The All-Pro safety is in the final year of his rookie contract … Chris Thompson suffered a rib injury in Sunday’s win over the Giants, which could impact his availability for Week 9 against the Falcons. Despite missing a pair of games earlier this year, Thompson is still second on the Redskins in both catches (27) and targets (34) … In other Redskins injury news, Trent Williams is recovering from a dislocated thumb. Despite the injury, the six-time Pro Bowler is still expected to man Alex Smith’s blind side when Washington hosts Atlanta in Week 9 … Ronald Jones is slated to miss a “few weeks” with a hamstring injury. The second-round rookie has made little impact this year, delivering just 42 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries … Vita Vea hurt his knee against the Bengals in Week 8, but avoided a serious injury. The rookie out of Washington has recorded just two tackles over 146 defensive snaps this year while earning poor run-stopping marks from ProFootballFocus … The rebuilding Raiders are open for business and Peter King said he wouldn’t be surprised if Oakland dealt Bruce Irvin at or before Tuesday’s trade deadline. The seventh-year edge-rusher leads the Raiders with three sacks this year … Texans coach Bill O’Brien is unsure of Keke Coutee’s status for Week 9 at Denver. The rookie was absent for last week’s game due to a hamstring injury. With Will Fuller (ACL) done for the year, Coutee should play an important role once healthy … Despite persistent trade rumors, the Dolphins are expected to retain DeVante Parker. The former first-round pick has largely underachieved since arriving in 2015, though the 25-year-old impressed with a career-high 134 yards in last week’s loss to Houston.