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Todd Haley urged Browns owner Jimmy Haslam not to do Hard Knocks

Mike Florio and Chris Simms share what they would change to 'Hard Knocks' to help spice up the show.

The two coaches who feuded during the first episode of last year’s Hard Knocks are still feuding, over Hard Knocks.

As the Raiders prepare for the debut of this year’s version of the NFL’s annual training-camp reality show, former Browns coach Hue Jackson and former Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley have provided quotes to Don Banks of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that demonstrate how sharply they disagreed about the team’s involvement in the program.

“When [G.M.] John [Dorsey] told me they were doing [the show], I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Haley told Banks. “We’re trying to make a drastic change here and turn things around, and this is the wrong thing to happen. I told the Browns owner, ‘Jimmy, this is a mistake. Don’t do it.’ The No. 1 thing in camp is getting the team ready to be able to compete.”

But Jimmy Haslam didn’t pull the plug; indeed, by the time Haley had a chance to chime in, it likely was too late. Especially since Jackson seemed to be all in with the idea of seizing the platform that Hard Knocks provides.

“He’d come up to me at practice and say, ‘Wait ’til you see ‘Hard Knocks,’” Haley said regarding Jackson. “He was like, ‘Wait ’til you see what’s on this week.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You’re spending time watching that instead of figuring out how to get the team to win?’ He reveled in it.”

Haley reveled in pushing back against Jackson, and that should have surprised no one from the moment Haley was hired. Haley had taken a team to the playoffs. Jackson during two years with the Browns had won one of 32 games.

Their differences played out in dramatic fashion during a debut-episode back-and-forth in a coaches’ meeting regarding whether to give veteran players rest during training camp. Haley pushed Jackson to not fear veterans getting injured. Jackson eventually played the Al Haig card, reminding Haley that Jackson is driving the bus, not Haley.

Jackson actually thought that authorizing the inclusion of the scene would make him look good and Haley look bad.

“I had no idea why that scene with me and Todd would hurt,” Jackson said. “I mean, other than he wanted to push his thought process on the head coach. I would think people would have thought, ‘Wait a minute, this dude needs to shut up.’ You would think it was like insubordination.”

Jackson blames the perception on the fact that people viewed him not as a head coach, but as a head coach with a 1-31 record in Cleveland.

“You’re talking about a coach who had lost, but at the end of the day I was still head coach of the football team, and nobody wanted me to act like the head coach of the football team,” Jackson told Banks. “Because maybe he shouldn’t be because he lost so many games. Had the record been different, people would have felt different about what I felt at the time. But what everyone saw was a 1-31 coach. So the head coach was supposed to let the assistant do whatever he wants to do? Then why is he the head coach?”

Frankly, plenty of people were wondering why Jackson was still the head coach after chasing a 1-15 record with 0-16. But Jackson, with all the self-awareness of Michael Scott, failed to realize how his abysmal record was received externally, and assumed that the title meant the same as applied to him in 2018 as it would have meant to any other head coach. He found out the hard way, via Hard Knocks, that this simply isn’t the case.

Jackson’s current successor, Freddie Kitchens, was in the room for the exchange. Indeed, Kitchens (then the running backs coach) lit the fuse in that fateful meeting. But Kitchens told Banks that the new Browns coach would do the show again, with one significant caveat.

“If I was the head coach, the cameras wouldn’t be in the staff meeting,” Kitchens said. “The media took that interaction and turned that into a problem. They’re looking for anything. And let me tell you something, they’re going to look for anything with Oakland.”

Kitchens is both right and wrong. The media is always looking for something. In the case of Jackson vs. Haley, the media found something. And that something was handed to them by Jackson, who foolishly thought that the inclusion of the exchange would help him. Instead, it became the first public domino in a chain that got both Jackson and Haley fired before Halloween.