The Browns have cleaned house, firing both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday after a 2-5-1 start and a disappointing loss to the Steelers on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot reported Monday that Jackson had planned to meet with owner Jimmy Haslam to discuss a plan to retake control of the offense from Haley. Instead, Haslam informed Jackson that he was being fired for lack of leadership and that the team had quit on him, according to Cabot. Roughly an hour after Schefter reported that Jackson was out, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the team had also fired Haley—who reportedly had the backing of first overall pick Baker Mayfield.
Cabot reported Monday afternoon that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be the interim head coach. Williams, who has been with the team since 2017, is best known for his role in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal.
Jackson’s firing Monday ends one of the worst head-coaching tenures in modern NFL history. The Browns have gone 3-36-1 (an .088 winning percentage) since Jackson took over. In both 2016 and 2017, they earned the no. 1 overall pick, were last in point differential, and logged a winless season to cap a 1-31 stretch. Yet while Jackson is best known for his record, he also made plenty of poor decisions that went under the radar. Against the Steelers on Sunday, he told reporters he didn’t remember why he didn’t use any timeouts in the second quarter, a fitting cap to a bundle of strategic mistakes. In training camp, Jackson refused to give Mayfield practice time with the team’s starters and instead relegated him to time with the backups (despite our love for Hard Knocks hero Devon Cajuste, Baker should be practicing with Jarvis Landry and David Njoku). Jackson reportedly pushed for the Browns to trade a second- and third-round pick for then–Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron, whom Jackson coached in Cincinnati and was a free agent at the end of the year. And in a too-perfect metaphor, Jackson literally showed his ass during a dive into Lake Erie to cleanse the Browns of their troubles.
The Browns finally ended their losing streak in Week 1, but even that came in disappointing fashion. Cleveland had a plus-five turnover margin against the division rival Steelers (teams with a plus-five turnover margin were 132-4 entering this season) but came away with just a tie. Sunday’s Week 8 rematch in Pittsburgh was much worse. The Browns lost 33-18, pushing Jackson’s road record with the Browns to 0-20. In a perfect distillation of the power dynamic in the AFC North, Jackson is now the sixth consecutive Cleveland head coach to be fired after the final Steelers-Browns matchup of a season. (Meanwhile, the Steelers have had just three head coaches since Richard Nixon became president.) The timing must be particularly painful for Haley, who was fired from Pittsburgh this offseason after a feud with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and just got axed again after his offense mustered just 12 points in the first 59 minutes against his old team. Haley, who seemed at odds with Jackson during Hard Knocks, was the most logical candidate to replace Jackson, but now they’ll pack up their offices side-by-side.
While Jackson can’t be blamed for all of the Browns’ ineptitude the last few years—the 2017 roster handed to him by former front-office executives Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta was by far the worst in the league—Jackson reaffirmed it just months after the Cavs won the city’s first title in a half century. Now Cleveland’s in the market for a replacement. (The Cavs need a new coach too. Maybe Cleveland can get a buy-one, get-one deal.)
One obvious name for the permanent job this offseason is Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, Mayfield’s college coach and one of the best candidates for an NFL job in 2019, should he want to reunite with his star pupil. (Asked about the Browns job Monday, Riley said, “I certainly don’t have that itch right now.”) Another candidate could be Minnesota’s John DeFilippo, the former Eagles quarterbacks coach who has turned Adam Thielen into Calvin Johnson as the Vikings offensive coordinator this season.
Despite Cleveland’s recent history, the Browns job might be an attractive coaching position. The roster, bolstered by the draft picks accrued under the previous front office in a 76ers-esque rebuild, is loaded with talent. Cleveland has two no. 1 overall picks in Mayfield and Myles Garrett, plus three additional first-round picks from the last two years in defensive backs Denzel Ward and Jabrill Peppers and tight end Njoku—all of whom are on rookie contracts. The team has a surprisingly formidable defense, a talented offensive line, an answer at quarterback, 11 picks in the 2019 NFL draft, and more than $80 million in 2019 cap space. That is far more than most teams have when they are in the market for a new coach. The Browns are better positioned for the future than have been at any point since the franchise was reincarnated in 1999. Maybe Jackson was the perfect coach for this rebuild after all.