Cleveland’s clearing out of head coach Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator Todd Haley signals more dysfunction.
The Browns entered this season with great buzz and a degree of optimism thanks to the credibility of new general manager John Dorsey, the arrival of No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and the preseason behind-thescenes looks provided by HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” But eight weeks into the season, the team has proved to be the train wreck we’ve long known.
The day after an Oct. 28 loss at Pittsburgh (a third consecutive defeat, dropping the Browns to 2-5-1), Cleveland fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
All of this could have been avoided with better foresight from the top. But here we are with the Browns hitting the reset button at midseason, a move that’s unlikely to prompt any significant improvement over the next eight games.
For Jackson and Haley, a dismissal from Cleveland was only a matter of timing. Jackson owned a 3-36-1 record in twoand-a-half seasons. You didn’t have to walk the halls of the Browns facility regularly to know that great friction existed between Jackson and Haley, whom the former hired this offseason.
This was outwardly perceived as a one-or-the-other dilemma. But people familiar with Dorsey’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, say he had pleaded his case to owner Jimmy Haslam for some time about the need to eliminate both problem areas.
Finally, the owner consented. Haslam addressed reports of division within the franchise by telling reporters, “It’s very troubling. It’s hard to win in the NFL; if anybody knows that, it’s us. I think the message today is we’re not going to put up with internal discord.”
Haslam hopefully has also learned his lesson: Give Dorsey, a man with a track record of building franchises, the green light to fix this mess in earnest.
If Dorsey had ultimate say in January, he would have fired Jackson then and brought in his handpicked coach, according to people within the organization.
Haslam hired Dorsey, a longtime Packers and Chiefs personnel executive, last December, hoping he could end the franchise’s run of embarrassing gaffes. But while the owner empowered Dorsey to overhaul the roster, Jackson had to stay.
Haslam and his wife, Dee, are still quite fond of Jackson. They were willing to look past the 1-31 record at the time and give him another chance, feeling help by way of a top-notch talent evaluator would do the trick.
So Dorsey conceded, Jackson remained.
Mistake No. 2 was the Browns’ hiring of Haley, who Dorsey and Jackson both agreed is a bright offensive mind. Perhaps Jackson should receive credit for humbling himself enough to bring in another person to his area of expertise. But the desperation to ignite the offense might have led him to overlook potential personality clashes.
Anyone who knows Haley will speak of his strong personality. His clashes with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh are well-documented, as are his failings as a head coach in Kansas City.
Haley became a problem early in his time in Cleveland, people close to the situation told USA TODAY. He clashed with and Dorsey and members of the scouting department when he would attend draft-prep meetings uninvited and try to recommend which college prospects the team should evaluate.
“Hard Knocks” captured one of the feuds between Jackson and Haley, and in the last few weeks, when Jackson tried to make suggestions about alterations in the team’s approach, Haley refused to accept his boss’ input.
Haslam and Dorsey finally agreed that Jackson couldn’t remain while losses continued to mount and his control of his assistants was suspect. Haley, both agreed, couldn’t remain because of his insubordination.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams — a fiery coach best known for his role in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, which financially rewarded players for injuring opponents — takes over as interim head coach.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whom the Browns tabbed for the final eight games. Dorsey is poised to blow everything up this offseason, even though it means Mayfield will have to start over.
Because of their precious cargo, the Browns have a very narrow margin for error with this head coaching hire.
The Browns need to find a fit for Mayfield that mirrors the impact that the Rams’ hiring of Sean McVay had on their young franchise quarterback Jared Goff.
Mayfield has displayed potential since taking over as the Browns starter. But his receivers have dropped far too many passes, and his offensive line has had frequent breakdowns. The roster needs upgrades in those areas above all others.
But more than anything, the Browns need to at last operate like a professional franchise.
Gregg Williams is Browns’ new interim coach.
Browns coach Hue Jackson, above, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired on Oct. 29.