The Cleveland Browns have spent years in perpetual reset mode. And now, even in a season in which the emergence of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield provided glimmers of hope, they have hit that reset button yet again, deciding Monday to fire head coach Hue Jackson.
The team also ousted Todd Haley as its offensive coordinator while promoting defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to interim head coach.
Jackson was in his third season as the Browns’ coach and had a record of 3-36-1. The Browns have a record of 2-5-1 this season and are on a three-game losing streak.
"We understand how critical this time period is in the development of our football team, individually and collectively,” owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said in a written statement, “and believed it was in the organization’s best interest to make the move at this time, in order to maximize our opportunities the rest of this season.”
The Haslams opted against firing Jackson after last season even after the Browns went 1-31 over a span of two seasons, including 0-16 last season. They did entrust the rebuilding of the team to a new general manager, John Dorsey, who opted to use the top overall selection in the NFL draft on Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma.
That has looked like a wise choice, as Mayfield has resembled a star in the making during his rookie season. He took over for veteran Tyrod Taylor during a game against the New York Jets in which Taylor suffered a head injury, and led the Browns to their first win since the 2016 season. He also directed a victory over the Baltimore Ravens that evened the Browns’ record at 2-2-1 and put thoughts of playoff contention into the minds of some particularly optimistic observers.
But the Browns have regressed to being, well, the Browns in the weeks since then. They have suffered losses to the Los Angeles Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackson spoke of becoming more involved with the offense, essentially putting him at odds with Haley and setting up a potential choice between the two men.
Rather than choosing, the Browns simply got rid of both.
According to the person close to the situation, the Haslams weighed the decision in consultation with Dorsey and decided that, while an in-season coaching change was far from ideal, they did not want things to remain as is between Jackson and Haley, potentially putting Mayfield’s development at risk. So the Browns put themselves back on the coaching-change carousel.
Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was promoted to offensive coordinator. So he will, in effect, become the temporary steward of Mayfield’s progression. It would not be surprising to see the Browns hire an offensive-minded head coach in the upcoming offseason, hoping that their next coach can do for Mayfield what Sean McVay did in Los Angeles for quarterback Jared Goff. The Chicago Bears took a similar approach last offseason when they hired Matt Nagy as their coach to pair with young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
For now, Williams is in charge. He is the former head coach of the Buffalo Bills, and he continues his return to coaching prominence after missing the 2012 season while under suspension by the NFL for his role in the Bountygate scandal with the New Orleans Saints.
For Cleveland going forward, it will be about what is best for Mayfield. He is the centerpiece of the Browns’ latest rebuilding effort, and the dismissal of Jackson makes it clear that all decisions will be made with his best interests in mind.
Jackson’s ousting comes a day after Cleveland’s basketball team fired coach Tyronn Lue with the Cavaliers sitting at 0-6 this season.
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