Nobody likes to see someone fired. But this was an unusual Black Monday in that the biggest news – and most controversial — was two coaches not getting fired: not Marvin Lewis from the Cincinnati Bengals, nor Hue Jackson from the Cleveland Browns.
The empirical evidence against Jackson was staggering: in two seasons he coached his team to a 1-31 record. No NFL coach has ever survived such a record. How did he do it?
Bill Livingston, long-time columnist of The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, credited Jackson’s continued longevity to “always reliably schmoozing the team’s owner, the clueless Jimmy Haslam.”
Jackson drew unlikely support from the Browns’ new general manager, John Dorsey, who blamed the team’s failure on wrongheaded personnel decisions by the Sashi Brown regime.
Also a major boon to Jackson: the unequivocal endorsement of the team’s best player, left tackle Joe Thomas. “Hue hasn’t been given an opportunity to prove what kind of coach he is.”
But really, are you saying a better coach could not have won some of those games? One or two?
The Browns didn’t lose games only because of physical failure, there was constant confusion in the secondary, confusion in the huddle, on the sidelines.
And Jackson made the worst sort of coaching error: choosing the wrong quarterback, 20-year-old rookie DeShone Kizer, who couldn’t hold onto the No. 1 job at Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, Lewis was heading for completion of his 15th season as Bengals head coach, and he had no contract for 2018. Rumors were swirling that he was not going to be renewed.
Some of his players complained that he wasn’t telling them about his job status, but in truth he did not know.
When the season ended, owner Mike Brown conferred with Lewis and decided to grant him a two-year contract extension.
Whereupon the team’s highly respected defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, announced that he will be leaving now that Lewis is staying.
Lewis has survived this long because, like Jackson, he knows how to schmooze the owner. And Lewis keeps the discontent moderate by fielding teams that are usually competitive.
He’s now had back to back losing seasons but for his tenure in Cincy he’s 12 games over .500. If he had done that in Cleveland there would be parks and schools named for him.
Fortunately for Lewis, Mike Brown has a sense of perspective. Obviously, he’s not obsessed with winning. And maybe that’s a good thing.
And like Jackson, Lewis has not been done any favors by the personnel department. Duke Tobin, the team’s director of player personnel, oversaw the dismantling of the Bengals’ offensive line.
Perhaps Lewis was saved by the Bengals winning their season finale in spectacular fashion – last minute, fourth-down heave by Andy Dalton – to spoil division rival Baltimore’s quest for the playoffs. And that came the week after the Bengals eliminated Detroit from the postseason.
The fact remains that Lewis does not instill discipline in his team, that too many games are lost from penalties, ejections and suspensions. That’s coaching, or lack of it.
Jackson, who previously failed as a head coach in Oakland, and Lewis have had multiple years to prove they’re not very good head coaches in the most competitive sports league there is. The owners of the two Ohio football teams are going to see that it was not a bright idea to bring these coaches back.