On Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns named Hue Jackson as their 16th full-time head coach in franchise history, replacing former head coach Mike Pettine. The Browns got their top candidate, and it wasn't long before he was in the lobby of Berea, greeted by staff members as he preached of Super Bowl aspirations as team owner Jimmy Haslam stood grinning from ear to ear.
Hue Jackson greets Browns staff upon arriving at team headquarters earlier this evening in Berea, OH. https://t.co/cRcijdVxNu— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) January 14, 2016
Around 6:45 PM, Jackson, along with Haslam and Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown, were introduced to the Cleveland media for Jackson's introductory press conference. Here is a reader's digest of what we can take away from the presser.
What is Different This Time Around?
- I like looking back at the past introductory press conferences under Haslam's watch to see what the running theme is -- the fundamental reason why things will work this time around as opposed to last time around.
- When Rob Chudzinski was hired, the running themes and buzz words were "innovation on offense [due to the number of touchdowns in Carolina vs. Cleveland," and having an "attacking offense" and "attacking defense. With Pettine, the entire presser revolved around "accountability" and "toughness." With Jackson, the amount of confidence he exuded was different than his predecessors. As far as the running themes I came away with, it focused more on organizational stability: everybody being "aligned" and "comfortable" with each other.
- Speaking on alignment, Haslam said he spoke with former NFL people, along with baseball and basketball teams. "The most important thing is to make sure everybody’s properly aligned, understands their roles and works together, and that’s what I took from all of those organizations," said Haslam.
- Haslam also said that they were pleasantly surprised with the amount of interest in the Browns' job -- they interviewed seven candidates -- despite the perception of the club in the media. As far as why his previous coaching searches took longer and they didn't get their top candidate, he said they were much more organized this time around, which is due to learning from experience and probably from having Jed Hughes of Korn/Fairy International as part of the process.
Praise for Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta & The Use of Analytics
- When the Browns named Brown their Executive VP of Football Operations, the reception (among the media) was that it would turn people away. When DePodesta was hired, the move was praised for being innovative, but the perception was that attractive coaching and general manager candidates would be turned off. Instead, Jackson went above-and-beyond to praise both mean, and explained his thoughts on the team taking a more analytical approach.
- Jackson said that Sashi and Paul "are tremendous" and that he's excited about having the "opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in football." When asked about working with non-traditional football guys and using analytics, here's what he had to say:
"I think that is the beautiful part. I think there are all kinds of ways to make things happen. There is more than one way to do things. My conversations with Sashi and with Paul, we are on point. We understand exactly what it is going to take to put this roster together to give us the best opportunity to be successful. Like you said, analytics is just a part of it. It is not the whole part of it; it is a piece of it. If we can find another way of doing things good to give us an opportunity to have success, we all would do that. There is not a person in this room that wouldn’t do that. I like being cutting edge. I try to be innovative and cutting edge on offense. We want to be innovative and cutting edge on everything that we do in this building because eventually, everyone is going to be doing what we are doing. That is the fun part of this."
- Brown spoke on how Jackson being "open to the use of analytics through their processes" played a role in his hiring. "We’d like to create every possible competitive advantage we can," said Brown. "If that’s from analytics ... we’ll use those in our decision making to make sure that we put ourselves in the best position to win."
How exactly will the Browns use analytics? At first, I wondered if it might be limited to either player acquisition/evaluation or gameday strategy. When citing examples of where analytics might play a role from he and DePodesta, though, he specifically said, "Acquiring talent, helping Hue on the field with his coaching, and player development." They really are going all-in with analytics.
- Much was made about Brown having the final say over the 53-man roster, and while that still might reduce some of the GM candidates interested in the job, Jackson was fine with it. "My job is to make sure that we win football games ... I'm not worried about who picks this player, who picks this player." He said that Brown and DePodesta are very comfortable with letting him provide his input and keeping him in the loop with that they are thinking, but at the end of the day, "give me a player so I can coach them -- that's what my expertise is."
Putting Together His Coaching Staff
- Jackson wasn't shy about bragging about having "tremendous coaches waiting for a call from him" so they can be a part of his coaching staff. He said he had 142 text messages on his phone, many of which were along the lines of, ‘Hue, will you help me get to the Cleveland Browns and have an opportunity to sit in front of Jimmy and the rest of your staff and have a chance to come here and help you win?’
- He will talk with the current staff and then decide which coaches will be retained and which ones they will move on from. In other words, it'll be the standard procedure that any new head coach takes with his staff. Hiring a head coach sooner than the last time around, when it took forever before the club finally had to settle on Pettine, means that more assistant coaches are still available.
- Jackson was asked whether he would call plays on offense. He said that in the right situation, he would slide over and let someone else have an opportunity to call plays, but that "he'd always be itching and scratching and wanting to do it" because he has a "pretty good feel of what it takes to be successful in this league." If I had to put money on it, I'd say there is no way that he relinquishes that role in year one.
Being Fair in Evaluating Everybody, Including Manziel and Gordon
- Earlier in the day, news surfaced that Jackson wants to move on from QB Johnny Manziel, and that it was discussed during his two meetings with the club. Jackson did not deny that Manziel was discussed, but he said he wants to evaluate tape on players first, and then get to learn who they truly are before making a decision on them.
"I don’t know Johnny personally," said Jackson. "I know who he is, but at the same time, I think I have to give everybody on our football team the fair opportunity to see who they are and to truly learn who they are and then make decisions from there." He made a near-identical statement with regard to WR Josh Gordon, whose one-year ban should be up soon.
- When asked about the comments that LT Joe Thomas made at the end of the season [about possible wanting to be traded], Jackson said that, like all the other players, he wants to sit down with Thomas and explain the vision he has for the club.
"[Thomas] has been one of the cornerstones of this organization and this football team," said Jackson. "I can’t wait to have the opportunity to talk to him and give him our plan, and hopefully, I believe in my heart, that he is going to get excited about what we are trying to accomplish."
- I speculated that the hiring of Jackson, which Browns players are reportedly ecstatic about, might convince not only Thomas to stay, but C Alex Mack to not exercise his opt-out clause.
About the General Manager Search
- Jackson was asked whether he'll help pick the Browns' general manager, and he seemed pretty indifferent, simply saying, "I'll do whatever is asked of me." He felt like he'd be involved in the process, but that it wasn't necessary for him to make a final decision.
- I found it interesting that Brown, when discussing the search for a general manager, did not utter that name for the position. Instead, he said, "top personnel person." Interviews for the position will start this week, with pretty much the same committee as before, except with Jackson also being a little involved now too.
Tugging on the Heartstrings of Browns Fans
- Usually, you walk about a coach's opening statement at the beginning of a recap. I felt like this excerpt was a very good closing statement to this recap, though, showing his experience in the AFC North and getting Browns fans riled up:
"As they have said, I have been in the AFC North. I kind of know the lay of the land. I understand where we are and where we are trying to go. Obviously, we understand that Cincinnati is one of the top teams in the league. Pittsburgh is still playing. Obviously, when you look at Baltimore, they had a down year this year and we understand where the Cleveland Browns are. We know there is a lot of work to do. There are a lot of things that we need to do to get there. What I am most excited about when I think of Jimmy and Dee and their commitment to me and the commitment that we have for this building for our players and for what we are trying to accomplish, there is none other.
I have been in two of these organizations in the AFC North – I have been in Cincinnati, and I have been in Baltimore – and I can tell you first hand that there is nothing like the feeling of walking through these doors. Nothing. I know there is rabid fan base. The Dawg Pound, let me give you a fist bump because I am excited. I want to jump over into that pound when I get an opportunity when we play football the way I know we can play, but we all know there is a lot of work to do. I am excited about the work that needs to be done. I have already rolled up my sleeves and I am ready to go."
Watch the Press Conference Online
Click here to watch the press conference or read the entire transcript.