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New Browns coach trying to teach old dawgs Hue's tricks

Hue Jackson was dressed in orange from neck to knee. With pullover and shorts the hue of a construction barrel

Hue Jackson was dressed in orange from neck to knee. With pullover and shorts the hue of a construction barrel, and barking out instructions as he bounced from drill to drill, he was in no danger of blending in or getting caught in a 10-player pileup.
Not that anyone would run over the new coach on the first day of training camp.
Jackson had been aiming for this July day since he began coaching the year after his quarterbacking career ended as a senior in college. He stayed at the University of Pacific as a graduate assistant in 1987, and his coaching life began, destined to wind up as the man in charge of an NFL team.
He had a brief fling with his fate in 2011, and the season with the Oakland Raiders only stoked the fire and convinced him he was meant to be a head coach.
He doesn’t lack for confidence. As the first-day wardrobe attests.
“It is just the way I am. I thank God for that,” Jackson said Monday as he prepared for the opener Sunday in Philadelphia. “I’m very grateful for my mom and my dad for instilling that in me because at the end of the day, if you don’t believe in yourself, it is not up to everybody else to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself.”
THE HUE JACKSON FILE AGE: 50 COLLEGE: University of Pacific HOMETOWN: Los Angeles FAMILY: Wife (Michelle) and three daughters (Jordyn, Baylee, Haydyn) PLAYING CAREER: Quarterback at Pacific in 1985-86 COLLEGE DEGREE: Physical education COACHING CAREER 1987 — Pacific (NCAA D-I), graduate assistant 1988 — Pacific (NCAA D-I), wide receivers, special teams 1989 — Pacific (NCAA D-I), running backs, special teams 1990 — Los Angeles Rams (NFL), minority fellowship intern 1990-91 — Cal-State Fullerton (NCAA D-I), running backs, special teams 1991 — London Monarchs (WLAF), running backs, wide receivers, special teams 1992 — Arizona Cardinals (NFL), minority fellowship intern 1992-94 — Arizona State (NCAA D-I), running backs 1995 — Washington Redskins (NFL), minority fellowship intern 1995 — Arizona State (NCAA D-I), quarterbacks 1996 — California (NCAA D-I), offensive coordinator 1997-2000 — Southern California (NCAA D-I), offensive coordinator 2001-02 — Washington Redskins (NFL), running backs 2003 — Washington Redskins (NFL), offensive coordinator 2004-06 — Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), wide receivers 2007 — Atlanta Falcons (NFL), offensive coordinator 2008-09 — Baltimore Ravens (NFL), quarterbacks 2010 — Oakland Raiders (NFL), offensive coordinator 2011 — Oakland Raiders (NFL), head coach (8-8 record) 2012 — Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), secondary, assistant special teams 2013 — Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), running backs 2014-15 — Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), offensive coordinator 2016 — Cleveland Browns (NFL), head coach
Jackson spent four years in coaching purgatory after the early exit from Oakland.
“He couldn’t even get a coordinator’s job,” former Browns and Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell told The Chronicle-Telegram. “It was mind-blowing.”
Old friend Marvin Lewis threw him a bone and brought him back to the Cincinnati Bengals as a secondary/assistant special teams coach in 2012. Jackson became running backs coach the next year and was promoted to offensive coordinator for the last two seasons. He never stopped hoping and planning for another chance to run the show.
It finally came with the Browns.
“It shouldn’t have taken that long,” said Amy Trask, who was CEO during Jackson’s time in Oakland. “If I owned a team and needed a new head coach, he would be my primary target.
“He deserved and deserves a second chance and I’m thrilled that he has it.”
Coaches don’t usually get fired after one season. And the few that do — Rob Chudzinski was one-and-done with the Browns after going 4-12 in 2013 — don’t go 8-8 for a franchise whose longtime owner died in the middle of the season.
The Raiders started 7-4 and were headed toward the playoffs despite the death of the legendary Al Davis and season-ending broken collarbone of Campbell. But injuries eventually caught up to them, they lost the finale and missed the playoffs. Davis’ son, Mark, didn’t consult with Trask and fired Jackson.
“I thought what he accomplished that season was tremendous,” said Trask, who’s an NFL analyst for CBS Sports Network after working for the Raiders for 30 years. “I was tremendously, tremendously disappointed by the decision.”
A second chance wasn’t guaranteed. Hot young coordinators and college coaches are the competition for a “retread,” but Jackson never doubted he’d be an organization’s front man again.
“I don’t want to come off arrogant or brash, but I knew it, eventually,” he said.
A huge new challenge
The Raiders were dysfunctional during Jackson’s time there — he was offensive coordinator for a season before getting promoted to head coach — but the Browns have redefined the term.
Jackson is the sixth coach since 2008. Owner Jimmy Haslam has fired three coaches and three general managers since he bought the team for $1 billion in 2012. The Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, and their last winning season was 2007.
At least the year in Oakland prepared him for the ground shifting under his feet. Plus, Jackson doesn’t scare easily. If he did, he would’ve taken the succession plan in Cincinnati, where he would’ve followed Lewis in a couple of years.
“I’ve bit off the apple. I get that,” Jackson said. “But I like a great challenge and it is a challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun if you can do it and make it happen. And that’s what this is all about and that’s what I expect to do.”
The bold statement came after seven months on the job. Enough time to see the vastness of the project he took on.
What the roster lacks in talent, it makes up for in youth. The Browns have 17 rookies and another 11 players with a year or less in the league. Jackson was hired by an owner who admits to several mistakes. He was paired with an inexperienced front office that has more Ivy League degrees than scouting experience.
The Browns went 0-4 in the preseason, the defense was dominated and the starters were destroyed in the “dress rehearsal” against Tampa Bay. Yet Jackson doesn’t appear shaken.
As the finale closed, he summoned left tackle Joe Thomas, cornerback Joe Haden and quarterback Robert Griffin III on the sideline and commanded them to lead the young roster.
Minutes later Jackson walked into a news conference with a smile on his face and said, “It is time.”
He waited four years for this opportunity — any opportunity — and doesn’t look like someone who will crack under the pressure. But coaching the Cleveland Browns is different. Mike Pettine, who arrived in 2014 boasting about his “Blunt Force Trauma” nickname, left two seasons later as a shell of his former self.
“I don’t know any other way to do this but to chase winning and to chase perfection each and every day, and I think as you do that, you never know what you can hit on,” Jackson said. “We’ve got our work to do here, and I’m just grateful to get the chance.”
In charge
Jackson has plenty of power.
He doesn’t have control of the roster, but he has the most experience, by far, of the organization’s decision-makers — owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry.
Brown was legal counsel before becoming head of the football department. DePodesta spent 20 years as a baseball executive before being lured by the Haslams. Berry is 29 years old.
Jackson was a college quarterback and basketball player at University of Pacific, worked as a college assistant through 2000, including as offensive coordinator at USC, then graduated to the NFL. He’s been coordinator for Washington, Atlanta, Oakland and Cincinnati.
He has decades more time in the game than the top of the front office combined. He will call plays, run the offense and be the voice of the organization. He has many hats to match his orange outfit.
“He’s not the type of head coach who wants to sit back and let his assistants do the coaching,” said Thomas, who’s on his sixth coach in 10 seasons. “He’s a guy that demands so much of his coaches that he actually wants to be in there doing the coaching himself. He can’t help himself.
“It was kind of funny this spring, Pep (Hamilton, associate head coach-offense) was up there doing the installing the first day and you could see Hue in the back of the room kind of fidgeting in his seat. He had a hard time not being in front of the room and by the next day he was the guy who was up there doing the installing.”
Jackson’s .500 season in Oakland would be considered a huge success in Cleveland. That experience and his expertise as a coordinator and play caller attracted the Haslams and excited fans. The Bengals finished third in the AFC in yards per play (5.7) and points per game (26.2) last season and quarterback Andy Dalton set a career high with a 106.3 rating that led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL.
“You have to be able to study,” Campbell said of playing for Jackson. “If as a quarterback you accept criticism and listen in the meeting room and take it on the field, you have a chance to have success.”
Trask glowingly recalls a bootleg touchdown by Campbell that fooled every member of the Chargers defense as an example of Jackson’s play-calling chops.
“He called what I believe to be some of the most spectacular plays in certainly my 30 years of Raiders-at-Chargers games,” Trask said. “The way Hue had mastered the play calling up until that point, the formations we used, the play calls he made, he bamboozled that defense.”
“He finds a weakness and he’s going to attack it,” said Campbell, who had his only winning seasons as a starter under Jackson. “He’s always thinking ahead. He uses plays in the first quarter to set up plays in the third quarter.”
Jackson trusts himself to transform the Browns offense and organization. His ego is obvious when he refers to himself in the third person.
“Confidence is the word that strikes me,” Trask said.
Whatever you want to call it, it’s on display on TVs and billboards across Northeast Ohio. Jackson hasn’t coached a game but is already the pitchman for Mr. Hero and Universal Windows Direct.
“Coach has got a little bit of swag,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “And I think the players feed off of that.”
The organization has been desperate for a dominant figure. It should be the coach or the quarterback, or both. Jackson, who’s worked with big-time passers throughout his career, has taken on the responsibility of finding the franchise quarterback to finally put the Browns on equal footing inside the AFC North.
He thought he could revive Griffin’s career after watching a private workout in March and told fans to “trust me” after reaching for Cody Kessler in the third round of the draft.
“I don’t know how good RGIII can be,” Trask said. “But I do know that he will be the best he can be with Hue Jackson as his head coach.”
Follow me
Players gravitate toward Jackson. Whether it’s the swagger, the history of success or the hands-on approach, they view him as a coach in whom they can invest.
“When he’s giving us speeches, or he’s talking to us or he’s motivating us or he’s getting on us, you know it’s coming from a place of him caring,” Griffin said. “And he wants his team to reflect his personality, and I think we’re getting there.”
“All of the players have been drawn to Hue with his passion and his attention to detail,” Thomas said.
Jimmy Haslam continues to be impressed with Jackson’s “energy level,” which has translated to crisper and more intense practices than those of his predecessors.
“I believe you want your head coach to be the pace-setter for your organization,” Haslam said.
“He doesn’t want to change it tomorrow, not next week, not next year, he wants to change it now,” tight end Gary Barnidge said.
Receiver Andrew Hawkins worked under Jackson in Cincinnati and tabbed him as head coach material.
“He’s been even better than what I thought he would be,” Hawkins said. “The way he’s able to motivate, the way he’s able to set a level of expectation and make you want to meet it not just for yourself but for him. He’s not saying, ‘Do it for me.’ He’s saying, ‘Do it for yourself.’ As a player, you’re saying, ‘Man, this guy believes in me.’ He’s been incredible in that sense.”
Jackson’s influence won’t be limited to the locker room. He knew what he was getting into with the unique setup and approach of the front office and says he’s embraced the emphasis on analytics.
“I’ve long believed communication, cooperation, collaboration, coordination are imperative in business,” Trask said. “My experiences working with Hue were phenomenal in that regard.”
In Oakland, Jackson was on an island with Trask after Davis’ death. He appreciates the layers of support in Cleveland and says he’s grown in the four years waiting for a second chance.
“I think I’m a lot calmer,” he said. “I thought I was about to lose my mind the first time I did this. I think I get it now. I understand the process of it and understand really what we are trying to accomplish, which really keeps you calm during the week.”
He got a couple of ringing endorsements from people who entered the league as, or before, Jackson was leaving college.
“I believe in Hue Jackson,” receivers coach Al Saunders said. “I’ve worked for some great coaches and I’ve learned one thing: the qualities of a great head football coach. Hue has many of those qualities.”
“If I owned a team I would trust Hue Jackson to be its head coach, but more than the head coach,” said Trask, who didn’t know Jackson until he joined the Raiders. “I trust Hue Jackson with my team.
“If I had a son who played collegiate football, I would trust Hue Jackson with my son. My trust for Hue is both with respect to his football acumen, leadership abilities, business savvy and the way I know he does care.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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