BEREA — Coach Hue Jackson did a 180-degree turn within his 19-minute news conference Monday.
“I will say this to all involved, that there is a plan in place and they want to win and they expect this organization to win and for it to be better,” Jackson said Monday of owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam. “And they’re going to get it that way. I truly believe that with all my being.”
The Haslams called a meeting last week attended by about 12 players in the leadership group and Jackson. They discussed the winless start.
“It’s hard for me, it’s hard for our players, hard for everybody,” Jackson said. “But at the same time, when management tells you that we’re going to do this and we’re going to get there and here’s a plan, then that says a lot.”
A few minutes later, Jackson was asked if the plan, put in place by head of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, was working.
The tone of his answers was drastically different.
“Guys, things aren’t great. Let’s be honest,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to run from that, but I’m not judging the plan, I’ve got to coach.
“I really don’t want to get into that. You guys are the best judges of that right now.”
Jackson didn’t budge when pressed.
“I’m not interested in talking about a plan. I don’t want to talk about a plan,” he said. “I want to talk about our football team and coaching this team and getting them better.
“I’m not mad at anybody in this room, but I’m not talking about no plan.”
The division between the coaching staff and front office seems to widen with every loss. Jackson has criticized the youth and lack of talent on the roster provided by Brown, reiterating Sunday after a 19-7 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that his team has to “play almost a perfect game” to pull off a win. At 0-10, they haven’t.
“Let’s be honest, what is this record, 1-25?” Jackson said of his two seasons. “Lord, have mercy. I try to not even think about how many it’s been.”
A loss Sunday in Cincinnati would tie Jackson with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jim McKay for the worst start with a team at 1-26. Jackson came to the Browns after four years as a Bengals assistant.
He could pass McKay at 1-27 the following week against the Chargers in his hometown of Los Angeles.
During his tenure, Jackson has alternated between distraught and angry as the losses have mounted. He insists he’s never discouraged.
“I’m not running from this. And it p—– me off,” he said. “I never envisioned this in my life, being 1-25 as the head football coach. I don’t wish this on anybody.
“It’s not what I want it to be. It’s not what the players want it to be. It’s not what Dee and Jimmy want it to be. It’s not what anybody here wants it to be, but we’ve earned this. And the only thing we can do is do everything in our power to change it.”
Left guard Joel Bitonio attended the meeting and said the Haslams wanted to get a feel for where the players’ heads were.
“It was good dialogue,” he said. “They want to know from our perspective what we think needs to change and what’s doing well and that kind of stuff.”
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who broke his foot Sunday, will have surgery and is out for the season, said the Haslams’ message was to “keep on fighting, keep playing hard.” He found it unusual to call such a meeting during the season.
“Yeah, because we never really just sit down and talk to the owner,” he said. “But it was really helpful for us. They understand what we’re going through. If there are changes needed, we talk to them about it. So it’s good to have an owner close to us.”
Bitonio said the Haslams didn’t want the details of the discussions revealed. He was asked if he got the sense the Haslams were going to choose continuity over major changes to the front office and coaching staff after the season. The Browns are 20-70 since agreeing to buy the team in 2012 for $1 billion.
“I’m just a player, but from what I’ve seen, we’re trying to stick with the plan and keep building,” he said.
Jackson said he believes the Haslams still trust in the plan.
“I think they do, until they tell you otherwise, because this is where we are,” he said. “It’s painful. It’s painful for all involved.
“We’re in it, and there’s no new players coming in. There’s no new people coming in, so this is where we are and we’ve got to fight our way out and that’s what it is.”
Jackson stressed that the players appreciated the meeting.
“I think that group feels better about where they’re headed and what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
It’s not easy to focus on the future when the present is so bleak.
“You don’t think you’re going to lose as much as we’ve lost and it sucks,” Bitonio said. “It pulls at my heartstrings every time I go out there, I want to come out with a win. You see all of these other teams that are fighting for playoff spots and we’re like ‘we’re trying to get a win over here.’
“It sucks, but I have faith in what we’re doing and I know we rebuilt from the ground up, and I know we’re growing and it’s a slow process. But I just hope everybody sticks with us long enough to see what’s going to be coming in the future because I think we do have the right pieces in place, and we need a few other things, but I think we’re slowly moving in the right direction.”