Hue Jackson wasn’t going to hand the play sheet to just anybody.
But after years watching Todd Haley and meeting with him last week, Jackson felt comfortable giving up control of the offensive system and play calling. The hiring of Haley as offensive coordinator became official Wednesday.
“If I was going to turn over the play-calling duties to someone else, it had to be to someone that was experienced and had a long history of success in this league,” Jackson said in a news release. “When Todd became available, I jumped at the opportunity to meet with him. Once we sat down and talked, it became quickly evident that Todd would be a great fit.”
Jackson also announced Freddie Kitchens as running backs coach/associate head coach. Amos Jones was hired as special teams coordinator, as previously reported.
Haley is the signature addition. He’s coached in the NFL for 21 years, including the past six as coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They ranked in the top 10 in points and yards each of the last four seasons and led the NFL with six offensive players selected to the Pro Bowl this season.
Haley oversaw the development of receiver Antonio Brown, who is the first player in NFL history with five consecutive 100-catch seasons, and running back Le’Veon Bell, who finished in the top three in scrimmage yards per game in each of the last four seasons.
Haley was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009-11, going 19-26 and leading them to the AFC West title in 2010. Kansas City led the NFL in rushing (164.2 yards per game) in 2010.
Jackson was his own coordinator and called the plays in his first two seasons, as the Browns went 1-31. He insisted he wasn’t forced to hire a coordinator or give up play-calling duties by ownership or new general manager John Dorsey, and is happy to move to a “CEO” role.
“I just wanted to make sure it was the right fit for myself, for him, for our staff and the football team,” Jackson said of Haley to a small group of reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. “In the meeting, he blew me away. It was the right fit and the right time. I think it’s a win-win for myself and for the organization and also for our football team.”
Jackson made his name as a coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals and brought his offensive system north on I-71. Haley will now be in charge.
“There’s always bits and pieces that you keep, but this is going to be Todd’s opportunity to put his stamp on this offensive football team,” Jackson said.
Haley’s contract expired and wasn’t renewed after the Steelers’ 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs.
“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “The Browns have a great history, great fans and deserve to have some fun and experience some winning. I want to help be part of that process.
“Hue and I have had some good battles in competing against each other as coordinators and even as a head coach. He’s so competitive and winning is the only thing that’s important to him. You want to work with a coach like that. Hue and I share a lot of similar beliefs on how to be successful on offense. We have to score points, protect the ball, protect the quarterback and develop players. It’s not too complicated, but at the same time, it is a great challenge.”
Haley has a strong personality and reportedly clashed with Steelers Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Jackson said he addressed that with Haley in the interview.
“I feel very comfortable with Todd Haley on every level,” Jackson said in Mobile. “Let me say this: Those things happen from time to time between players and coaches. It happened between me and players last year. That’s just the NFL.
“The results speak for themselves. If the results are going to be what he’s done in the past, I’m all for anything.”
Jackson’s staff is all but rebuilt after a second offseason of major changes, including firing run game coordinator Kirby Wilson and letting longtime special teams coordinator Chris Tabor leave for the same job with the Chicago Bears.
Kitchens spent the last 11 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. He coached tight ends from 2007-12, quarterbacks from 2013-16 and running backs last year. Haley was coordinator of the Cardinals in 2007-08.
“First off, Freddie is a very good coach that has a bright future in this league,” Jackson said. “He has coached multiple positions and gotten a lot out of his players. Freddie has a history with Todd and that will make the process of installing the new elements of the offense much more efficient.”
Kitchens was a three-year starter at quarterback for Alabama from 1995-97. He finished his collegiate career ranked third in school history in attempts, fourth in passing yards and fifth in completions.
Jones, another Alabama alum, has 37 years of coaching experience, including the last 11 in the NFL. He spent the past five seasons with the Cardinals.
“Amos Jones is an experienced special teams coordinator that we think will do an outstanding job leading and improving our unit,” Jackson said. “We always talk about how the three phases must complement each other in order for team success to come. Amos has worked under really good coaches throughout his career and has helped develop some really good core special teamers.”
Jones is excited to work with Dorsey, who played special teams during his five-year career with the Green Bay Packers.
“His track record speaks for itself as a guy that knows how to put talent on a football team,” Jones said. “As a special teams coach, it’s comforting to know the guy making those decisions about who is on your football team once had 35 special teams tackles in a season. I can’t wait to get to Cleveland to start working with the staff to help create a unit on special teams that will make a difference.”