Hue Jackson coached the Browns to a 1-15 record. He kept his job. Then he coached them to an 0-16 record. He kept his job again.
This season, things seemed to be turning around for the regularly hapless Browns, as Jackson led them to a 2-5-1 start, outstanding by the team’s recent standards. Yet on Monday, Jackson was fired.
“We understand how critical this time period is in the development of our football team, individually and collectively, and believed it was in the organization’s best interest to make the move at this time, in order to maximize our opportunities the rest of this season,” the team said in a statement.
The Browns season began against the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns did not win that day, but they did not lose, either: The teams played to a 21-21 tie. Two weeks later, after a loss to New Orleans, Cleveland finally tasted victory — for the first time in almost two years — against the Jets. Two weeks later, they won again, beating the Baltimore Ravens.
Even many of their losses weren’t too bad: Two came in overtime, and they lost to the Saints when they missed a late field goal attempt that would have tied the score. A week later, Jackson may have inadvertently had the quotation of the season when he said “I think we like it dramatic” after Cleveland’s overtime win against Baltimore.
But Sunday’s rematch against the Steelers apparently was the final straw: a 33-18 defeat in which the Browns lost in Pittsburgh for the 15th straight time.
By then, reports had surfaced through various news media outlets that there was tension between Jackson and his offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. The team has averaged only 16.7 points a game since scoring 42 in a loss to Oakland in Week 4. The rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield had publicly taken a stance that seemed to support Haley, saying “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel” when it was suggested that Jackson, a former offensive coordinator, take over the offense.
Haley will not get the job; he was fired on Monday, too. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be the interim head coach.
After winning the starting job in Week 3, Mayfield had some good performances, including particularly fine efforts in the wins over the Jets and the Ravens. But he seems to be backsliding, and his numbers against the Steelers (22 for 36 for 180 yards) were not strong. He also took a beating from the Steelers’ pass rush, and looked banged up after the game.
Quarterback has been a trouble spot for the Browns for decades, and fans are fervently hoping that Mayfield may finally be the solution. A dominant team in the N.F.L. in the 1950s, the Browns have been a doormat over the past two decades, with only one brief playoff appearance and two winning seasons.
But there may be hope for the future: The team has a core of players that has developed quickly. Besides Mayfield, the team drafted Denzel Ward, a potential shutdown cornerback, and Nick Chubb, a potential every-down running back in the first two rounds. And that does not even include Austin Corbett, a center taken with the 33rd pick who could turn into a starter at some point. Those players joined a very young team that also included talented players like Myles Garrett, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku.
Jackson, 53, concluded his career with the Browns with a record of 3-36-1. He never won a road game. His firing came a day after the Cavaliers, 0-6 in the aftermath of LeBron James’s departure, fired Coach Tyronn Lue.