This may very likely be the final season Hue Jackson is the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator. Jackson has already received college coaching interest from USC and Miami this season, according to reports and it's nearly inevitable that many NFL teams will be interested in Jackson come season's end.
Now in his second season as the Bengals' offensive mastermind, Jackson has slowly built the Cincinnati offense into one of the NFL's best while also helping make Andy Dalton one of the league's best quarterbacks. In today's offensive-driven NFL, coaches like Jackson come at a premium, and teams will be lining up this offseason to hire him.
For now, Jackson is part of a Bengals organization that's become one that other teams should model themselves after, as he told Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson.
"You're talking about the blueprint of having a successful organization and program," Jackson said. "I think people better start looking over here because I think we're doing it the right way. I think the organization has found a model that works. It's been going well."
To sum up how the Bengals run things, you get what you earn. Nothing is handed to anyone, and everyone must earn their keep. That doesn't always work with teams because they can't consistently draft and sign good players and eventually replace them with good players like the Bengals have done so well recently.
"We have good players here. And there are other good players behind good players," Jackson said. "There’s a lot to be said about how the process works here. Just because you’re a first-round draft pick doesn’t mean you’re going to play right away. You have to earn your stripes. You have to earn the right to be on the field participating with the older veteran players. When your time comes, it comes."
That process was on display this Sunday as the Bengals sat several starters due to injury and rested several others as the game progressed to give those younger guys more playing time.
"They’ve done a good job of re-stocking the team with other good young players because I’ve never been in a situation where we have two young tackles that have the ability to play," Jackson said. "Jake Fisher probably played as much football as he played all year yesterday and did a good job. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get. Same with Ced, same with Mario, C.J., Tyler Kroft and those guys."
But this week, Cincinnati will need all hands on deck when the surging Pittsburgh Steelers come to Paul Brown Stadium. Since Jackson re-joined the Bengals in 2012, Cincinnati has gone 3-4 vs Pittsburgh with all seven games being slugfests for four quarters.
It only seems fair the two teams have kept this rivalry so close as hard as they play each other in every matchup. That's led to a lot of bad blood being built between the two clubs, as Jackson told ESPN's Coley Harvey.
"I heard all the talk that they are looking forward to playing and that there's bad blood," Jackson said. "It is what it is. We are going to be here. We are not running. We've already been up there, so let's go."
Since divisional realignment in 2002, the Steelers have won the AFC North six times. However, Cincinnati holds a three-game lead in the division race this year after winning in Pittsburgh in Week 8. A Bengals win this week clinches the division crown for the fourth time since 2005 and gives them a 4-4 tie with the Steelers for division titles since then.
Jackson has "great respect" for the Steelers' franchise that's also won two Super bowls over that span, but knows his team is now at that level.
"I also have great respect for our men and our process and how we go about our business and how we set out to do what we set out to do," Jackson said. "It's going to be one hell of a football game, that's all I know."
If you include Jackson's three-year stint as the Bengals' wide receivers coach from 2004-2006, he's been part of two Bengals teams that have won the AFC North and is on the verge of a third. While there's plenty of credit to go around for these division titles, Jackson's impact on the Bengals' franchise cannot be overstated.
Jackson has certainly built an offense to make not only the AFC North crown a potential reality, but hopefully a few more championship titles, too.