"I'm pissed at my team."
Emotional words from Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, following Oakland's 38-26 loss to the San Diego Chargers during the regular season finale in 2011. It set the stage for a domino leading back to Cincinnati. Oakland needed a win and a Denver Broncos loss to reach the postseason -- their first since 2002. Denver lost 7-3 to the Kansas City Chiefs. Oakland lost by 12. What began as a dreamy 7-4 start, spiraled out of control into an 8-8 exit and a postseason narrative that has yet to materialize since Bill Callahan and Rich Gannon. Imagine having something you've desperately wanted so much, come so close, only to panic at the realization that it was going to slip through your sweaty palms and shatter on the unforgiving floor.
It was within their grasp.
"At some point in time, as a group of men, you can say whatever you want about coaches, but [players] win the game," Jackson continued ranting in 2011. "Here's your time. Here's your time to make some plays. We didn't get them stopped, and we didn't make enough plays. So, yeah — I'm pissed at the team. Like I always tell them, I put it on me as well, but I am also pissed at my team. Because when you have those kinds of opportunities, you have to do it. And we didn't do it."
Jackson's rant never deserved to be immortalized like Dennis Green's "we let them off the hook", Jim Mora's "playoffs", or Herman Edward's "you play to win the game", but for Raiders fans, it was memorable.
"A lot of people like to say he 'threw his team under the bus'. Maybe so, but I personally appreciated the candor," Levi Damien, site manager for SB Nation's Silver and Black Pride said. "He always came off as a politician so that statement was somewhat refreshing."
Perhaps had he unplugged the microphone and concluded his press conference in the solitude of his own office, his head coaching career in Oakland would have expanded beyond one season. He didn't quit.
"I'm going take a stronger hand in this whole team, this whole organization," Jackson said. "There ain't no way that I'm going to feel like I feel today a year from now, I promise you that. There's no question. Defensively, offensively and special teams. I ain't feeling like this no more. This is a joke. I'm going to take a hand in everything that goes on here."
That was the final straw; at least that's the belief. With the passing of legendary owner Al Davis earlier that year, his son, Mark, inherited sole ownership and hired former Green Bay Packers director of personnel Reggie McKenzie as his general manager, who promptly fired Jackson. Many suspect that his quote, about having a stronger hand in this organization, is what spurred a reaction inside the offices of Alameda, California, a 10 minute hop southwest of O.co Coliseum.
It was was more than that.
"With the death of Al Davis during the season, Jackson had already been handed the keys to the castle as coach and unofficial acting general manager," Damien adds. "The result was him sending the farm to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer, calling it the greatest trade in football, and then making an impulse trade for bust linebacker Aaron Curry from Seattle. After all that, and missing the playoffs, at that moment he was sounding like the power he was wielding had gotten the best of him."
That being said, there was a sense of surprise when the Raiders fired Jackson; though McKenzie made the call, it was believed at the time that Davis' hand was heavy in that process.
"Even if he was afraid that perhaps Jackson would overstep his bounds, we're talking about the coach who had brought the Raiders back to respectability and on the doorstep of the playoffs, first as an offensive coordinator and then as head coach. But it wasn't McKenzie who had the issue with Jackson, it was Mark Davis," continues Damien. "McKenzie stated that he made the decision because he wanted to bring in his guy. And, sure, the ultimate decision was McKenzie's to make. But that decision was heavily influenced by Davis', let's say, suggestion. Davis' feelings on the matter were pretty apparent when in McKenzie's opening press conference, Davis was asked point blank if Jackson was let go because of his words about taking over more organizational control and Davis gave one of the more loaded 'No comment' responses you'll see/hear."
A humble Jackson reflected on his part and regretted the rant during an interview on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning. "I think probably the emotions were still pretty raw after talking to the team," Jackson said at the time. "I kind of went in there and said some things that I was saying to the team that maybe didn't need to be said outside the locker room. So lesson learned by me. I know what I said, I know what I meant. I don't think I meant it the way that everybody took it."
A HUMBLE RETURN TO CINCINNATI
With limited interest around league circles, Jackson was a man looking for a new home. Head coach Marvin Lewis, an old friend, asked if Jackson wanted to come back to Cincinnati, where he coached wide receivers from 2004-2006. Cincinnati announced his return on Feb. 17, as an assistant coach on special teams and in the secondary.
"Hue is a tremendous addition to our staff," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in 2012. "I relied on Hue greatly when he was with us (in 2004-06), and his success overall in the NFL, including being selected for a head coaching position, is well documented. He has expertise in all aspects of the game, and we are fortunate to have obtained his services."
For his part, Jackson just wanted to return to coaching.
"I just want to coach football. I have a long relationship with Marvin and I'm looking to helping and assisting whoever in trying to help the organization attain its goal," Jackson said. "I've got a lot to learn, but who better to learn from than Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer? Those are two guys that I know and I'm comfortable with and (special teams coach) Darrin (Simmons) is one the better special teams coaches in the league."
It was a slow burn at first, but his rise in Cincinnati accelerated. After being an assistant coach on defense and special teams in 2012, he was promoted as the team's running backs coach in 2013, replacing the highly respected and tenured Jim Anderson.
"People in football know what kind of offensive mind Hue brings to a staff," Lewis said introducing Jackson as the next running backs coach in 2013. "So he’s going to be great with our running backs. And I’m going to take better advantage of his expertise in all aspects of football and coaching, which is very wide. He will help me be more effective in a number of ways."
A year later, Jackson replaced the departing Jay Gruden as the team's offensive coordinator.
"At the end of the day, we’re still going to do everything to take our best players and give them opportunity to be special," Jackson said as he was introduced as the team's offensive coordinator in 2014. "We’re going to try and create an environment for these guys to be great, and that’s what Marvin is all about. We know we need to run the football. We want to run the football."
With the help of rookie Jeremy Hill and second-year back Giovani Bernard, the Bengals' offense generated 2,147 yards rushing in 2014, most in a single season in 15 years. Unfortunately, due to injuries with his primary receivers, Jackson struggled to generate a serviceable passing game; something he hopes will vastly improved with a healthy A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert.
TIME HAS HEALED WOUNDS?
Jackson, now an offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, will head to Oakland this weekend as the Bengals open their regular season against the Raiders. It will be the first time Jackson returns to Oakland to coach, this time against the Raiders. However, whatever wounds that existed, have already healed.
"It took me probably a year. It did," Jackson said via Bengals.com on Monday. "You look back on the things you could have done better, and then we ended up playing that the next year." Cincinnati destroyed Oakland in a game that also welcomed Carson Palmer into a hostile jungle at Paul Brown Stadium. "So you go through all that process and seeing people you know and respect and love, people who fought with you and all that. And then you move on beyond that. Hopefully I did all that right, in a professional manner. And I know I did."
In the end, it's all about perspective.
"I knew what the consequences were when I took the job (in Oakland)," Jackson said. "And I understood what happened when I lost the job. Those things happen. You get hired in these jobs to someday get fired. You don’t want it to be that fast, but we did know that those things happen."
It's been four years since he was fired, and three years since Cincinnati's game of vengeance over Oakland (for a multitude of angles). Lewis recalls from personal experience when he returned to Baltimore as Cincinnati head coach after spending multiple seasons as the Ravens defensive coordinator... or returning to Pittsburgh.
"It’ll be a special moment (for Hue), there’s no doubt," said Lewis on Wednesday. "I remember going back to Baltimore, and I left on different terms. I would expect that. That’s the way it is. Just like when I went from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. It’s different when you walk back in the stadium on the other side."
In the end, Jackson is a professional who insists the emotional component of his return isn't very strong anymore.
"Now it’s different. The feeling is different. It’s not as raw in my emotions as it was back then," Jackson said. " So this is another game against a good football team and we’re on the road a long way from home, so we have to play good."