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Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson hired as Cleveland Browns head coach

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No one expected the Bengals to keep Hue Jackson this offseason after he helped build one of the NFL's best offenses and helped Andy Dalton to play like an elite quarterback for really the first time in his career.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals will be in search of their third offensive coordinator since 2013 this offseason.

Hue Jackson is leaving to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, according to multiple media reports.

That means Jackson will be moving just a few hours up north to coach Cincinnati's in-state rival. He'll also get to coach against the Bengals twice per season when the AFC North rivals battle.

This does come as a small surprise as it was widely expected late last week that Jackson was the San Francisco 49ers' top choice after Jim Tomsula was fired this offseason. Many teams around the league viewed Jackson as one of, if not the top candidate for such a role.

Jackson, who returned to Cincinnati as an assistant defensive backs and special teams coach in 2012, was considered for the vacant head coaching position at Cal that year, and was also considered for the USC and Miami (FL) openings this season. But the NFL was always Jackson's true love, and becoming a head coach there has been his goal ever since he was fired by the Oakland Raiders after just one season in 2011.

Once Jackson was let go by Oakland, the Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis brought him back to the Queen City for a second go-around. Jackson's first stint in Cincy was from 2004-06 when he was the wide receivers coach for three seasons.

Under Jackson’s watch, Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh became one of the most prolific wide-receiving tandems in the NFL and helped the Bengals win their first division title and playoff berth in over a decade.

In 2005, the Johnson-Houshmandzadeh tandem combined to total 175 catches for 2,388 yards. In 2006, Johnson (1,369 yards) and Houshmandzadeh (1,081 yards) became the first pair of Bengals to reach the 1,000–yard receiving mark in a single season. In each of Jackson's three years in Cincinnati, Johnson was named to the Pro Bowl was slowly became one of the game's best wideouts.

Jackson would then become the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator in 2007, but lasted only one season after Bobby Petrino quit, leading to a complete staff shakeup. That left Jackson to take the quarterbacks coach job with the Ravens in 2008. He would eventually become the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2010 before becoming their head coach in 2011.

However, Jackson took over a franchise that was in disarray and going through significant changes from the top down. That helped lead to Jackson being fired after an 8-8 season that was just the second non-losing season since 2002.

After Jackson was fired and re-joined the Bengals in 2012, he was always looked at as the next man in line for then-offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's job should he take one of the head-coaching jobs that he had been interviewing for since the conclusion of the 2011 season. Jackson and Lewis have always had a great working relationship, and that's continued since he re-joined Cincy and has helped the Bengals win two division titles and four postseason berths since 2012.

Jackson echoed those sentiments in an interview with NFL.com's Mike Silver, and at one point was brought to tears when talking about what the Bengals and Lewis meant to him, especially during one of a darker periods of his life when Oakland fired him.

"It was a hard and humbling period, and there weren't a whole lot of people in my corner," Jackson said. "But Marvin and [Bengals owner] Mike Brown were there for me, and I will never, ever forget it."

Lewis was happy to help a friend in need and hopes he gets that head-coaching job he deserves.

"We're happy to help Hue," Lewis said Friday. "We know how rough it was for him four years ago, when he basically went through hell, and how hard it was for him to work his way out of that. He has been a great addition to our staff for four years, in ways that people don't even understand.

"When he came back to coach the secondary, he was able to help Dre Kirkpatrick fight through his rookie year and develop into a player for us ... And he helped Adam Jones turn his life around. Now, he's getting the attention he deserves, and we're very happy for him. We want to support him in any way we can."

Jackson's biggest impact on the Bengals began in 2014 when he was named OC to replace Gruden, who took over the head-coaching job in Washington. Despite an onslaught of injuries, mostly of which were on offense, Hue's offense was able to get Cincinnati into the playoffs thanks to a run-heavy attack that featured rookie running back Jeremy Hill and second-year back Giovani Bernard.

As good as the Bengals were on the ground in Hue's first season, he's always been more of a pass-oriented coach, and that showed this past season. With everyone back and healthy, Cincinnati went on to have one of the NFL's most explosive passing attacks and offenses in general. Andy Dalton also had the best season of his six-year career before going down with a season-ending thumb injury in Week 14.

In today's offensive-driven NFL, leading a top quarterback to success and an offensive unit to high-ranking levels will get you a head coaching job very often, and that's what helped Jackson become one of the top coaching targets this offseason. It's no surprise to see him get hired so quickly and we wish him luck in his new role.