However, there was a real possibility Jackson not only remained in Cincinnati, but even became a head coach in waiting of sorts. Lewis and Jackson discussed a succession plan for Lewis to retire in 2018, then have Jackson take over for him.
But the plan fell through for a variety of reasons. On Wednesday, Jackson admitted that one of those reasons was he did not want to be the man who replaced Lewis, a key mentor in Jackson’s rise, and a close friend he didn’t want to take a job from.
"That's Marvin's football team. Been there a long time," Jackson said Wednesday. "I think it's hard to ever replace a best friend that way and be there waiting behind. I didn't think it was the right thing for me to do. I didn't think it would be right their team.”
Jackson just couldn’t go through with it, but he’ll forever be grateful for what the Bengals did for him as a coach and his career.
"Obviously, I will always be in debt to the Bengals,” Jackson added. “But I think I'm where I'm supposed to be right now."
For the first time, Lewis is also publicly talking about the succession plan.
"We had clearly spoke of an opportunity for Hue to stay here if he so liked" Lewis said on a conference call, via ESPN. "If that's what he chose to do, then eventually he would become the head coach."
Lewis admitted he and Jackson were a lot closer than most coaches get, which helped make the prospect of stepping down for Jackson to take over something he really considered.
“I miss him, but we spent 10 years coaching together so you love him like a brother that I never had,” Lewis said. “He brings out the best and challenges everybody to be the best, and he challenged you as a coach to be better and the other coaches around him to be better, which is what you want from your coaching staff. He is the epitome of that.”
Regarding the succession plan, Lewis joked about what exactly it entailed, but admitted it was proposed.
“Only if he was going to let me be the punt coach and coach the left slot on the punt team,” Lewis said laughing. “We had clearly spoke of an opportunity for Hue to stay here if he so liked and if that was what he chose to do, and then eventually, he would become the head coach.”
I don’t think there’s any question at this point that the Bengals would be better off if Jackson was still in Cincinnati, but at the same time, maybe the paths they’ve now gone on will ultimately be what’s best for everyone. That’s all you can hope for at this point, though neither the Browns or Bengals are having seasons that makes either coach feel good.
Jackson will return to the Queen City this weekend to face his former team as the man now in charge for the Browns. The Bengals will be looking to get their season back on track, while the Browns will be seeking their first win of the season and Jackson’s first win as head coach of the organization.