There’s always been a disconnect between fans and players when it comes to distinguishing the relationship between winning, and the greater good. Fans can afford to take a utilitarian stance and think about the big picture because losing football games doesn’t affect their own job security. Players—and anybody involved in football operations—see losing as a threat to their livelihood, no matter the context, no matter the future implications.
There’s no gray area from the players’ perspective, even when the cleats have been hung up. This is something that we have to respect and understand when former players like Andrew Hawkins speak.
The former Bengals wide receiver finished his six-year NFL career with a three-year stint as a member of the Browns. His final season was in 2016, which was the first year of Hue Jackson’s two-and-a-half year escapade with the organization. Hawkins and Jackson were also both with the Bengals from 2012-2013 when they won 21 games and an AFC North title.
After Hawkins was released from the Browns following the 2016 season, he vouched for Jackson and displayed confidence in his ability to turn the team around. When Jackson was eventually fired a year-and-a-half later, Hawkins called it the “Dumbest move in football,” despite Jackson’s abysmal record of 3-36-1 with the team.
Editor’s note: Hawkins wasn’t specifically referring to Jackson’s firing here, as he was referring to the act of firing coaches midseason.
Of course, Jackson at least found a way to win a few games along the way, which is something Zac Taylor has still yet to do in Cincinnati. Hawkins showed yesterday on Twitter he isn’t hesitant to put the same short leash on Taylor that he felt was originally on Jackson.
Benglas roster > 2016 Browns Roster— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) November 19, 2019
Bengals roster > 2017 Browns Roster
If they go 0-16, I cant wait to see if yall keep that same ‘Hue Jackson’ energy for Zac Taylor
It’s easy to decipher Hawkins’ argument here: Taylor is coaching a more talented team than Jackson ever had in his only full seasons and is doing just as poorly. The talent comparisons between each team is up for debate, but the records speak for themselves.
The first problem in this comparison concerns with time. Jackson was granted two full offseasons from 2016 to 2017 to make the Browns great again and produced a whopping one win. This resulted in rumors pertaining to how Jackson wanted to draft Carson Wentz in the 2016 NFL Draft and either Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes a year later.
Eventually, the Browns hired John Dorsey as their GM and he drafted Baker Mayfield in 2018, finally giving Jackson a quarterback to work with even; if it was never going to be for long. Dorsey’s arrival was never good for Jackson because why would a newly-hired GM feel handcuffed to a head coach who possessed the worst winning percentage in the modern NFL?
Hawkins may have to be reminded that Taylor doesn’t have a GM to butt heads with in Cincinnati. How do we know how much influence Taylor already has within the organization? Roster moves such as demoting former first-round pick Billy Price in favor of Trey Hopkins, benching Andy Dalton for Ryan Finley, and releasing Preston Brown heavily supports the organization’s perceived trust in Taylor, despite a winless start to his tenure.
Going back to the factor of time: it hasn’t exactly been on Taylor’s side since he arrived in Cincinnati. Taylor wasn’t officially hired as head coach until the first week of February. His coaching staff wasn’t fully set until a few weeks later. His first offseason as a head coach was as rushed as you could possibly make it.
After Jackson’s termination in the middle of last season, there was a clear consensus that it was the right move because Jackson had proven to the NFL world that he was not the man for the job. He had been given three offseason periods and produced the worst 40-game record in modern NFL history. Amidst all the losing, the energy was clear.
In Hawkins’ eyes, the same thing is happening in Cincinnati: more losing. But we haven’t quite reached the sorry levels of incompetence that Jackson achieved in four times as many games. In his defense, Taylor has much to prove that he isn’t destined for the same fate as Jackson, but that’s the whole point: the jury is still out on Taylor.
So let’s hold off on the false equivalencies for now.