Once the news broke that Hue Jackson was relieved of his head coaching duties of the Cleveland Browns, most fans thought a reunion with the Bengals was possible. On Monday, the Bengals made it official, naming Jackson “Special Assistant to the Head Coach”.
Dwight Schrute jokes aside, the move has both positives and negatives. Firing Teryl Austin and adding a new staff member in the middle of the season shows a little bit of an organizational change for a franchise that has been notoriously adverse to NFL modernity.
Familiarity with the veterans: Yes, Jackson was with the squad in the Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson heyday, but he also came back to the Bengals from 2012-2015. During that span, Jackson held a handful of positions with the team and worked with a number of valuable veterans who are still on the team.
He knows what Marvin Lewis likes to do and what he envisions for the club. Based on some successful stints with the Bengals, he also knows how to properly utilize some of these guys to their respective strengths.
Insight into the 2018 Browns: There are two sides of the fence here. One is that poaching a valued member of a team can bring about an advantage, in terms of getting an inside look into game plans, etc.
This might be an overblown advantage though, as it depends on the team, former employee and the opponent. We’ve seen two former proteges get the better of Bill Belichick this year, so maybe Jackson has some plans for Baker Mayfield and how to attack Cleveland’s roster.
Lightening the load for Marvin: Lewis has done some great things for the Bengals in his 15-plus seasons, but in-game management and juggling of many responsibilities have been often-criticized facets of his tenure. Now, he’s taking on the role of defensive coordinator.
With his focusing on the defense, it’s likely that Jackson will be tasked with aiding both the offense and the defense with the finer details, as well as other in-game points that Lewis may overlook with his concentrating on the defense.
Solid track record as an assistant coach: Head coaching issues aside, Jackson keeps getting opportunities because of his abilities as an assistant. The apex of his assistant prowess was with the Bengals in 2015.
While he won’t be calling plays per se, he’s being placed into a position that likely gives him some say on both sides of the ball. It’s very clear that he and Lewis are very tight, so he’ll have Marvin’s ear on strategy, etc.
Should help offense: As the Bengals announced the hire, it sounds like Jackson will help Lewis focus on the defense. It’s a wise strategy—not only because of the overall struggles on that side of the ball, but because it’s been a while since Lewis has assumed a true defensive coordinator role.
However, Jackson has largely cut his teeth as an offensive mind. While the Bengals offense has had some nice moments this year, part of the issues that has plagued the group lately is in their extensive in-game dry spells.
Bill Lazor will still assume the mantle of offensive coordinator, but surely Jackson will give his two cents in that room as well. And, that’s not a bad thing, given how this unit performed under his watch in 2015.
Poor record as head coach and questionable respect level: On his media tour following his firing from Cleveland, Jackson didn’t make many friends, nor did he give off the greatest impression. The Browns themselves are still an NFL laughing stock, so what is the perception of Jackson from a player standpoint after being fired following a three-year dumpster fire?
Fortunately, the Bengals veterans are familiar with Jackson and could gravitate towards him. But, he may have lost some clout with just three wins in three seasons with the Browns.
Injuries and personnel deficiencies hindering his aid: As Jackson assists Lewis on defense, he’ll likely notice that the team needs help in the middle of their defense. Getting Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil back in the near future will help, but major issues are still prevalent.
Grabbing another set of experienced eyes on the sideline is great, but this team also needs on-field help. They missed the boat with the trade deadline and have sat on their hands when it comes to outside free agency, so the Lewis-Jackson switchover on defense shouldn’t be deemed a cure-all.
What’s his niche?: The team made it known that he’ll help Lewis on defense and common beliefs tell us that he’ll also be in Lazor’s room giving suggestions. But, how far do his responsibilities actually reach?
Does “special assistant” mean that he is higher in the pecking order than the coordinators? If so, will he be more meddlesome than helpful? Or, will he simply be relegated to duties like telling Lewis when to challenge a play and/or call effective timeouts?
“The succession plan”: It would seem that the Bengals fans who aren’t on board with this move are afraid that this is pointing to Jackson taking over as Cincinnati’s head coach once Lewis finally decides to retire from football. Hue’s 11-44-1 record as the head guy at two different teams doesn’t really inspire a ton of confidence, should that be the plan.
Nothing is set in stone here and Lewis gave an enigmatic “wait and see” answer to reporters about future plans, but it is a dangerous idea. At the very least, Jackson appears to be with this franchise as long as Lewis remains in The Queen City.