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Cleveland Browns Blog: ‘We Hardly Knew Hue’ + Next Coach From Norman, Okla.?

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The message from Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was crystal clear on Monday. He was looking for a coach who would be more collaborative, and internal discord would not be tolerated.

Head coach Hue Jackson was fired, and so was offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

After a 33-18 loss to Pittsburgh, Jackson’s fate was all-but-sealed. The past seven dismissed Browns’ coaches were canned after the second Pittsburgh loss. Most of them fared better than the 3-36-1 record held by Hue. Haley’s role in stoking the flames of dysfunction sent him packing.

I liked Hue Jackson. Of course, I think any coach with a 3-36-1 record deserves to be canned. However, I had genuinely been impressed by his style and demeanor, calm and cool.

I largely disliked Haley. Thought he was kind of a jerk. That struck me the first time we saw him on “Hard Knocks,” making fun of Carl Nassib’s first name. I’d remind the former Cleveland offensive coordinator that his father’s name is Dick.

But let’s take a step back. I’m not your average Cleveland Browns fan. I’m brand new to the Dawg Pound, a baby Browns fan, if you will.

I decided to become a Browns fan in central Oklahoma for many reasons.

1. They drafted the greatest Oklahoma Sooner of all time, Baker Mayfield, and they didn’t just draft him. They had the balls to take him No. 1 despite his lack of size, amid draft experts saying they should definitely take Darnold or Rosen ahead of him. Instead, John Dorsey saw in Baker the same thing we did in Norman, Okla., and that’s greatness.

2. For me, it didn’t hurt that Cleveland was featured on “Hard Knocks.” Although “Hard Knocks” killed off more characters than Star Trek did red-shirted spacemen, we grew to like the organization as a whole. I don’t understand why more pro sports teams don’t do “Hard Knocks”-like shows all season long. It’s fantastic marketing.

3. I said “we” in point No. 2. My fiance Kristi and I started rooting for Cleveland at the same time, and so it makes it kind of our thing. She’s a Joe Montana 49er by raising, and I’m a Dallas Cowboys man per the will of the Rev. William Roy Welton, who had them on any Sunday we visited him in McAlester, Okla.

After Jerry Jones took over the Cowboys, I still rooted for them and loved Jimmy Johnson and my fellow-Henryetta Hen Troy Aikman. However, I moved away from Dallas (to Oklahoma City) in 2005, and we just grew apart, the Cowboys and I.

A lot of people bash those who have suddenly liked the Browns because of Baker, as if we’re obligated to root for anybody in particular. Jerry Seinfeld was right: we largely root for laundry. If one of my brothers or one of their kids took a scholarship to play football for the University of Texas, you know what I’d be saying? Hook ‘Em, Horns!

My fandom of the Dallas Cowboys absolutely intensified when Troy Aikman was drafted. There was nobody from Henryetta, Okla., who rooted for anybody else. The reality was that for the last half of my Dallas Cowboys fandom, I rooted for them mostly because of Troy. After Troy, I was definitely a Tony Romo guy.

And on and on.

What seems more sticky about this foray into fandom is that I find myself rooting for the entire Cleveland Browns organization, learning about their history and reliving Cleveland Browns moments not as the kid who watched the 1980 loss to Oakland or the 1987 fumble in Denver but as a fan growing to embrace the franchise’s history. The 14-12 loss to Oakland was one of the first non-Cowboys NFL games I remember watching as a kiddo. And in 1986, I watched all of Cleveland’s 23-20 win over the New York Jets, a double OT playoff game.

4. If you’re going to bandwagon a team, do it when they’re coming off an 0-16 season. What I can’t stand is those who have bandwagoned the Patriots, Red Sox or Cubs the past decade or so. The climb is more satisfying than the ultimate victory, if there is to be one. It’s apparent to me in watching John Dorsey that he’s a man who’s intent on building the Browns in the right manner. Even the press conference with Jimmy Haslam was indicative of an intent to do things the right way — collaboratively. I feel clean climbing onto this bandwagon; there’s only one way to go – up.

5. My family has some roots in Ohio. Dad was a graduate of Fenn College, 1960. That school became Cleveland State University in 1964. Bill Welton didn’t give a shit about sports though, so there’s no gridiron sentimentality. I liken this to the ‘birthright citizenship’ of fandom.

Truth is, I figured Hue might not survive the season, and it was easy to understand both from a football perspective but also a management perspective why both Jackson and Haley had to go. What’s been encouraging is what Dorsey and Haslam have said post-dismissal. What was even more encouraging is how Gregg Williams, who is no choir boy, has talked since being named interim head coach. If you’ll recall, Williams was at one time suspended from the NFL for overseeing a bounty scheme that would pay players for injuring opponents, something he learned in his days with Buddy Ryan in Houston. Williams is very much a Darth Vader sort of coach, and it’s not a surprise that he and Bill Belichick are good friends.

Williams is fiery enough to be the kick in the butt the Browns need to finish out the season strong. However, my hope is that Cleveland looks outside the organization for its next coach. I hope they look for a visionary both in terms of strategy and management style, and I hope they look younger. Our Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley has been mentioned as a candidate for the job. For some silly reason, so has Sean McVay from the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams. (Why would either leave for Cleveland?) Former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, who by the way is from Norman, Okla., has also been tied to the gig.

Zac Taylor really, really intrigues me. Currently, he’s the quarterbacks coach for the Rams. Beyond leading the team and overseeing little things like, you know, wins and losses, the next coach of the Cleveland Browns has to first and foremost oversee Baker’s development. Everything else might just fall into place if the organization grows its Mayfield. Protects him. Builds that offense around him.

But I’m personally hoping that Dorsey and Haslam were true to their word, in spirit, that a collaborative environment is what they’re most interested in. I’m a believer that it’s important for a head coach to surround himself with people loyal to him. It sounds very Trumpian, but nobody is suggesting that the coach should hire dummies. Hear me out.

Haslam and Dorsey mostly need a change agent who will work collaboratively with them.

That coach will present the vision to his staff, who will sell it to the team. Whoever is hired has to be able to count on that staff to sell, sell, sell that vision even if they don’t love it. I suspect the discord within the Browns organization was largely Haley undercutting Jackson, which is an organizational killer.

The thought is that if the head coach is collaborative in spirit, he’ll not only work well with his superiors, he won’t overwhelm or strangle the people he supervises. If you recall Josh McDaniels’ tenure in Denver, I believe it was fraught with self-induced friction. On the contrary, I read an article a couple of weeks ago detailing the success Alex Cora has had with the Boston Red Sox. It all centered around the fact that Cora apparently gets along with everybody, and I mean everybody.

He’s either hyper-even-keeled, the coolest cat in the room or both.

If everybody likes you, they’re liable to listen to you. At that point, you’d better have good information and strategy.

Anyway, that’s a lot of rambling to say that the Browns have their work cut out for them in terms of finding a new coach. I certainly hope that the Browns do well the rest of this season, but I’d prefer – long-term – that Gregg Williams not be the club’s head coach. Given the history in New Orleans, I find him to be damaged goods.

I’m just enjoying being a new fan to a largely dysfunctional organization that is desperately trying to get its act together.

They’re going to do it, you know. I’m that big a believer in Baker Mayfield.

And it’s going to be really cool to see it all come together.

Beyond Baker: How HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ converted me to the Cleveland Browns

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When half of Oklahoma decided to become Cleveland Browns fans, we did so out of our loyalty to Baker Reagan Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and, arguably, the greatest college football quarterback of all time over the course of a career.

Stores in Oklahoma have Cleveland Browns sections now. Seriously. 

I’m a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan who has just grown apart from the franchise in the days after Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, Texas Stadium and the hole in the roof so God could see through it. I’d largely tired of Jerry and problem players and a lack of success on the field that made their troubles off it pretty unbearable.

Long story short, I started looking for other teams to support, and I landed upon the Rams, moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Aside from the remaining gold, I love their uniforms, and I love the fact that Joe Pendleton was a Ram. “Heaven Can Wait” was my late mother’s favorite movie, or one of them.

And I still support them.

But because of Mayfield and especially the HBO series, “Hard Knocks,” I fell for the Cleveland Browns. During the final moments of the Browns’ game versus Pittsburgh, I was white-knuckling it as if the Sooners were playing the Longhorns. And this week against the Saints, I was bemoaning every missed kick from Zane Gonzalez, while at the same time feeling completely sorry for him.

I’ve even made Browns friends on Twitter, which is cool particularly when you figure out that lifelong, die-hard Browns fans are at once bewildered why anybody would join their misery and completely welcoming of the commiseration.

It also feels good to start at the bottom. I don’t feel like I’m bandwagoning anything.

But I also figured out by watching “Hard Knocks” that the Browns organization appears to be fronted by good people. No offense, but I haven’t had that sense with the Dallas Cowboys for 20 years. My only gripe about the show is that all the guys we were pulling for got cut!

Devon Cajuste? Couldn’t there have been a spot for a TE who mostly receives and doesn’t block? Situationally speaking? He’s such a good soul; that kind of positivity with any inkling of ability is an asset.

Carl Nassib? As one of my new Twitter friends noted tonight, he’s got long arms and he gets after it. The 2-0 Tampa Bay Bucs know that now.

Nate Orchard? Not only are the guys not enjoying his wife’s cookies, he got picked up by the worst team in the NFL right now, the Buffalo Bills.

When I first started watching, I didn’t get the sense that Hue Jackson had the gravitas to lead an NFL team with success. By the end of the show, I figured out he had the compassion.

Two games in, and it doesn’t really matter how crusty Gregg Williams is. His defenses play hard, and the Browns have a pretty decent one.

I probably liked Todd Haley the least. Just thought he was unnecessarily mean at times. However, he sure dialed up some offense when the Browns needed it late versus his former team, the Steelers, and the Saints this past week.

And of course, I love that GM John Dorsey and head coach Hue Jackson saw what those of us who love the Oklahoma Sooners saw in Baker — a transformational winner. Truth be told, I’ve come to like Tyrod Taylor, too, indicative of the Browns looking for character above all else.

That showed today when they said goodbye to Josh Gordon.

Participating in publicity gimmicks such as “Hard Knocks” isn’t a dumb thing to do. I just wish they’d keep it going all season. It would turn the season into a season-long drama.

They’d hate it. I’d love it.

Besides, they accomplished what they set out to do: earned a new fan.

Go Browns.

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