TAMPA BAY -- Hue Jackson reacted to a Cleveland Browns overtime loss by saying he was going to get more involved in the offense.
"I’m the head coach of this football team," Jackson said after a 59-yard field goal gave the Bucs a 26-23 win on Sunday. "I will do what I feel I need to do to get this team where it needs to be."
Which is the head coach’s right.
He also promised he’s "not trying to create any issue" but instead simply wants to help straighten out the offense.
To guard Joel Bitonio, a captain, Jackson is just "being the head coach."
"I think it would be a disservice if he didn’t try to help us," Bitonio said.
Which sounds plain and simple.
But in the Browns' situation, nothing is ever simple. The team has had too many years of struggle and frustration for anything to simply be simple.
Jackson’s determination to help the offense potentially wades the head coach into delicate territory. A coach’s relationship with his coordinators is vital. There has to be give-and-take as well as understanding and support, both ways.
It’s dangerous for the two to clash, and when that happens it often does not end well. It’s tough to even remember the last coach-coordinator "situation" that ended particularly well.
"I think I have every right as a head coach to jump in there and see if I can help and assist and get this thing to where I think it needs to be," Jackson said.
He said it was his specialty. In his career, it has been -- anyone who denies this denies the success he had with the Bengals. But the previous two seasons with the Browns left asterisks on many résumés, Jackson’s included. His return this season after going 1-15 and 0-16 was his chance to erase the asterisks.
Jackson is not the kind of coach to sit back and accept. He lost for two seasons and about two-thirds of the way through last season said that the Browns had to be perfect to win games. Which of course meant that the roster was not complete.
Jackson was right about last season’s team. This season was supposed to be different. New general manager John Dorsey followed a more traditional approach to team building and brought in several draft picks and numerous free agents to round out the roster. This Browns team was going to compete -- even if it didn’t win many games.
But the past two games the trend is down. The Browns followed an overtime win over Baltimore with a poor game against the Chargers and a very poor half and overtime against Tampa Bay. Only a 14-point fourth quarter saved the Browns from a regulation loss -- helped by a missed field goal and extra point from normally reliable Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro (who then sealed the deal with a 59-yard field goal).
Instead of showing growth, the Browns are showing struggles similar to the ones they’ve shown in other bad years. Injuries expose lack of depth. Inexperience leads to mistakes. Penalties mount. Mistakes are more glaring. And for this Browns team, every questionable official’s call against them seems to come at a crucial part of the game.
The offense has struggled as well, scoring just eight points in the first quarter of all games and looking lost in the first half in Tampa. The Browns have a rookie quarterback and three rookies at receiver, but they have a veteran coordinator in Todd Haley.
Haley was hired after the Steelers did not pick up his contract after last season. He is a longtime NFL coach, a Bill Parcells disciple. He’s won as a head coach, he’s won as a coordinator. In Pittsburgh, he managed some significant egos and made things work, producing excellent offensive numbers. He does not suffer foolishness well, nor does he mince words. At the same time Bitonio was saying he understood Jackson’s thinking, he said that "Todd’s still going to control the playbook and all that stuff."
Jackson would not be human if he didn’t feel the pressure of a 2-4-1 start, especially with Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Atlanta ahead. Coming off the previous two seasons, anything less than progress would bring pressure.
Pressure can affect decisions.
How the Browns come out of this decision on the offense could well determine the direction of the team and its coach -- for this season and beyond.