NFL head coaches come from somewhere, of course. Most of the time they end up being hot shot coordinators coming off fabulous seasons, holding the promise of revolutionizing the game.
As an example, the Indianapolis Colts hired Frank Reich, the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. And the Detroit Lions pried New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia away from Bill Belichick’s staff.
But these moves don’t always work. Sometimes the branches from the coaching tree turn out to be brittle. Just look at what became of Belichick’s top-flight coordinators when they became head coaches. How many Super Bowls did Romeo Crennel and Josh McDaniels win?
Sometimes coordinators are born to be coordinators, nothing else. They are extremely successful, as long as they don’t have to leave their comfort zone.
It turns out that the Cincinnati Bengals are Hue Jackson’s comfort zone. He was their offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015 before he left to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
That didn’t work out so well, did it? The Browns were 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017. And after starting the 2018 season 2-5-1, Cleveland took mercy on Jackson by firing him and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Oct. 29, essentially orphaning quarterback Baker Mayfield, the top overall pick in last year’s draft.
On Tuesday, the Bengals brought Jackson back to help out his buddy, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis needs the help. New Orleans crushed them 51-7 on Sunday, a defeat so comprehensive the team fired their defensive coordinator, Teyrl Austin.
The Bengals defense has been atrocious lately. The Saints scored on each of their nine possessions. The unit is allowing 454.6 yards per game, the most in the league. They are also the first team in the Super Bowl era to have coughed up at least 500 in three straight games.
Lewis and Jackson have tremendous affection for each other. So the reunion will likely benefit both.
“I have a great comfort level with Hue and his ability to assist me with the day-to-day responsibilities on defense, including analyzing our opponents and helping me on game days with the players and defensive coaches,” said Lewis said in a statement.
Jackson has been named a special assistant to Lewis, which means he’ll probably do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A little bit of this and that will be highlighted with his input in developing strategy for the two games the Bengals (5-4) have left this season with the Browns.
“I’ve got a plan,” said Lewis. “Watch and see.”
Jackson’s experience on the other end makes him a perfect fit to help Andy Dalton and offensive coordinator Bill Lazur fix things with a unit that also hit the skids against New Orleans. In 2015, Jackson helped Dalton to a career-high 106.3 passer rating, which was second in the league.
“I’m pleased to have the opportunity to join the Bengals this season,” Jackson said in a statement. “There is a lot of talent on this team, and I look forward to doing my part to help it finish strong this season.”
Lewis has also come to Jackson’s rescue before. After Jackson’s inauspicious season as Oakland Raiders coach in 2011, he brought his buddy back (Jackson was a Bengals assistant from 2004-06) and asked Bengals management to consider naming Jackson head coach if or when Lewis left.
Lewis was hired to coach the Bengals in 2003. And instead of waiting for something to happen, Jackson jumped to the Browns.
The Athletic described Jackson’s return this way: “This time [Jackson returns] in the kind of made-up position that gets handed to a corporate CEO’s idiot nephew who can’t employed elsewhere.”
Yep, that kind of sums it up.