Just what the Browns were looking for.
The Bengals offensive coordinator, who waited four years for his second crack at leading an NFL team, has been hired as Cleveland’s next coach — the struggling franchise’s eighth since 1999 and sixth since 2008.
The 50-year-old Jackson finalized his deal on Wednesday, swiftly ending the Browns’ search which began on Jan. 3 when owner Jimmy Haslam fired Mike Pettine after two losing seasons.
Jackson had also interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers and was scheduled to meet later this week with the New York Giants, but Haslam was not going to be outbid for a coach he coveted.
Haslam said Jackson has all the qualities that will provide strong leadership for the team.
“He is highly experienced, deeply passionate about winning, and relentless in trying to find ways to put his players in the best position to succeed,” he said. “He possesses that unique ability to reach the entire locker room in a way that demands accountability while getting the buy-in and team-first mentality that leads to positive results. I think our players will love playing for him.”
The team will introduce Jackson at an evening news conference at their facility in Berea, Ohio.
The Browns were drawn to Jackson because of his one season as Oakland’s head coach, his deep knowledge inside their division and his strong record working with quarterbacks like Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton.
Cleveland owns the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft and will likely use it on a quarterback — possibly California’s Jared Goff or Memphis’ Paxton Lynch.
It remains to be seen what plans Jackson might have for Johnny Manziel, the troubled QB whose two seasons in Cleveland have been filled with controversy and more chaos than the Browns needed. Manziel’s recently ended his second season by missing a scheduled medical treatment amid reports he was spotted in Las Vegas.
Jackson spent the past two seasons overseeing Cincinnati’s offense. A former college quarterback at Pacific, Jackson pushed Dalton to his best statistical season and was known for his creative flair with unbalanced lines and unorthodox formations. The Bengals were among the league’s most exciting offenses with a solid balance and quick-strike capability.
Jackson replaces Pettine, fired after going 10-22.
After dismissing Pettine — and general manager Ray Farmer — Haslam was determined to find the right coach to serve as “the leader of the team and the face of the franchise.” For now, that’s Jackson, who has spent 15 seasons coaching in the NFL, establishing himself as one of the profession’s rising stars.
Jackson’s challenge in Cleveland will be turning around a team that can’t seem to get out of its own way. Pettine had the Browns off to a 7-4 start in 2014, but he lost 18 of his last 21 games. The Browns were at times competitive, but remain at the bottom of one of the league’s toughest divisions.
Jackson had his second interview with Haslam on Tuesday in Cincinnati. The likable coach, who has drawn rave reviews from former players, said his meetings with the Browns were fruitful.
“We shared a vision for the organization and what we want to accomplish,” said Jackson, who went 8-8 with the Raider in 2011. “At the end of the day, we have some very real goals we want to attain and we understand it’s going to take a lot of hard work to do that.”
Landing Jackson is a coup for the Browns, who have been overmatched against the Bengals in their three most recent games.
It’s been a whirlwind few days for Jackson. After the Bengals were beaten 18-16 by Pittsburgh in a memorable AFC wild-card game on Saturday night, Jackson spent five hours meeting with the San Francisco 49ers and then four with Cleveland’s search committee, which included recently-promoted director of football operations Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, a former baseball executive considered one of the best analytics experts in pro sports.
On Tuesday, Haslam skipped the owner’s meetings in Houston so he could have a second meeting with Jackson, a sit-down that escalated into a contract offer.
As they reboot again, the Browns are hoping Jackson’s experience in Oakland — another franchise with its share of dysfunction — and his work with QBs will help them get back to relevancy quickly. Cleveland hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994 or even made the postseason since 2002. The Browns have endured 14 double-digit loss seasons and started 24 quarterbacks since returning to the league in ‘99.
It’s been a mess. Jackson brings a fresh start — for the Browns and for himself.
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