CLEVELAND — Seated on the dais next to his new boss, Browns coach Hue Jackson was reminded that owner Jimmy Haslam recently claimed it may take several years to fix his football team.
“I’m glad he said that,” Jackson said, smiling and grabbing Haslam’s arm. “That makes me feel a little better.”
Unlike the construction going at their headquarters, the Browns don’t have a completion date.
Picked over other quality candidates because of his background in the NFL and openness to embracing Cleveland’s restructured, forward-thinking front office, Jackson was hired as the Browns’ eighth coach since 1999 on Wednesday.
The 50-year-old Jackson has earned a reputation for being an offensive innovator as well as being tough but fair with his players. He is undaunted by the challenge of turning around a team that has been stuck in a perpetual cycle of losing for more than a decade. Cincinnati’s former offensive coordinator backed out of a scheduled interview with the New York Giants, a pillar of stability, to join the Browns — after some discussion about Johnny Manziel.
He wanted to be here. And the Browns wanted him.
Cleveland’s first win in 2016.
Jackson was the final candidate to interview with Haslam and his search committee, the meeting taking place the day after the Bengals were eliminated in the wild-card game by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Browns met with Jackson again on Tuesday and Haslam offered him the job on Wednesday.
“Hopefully, the third time’s the charm,” Haslam said, referring to his unsuccessful hires since 2012 of Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine, fired on Jan. 3. “We got the right guy for the Cleveland Browns. He is smart. He’s tough. He’s confident. He is competitive. He has been a head coach before. He has a great offensive mind. He has a tremendous track record developing quarterbacks.”
After he walked into the team’s headquarters for the first time, Jackson was greeted by team employees, who applauded when he laid out his goals during an impromptu speech.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Jackson told the gathering of secretaries, sales representatives and others. “We’re going to chase greatness here, that’s for sure. That’s what we’re interested in doing. The AFC North, we want to win the division championship. We want to go to the Super Bowl and win that, too. That’s what it’s all about.”
Jackson was fired after one season in Oakland in 2011, and that failure pushed him to find another chance.
The Browns are his second shot.
Jackson joins the team amid other changes at the top. Haslam recently promoted team counsel Sashi Brown to vice president of football operations and pulled Paul DePodesta, a baseball analytics expert, away from the New York Mets to direct strategies for the team.
And while the new look and talk of advanced analytics has some Browns fans skeptical about Haslam’s direction, Jackson is excited about the new group he’ll be working with.
“There is more than one way to do things,” he said. “Analytics is just a part of it. It is not the whole part of it; it is a piece of it. If we can find another way of doing things good to give us an opportunity to have success, we all would do that. I like being cutting edge. I try to be innovative and cutting edge on offense. We want to be innovative and cutting edge on everything that we do in this building because eventually, everyone is going to be doing what we are doing.”
As for Manziel, the troubled second-year quarterback, Jackson said he has not yet considered his future in Cleveland. Jackson did acknowledge that Manziel came up in his discussions with Haslam. Manziel has been a major distraction during two drama-filled seasons with the Browns.
“I don’t know Johnny personally,” Jackson said. “I know who he is, but at the same time I think I have to give everybody on our football team a fair opportunity to see who they are, to truly learn who they are, and then make decisions from there.”
Jackson has to quickly assemble a coaching staff, and as Haslam looks for a GM who will acquire talent, there will be other decisions.
But Jackson has already made the biggest one: coming to Cleveland.
“I like challenges,” he said. “And boy, what a challenge.”
AP NFL websites: http://pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL