CLEVELAND (AP) — Hue Jackson strolled into the Browns’ facility unafraid, brimming with optimism.
He’s well aware of Cleveland’s football misery, the losing, continuous change and dysfunction encasing one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.
Jackson doesn’t mind the mess. He’s ready to clean it up.
“I like challenges,” he said. “And boy, what a challenge.”
The downtrodden Browns hired Jackson, a former Oakland coach and innovative offensive coordinator in Cincinnati the past two seasons, as their new coach Wednesday — the club’s eighth since 1999 and sixth since 2008.
Following a search that lasted less than two weeks, owner Jimmy Haslam made the 50-year-old Jackson the face of his team, and just maybe the one to make it relevant again.
“We got the right guy for the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said.
Just hours after finalizing his contract, Jackson was introduced during a news conference in which he pumped his fist to acknowledge Cleveland’s rabid fan base, promised to make the Browns tougher and said he’s not concerned that the four coaches who preceded him lasted two years or less.
“That’s those coaches,” he said. “I can’t worry about what’s happened before me.”
Jackson had interviewed with San Francisco and was scheduled to meet later this week with the New York Giants, one of the league’s standard-bearers for stability.
But before Jackson had a chance to speak with another team, Haslam, who skipped the owner’s meetings in Houston to focus on finding his coach, decided during a meeting with him in Cincinnati on Tuesday that he was done talking to candidates.
When Jackson excused himself from the room, Haslam turned to two of his top executives: newly promoted vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, a baseball analytics expert hired as Cleveland’s new strategy director and declared the search was over.
“This is our man,” Haslam told them.
The Browns were attracted to Jackson because of his 8-8 season with the Raiders in 2011, a strong knowledge of the AFC North and his success 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.
Jackson joked that he expects to get to know this year’s college class “pretty well, pretty soon.”
“Having the No. 2 pick is great — and sometimes it’s not,” Jackson said. “We as an organization have a lot of work to do to make sure that’s where we need to be or where we don’t need to be. But I think it’s a great place to start as a new head coach because you have a chance to get a great player.”
As for Johnny Manziel, Jackson said he has not yet considered the troubled quarterback’s future in Cleveland. Jackson did acknowledge that Manziel did come 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.”
He needs to do the same with Cleveland’s coaching staff, which is expected to look dramatically different in 2016. Jackson said he received 142 text messages on his phone and that most were from coaches eager to work for the Browns.
“I’m going to attract some good coaches and some great coaches, but to me we’ve got to find the right fit for us,” he said. “How fast that process is going to go, I don’t know, but I do need to get on that phone and start returning some of those text messages.”
Jackson revamped Cincinnati’s offense. A former college quarterback at Pacific, Jackson pushed Dalton to his best statistical season in 2015 and was known for his creative flair with unbalanced lines and unorthodox formations. The Bengals were among the league’s most exciting offenses — balanced and lethal.
Jackson has bigger challenges in Cleveland. The Browns have been stuck in a cycle of losing since their expansion rebirth.
Cleveland hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994 and been absent from the postseason since 2002. The Browns have endured 14 double-digit loss seasons and started 24 quarterbacks since returning to the league.
When he arrived at the team’s facility, Jackson was greeted in the lobby by team employees, who applauded his entrance.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Jackson said told them. “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.”
Other coaches have said similar things in Cleveland.
It’s Jackson’s turn to make them happen.
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