CLEVELAND » Hue Jackson has experience as a head coach, knows the AFC North and has fixed quarterbacks.
Just want 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, a person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press today.
The 50-year-old Jackson will become the struggling franchise’s eighth coach since 1999 once the sides have finalized his deal, the person told The AP on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the hiring.
The Browns were drawn to Jackson because of the season he spent 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.
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 Mike Pettine, who was fired after going 10-22 in two seasons.
After dismissing Pettine — and general manager Ray Farmer — owner Jimmy 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 had scheduled an interview for Thursday with the New York Giants, but the Browns made sure that wouldn’t happen and now have their sixth coach since 2008.
Jackson told good friend and NFL Network reporter Michael Silver that the Browns “made me feel comfortable.”
And now that they’ve found their coach, the Browns will focus on hiring a new GM who will be responsible for getting Jackson some talent.
Cleveland’s latest coaching search didn’t last as long as the previous one, but it was no less harrowing for Browns fans, who have been through this drill before. They’re holding out hope Jackson can slow a coaching and quarterback carousel almost always spinning in Northeast Ohio.
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 — will help them get back to relevancy quickly. Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002, and the franchise has endured 14 double-digit loss seasons since returning to the league in ‘99.
Jackson went 8-8 with the Raiders but was fired amid an ownership change. Oakland is just 18-46 since his departure.
Following his dismissal in the Bay Area, Jackson returned to the Bengals, where he coached their wide receivers from 2004-06. On Marvin Lewis’ staff, he coached special teams, defensive backs and running backs before being promoted to coordinator.
Jackson was the seventh and final candidate interviewed by the Browns.