Robert Griffin III isn’t the only one looking for a fresh start with the Cleveland Browns. His new head coach, Hue Jackson and new offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, are in a similar boat. You can make a great case that all three of these men got it stuck to them in their last stops and come to Cleveland with, as RG3 expressed in his introductory press conference, a giant chip on their shoulders.
Jackson went 8-8 in his first year as Oakland Raider head coach in 2011. For reasons that remain baffling, he never got a second year. We all know RG3’s story—putting a terrible Washington Redskins roster on his shoulders and carrying them to an NFC East title in 2012. Hamilton was the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis and was designated as the scapegoat for the struggles of the team in general and Andrew Luck in particular last year.
I’ll admit to being skeptical of Hamilton. I agree with the notion that the insane expectations heaped on Luck became a monster that eventually devoured the man who was also Luck’s coordinator at Stanford. But in watching Colt games, I often wondered why Hamilton didn’t attack down the field more frequently.
Luck is an old-style gunslinger. He’ll make his mistakes, but can also make big plays. I wondered why Hamilton kept trying to fit Luck into the template of the modern short-passing/no-mistakes game when that’s clearly not the type of quarterback he is.
I have less skepticism about Jackson. He did a terrific job at Oakland and finished tied for the AFC West lead in ’11, losing out to Denver and Tim Tebow on a tiebreaker. It’s a mark of how dysfunctional the Raider organization is that firing Jackson was even broached for discussion, much less actually carried out.
And thus we come to RG3. As a Redskins fan, it was time to move on. Too much baggage existed in D.C. and the team had viable options in Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. That doesn’t mean the team—specifically Mike Shanahan—didn’t make decisions that left Griffin high and dry.
From an act of negligence in allowing him to get hurt in the playoff game against Seattle, to a concerted behind-the-scenes media campaign to slander the quarterback’s character, Shanahan spent more time playing D.C. politics than he did in coaching his football team (and to this day can’t keep his mouth shut).
Jay Gruden inherited a quarterback who was badly damaged goods and a culture that was toxic. He didn’t always handle it well himself, but for a rookie head coach it was a lot to deal with and Gruden made the decision that had to be made.
It was also a decision that was for RG3’s own good. This fresh start will be good for him. I have grave doubts to whether he can ever stay healthy on a consistent basis, but no doubts about his work ethic and competitiveness. I wish him well. And the same goes for the two men who will be most directly responsible for his success.
Cleveland has long been where quarterbacks and coaches go to die. Here’s hoping that this trio can be the Marty Schottenheimer/Lindy Infante/Bernie Kosar trio of the late 1980s when the Browns were last relevant.