Hue Jackson was hoping he could make his way back to the Cincinnati Bengals when the Cleveland Browns fired him as their head coach three weeks ago, but he said he has no regrets about leaving Cincinnati in the first place.
The Bengals named Jackson a special assistant to the head coach Tuesday to help Marvin Lewis as he assumes the role of defensive coordinator on top of his regular duties managing the overall team.
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Jackson has served in various roles with Cincinnati over the years but most recently was offensive coordinator for two years before becoming the Browns head coach in 2016. He went 3-36-1 with Cleveland.
“I think the experience in Cleveland was good,” Jackson said. “You know, regardless of what the record was, I mean, it was an opportunity and an experience and you can’t get those back. I think I’m a better coach for it, you know, having gone through it. But at the same time, you know, nobody wants to have that kind of record. But I’m looking to being here, helping this organization win and getting this organization back to where it needs to be.”
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Cincinnati (5-4) has lost three of its last four games but travels to play Baltimore on Sunday in a crucial AFC North game. Four of the next seven games are against division opponents, and the Bengals currently are the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.
Jackson said it’s nice to be preparing for meaningful games again but he wasn’t just going to go to any team that would take him.
“I’m very excited to join a team that’s in playoff contention, but more so than that, it’s the Bengals,” Jackson said. “There’s probably not many other places I would’ve went and did this. I needed to be with somebody who I knew, an organization that I know real well and people that I trust.”
The former quarterback first joined the organization as the wide receivers coach in 2004-06, then left for stints as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and head coach elsewhere, before returning in 2012 as a secondary assistant and special teams coach until an opportunity with the running backs opened up the following season.
Though Lewis described him as an advisor of sorts, he also made it clear Jackson would not be meddling with the offense, despite Jackson’s experience on that side of the ball. His role will be centered around game preparation and helping with the defense from an offensive viewpoint of how the opponent might be attacking things, according to Lewis.
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The two coaches haven’t yet figured out exactly how things will work Sunday but Jackson will be on the sideline with Lewis.
“He’s just trying to get immersed back in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, the added morsels to me about things he observes that way and assists with the players on the field, and us defensively with the implementation and development of the plan and then he will continue to look at things analytically,” Lewis said. “He has a lot more exposure to that than I have had, so that’s helpful because we have the data and how do we continue to use the data correctly? So that’s good. He’s been involved in that quite a bit.”
Jackson, an assertive figure by nature with a big personality, didn’t seem to think there were any limitations to how he could help, noting he is here for “whatever this organization needs” and to “help whether it’s offensively, defensively or special teams.”
That said, he is mindful he can’t come in and step on anyone’s toes. The offense is still Bill Lazor’s to run.
“I’m here to help,” Jackson said. “I’m not here (to take) anybody’s job. I’m here to help and assist. I’m still going to be me, and I think everybody respects that. I’m going to bring energy and have fun and have a good time out at practice and do everything I can. But at the same time, I’m very mindful that I’m a helper here. That’s what I am.”
The players aren’t quite sure what to expect, but the general consensus is that Jackson can help.
“Since he’s been here, he knows the feel, the atmosphere around here, he knows a lot of players and he knows a lot more than people think,” said wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who was drafted in the second round in 2016 after Jackson had left for Cleveland. “He’s the best fit coming in because he’s been here and his presence has been felt and he understands this team and how the players work. … He’s a huge help in this organization to help strategize for all our division opponents because he’s been around a while and he can put in his advice as well. I think it’s a big advantage for us.”