Jackson’s future dim as winless Browns play Vikes in London
By Tom Withers
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Hue Jackson’s going back to London, the lone European stop on his extensive coaching resume. The food never became appealing to him, but Jackson won a championship during his stay.
He’d settle for win on his return.
With Jackson suffering through another painful, winless season in his second year in Cleveland, his future has become uncertain as the Browns travel across the Atlantic to host the Minnesota Vikings at Twickenham Stadium.
It’s a home game, 3,800 miles from FirstEnergy Stadium for the Browns, and for Jackson, it’s a homecoming of sorts after spending part of 1991 as an assistant with the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football. Jackson was in England for more than three months, and remembers those times fondly.
“We won the World Bowl and had a great time, a good experience,” he said. “The food was different, the living arrangements were different, but it was fun. It was a good time.”
It’s been anything but fun for him this season as the Browns (0-7) have failed to show any significant progress following a 1-15 season. In fact, it could be argued they’ve gotten worse.
Jackson’s handling — or mishandling — of rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, his team’s excessive penalties and some questionable in-game decisions have increased pressure on the coach and heightened speculation he’ll be fired.
Jackson, who is also handling offensive coordinator duties, has at times turned defensive during interviews in recent weeks while maintaining his conviction that he and Cleveland’s analytics-heavy front office will get things turned around.
But time is running out, and the 1-22 record over two seasons can’t be ignored.
Yet, while outside pressure builds, Jackson’s players say he has maintained a positive front, still pushing, still motivating, still unwavering.
“It’s tough for him,” said offensive guard Joel Bitonio. “He wants to win. He’s been stressing winning and to not win and have the record he’s had is tough. It’s been hard for him, and you can tell. But that’s the thing that makes him a great head coach is he comes to those meetings, he’s very energetic, he’s ready to coach, he’s on to the next week.”
On Sunday, Jackson will square off with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, one of his closest friends. They were together on Marvin Lewis’ staff in Cincinnati.
Zimmer said it’s been tough to see Jackson suffer, but he thinks his friend has his team on the right track.
“Hue is a heck of a football coach. He is tough. He is smart. He is a great competitor,” Zimmer said. “I know that it is taking him a little bit longer than what he has anticipated, but he is going to get that thing turned around. That is the kind of guy he is. He will never stop or relax until he gets it all right.”
The Browns have a bye next week, and Jackson has to hope it won’t be a bye-bye week for him.
In the past three years, at least two teams (Oakland 2014, Miami 2015) have fired their coaches on the way back from London.
NO JOE PRO
For the first time since the 2006 season finale, the Browns will have someone other than Joe Thomas at left tackle. The iron man Pro Bowler suffered a season-ending triceps injury last week, snapping his streak of consecutive plays at 10,363.
Spencer Drango will fill in for Thomas, and will have to deal with Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, third in the NFL with nine sacks, including at least one in each game.
With a sack against the Browns, Griffen would become only the third player to record a sack in each of his team’s first eight games, joining Dwight Freeney (2009) and Robert Mathis (2005) of Indianapolis.
Cleveland will also be missing rookie standout Myles Garrett because of a concussion. The defensive end was placed in protocol earlier in the week after complaining of symptoms two days after the Browns’ overtime loss to Tennessee.
When he’s been healthy, Garrett has been a force, recording four sacks in three games. He missed the season’s first four games with a sprained ankle.
JET LAG REMEDIES
Only 10 players from Minnesota’s roster remain from the team’s visit to London in 2013, a win over Pittsburgh. Zimmer was hired the following year, so this will be a new experience for much of the team, beginning with the five-hour time difference.
Players were given advice from sleep experts on time zone adjustment and given special glasses to wear for smartphone viewing in order to minimize the stimulation from the bright screen.
The Browns chartered a jet that will have enough room for players to get some sleep.
“It’s all football. They’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do it,” Vikings cornerback Terence Newman said.
After ranking last in the NFL in 2016 in rushing, the Vikings have made major strides with their ground game, even after the loss of rookie Dalvin Cook to a season-ending knee injury. They’re tied for eighth in the league with an average of 124.6 yards per game.