McLain: Biggest surprise is Hue Jackson survives the season

Hue Jackson was on the verge of tears.

Corey Coleman did everything within his power to suppress tears.

Browns Nation, which has been reduced to tattered, Third World status, didn’t know whether to cry or wind their watches – to coin a phrase used by legendary Pittsburgh Penguins announcer Mike Lange. If the idea of ringing in the New Year didn’t lead many to begin drinking heavily, the sight of Coleman dropping a fourth-down pass late in the 28-24 loss to the Steelers undoubtedly produced a few popped corks.

I hesitate to say this once iconic franchise reached a new low here Sunday at Heinz Field, since it’s no longer iconic. The adjective doesn’t apply when the only fans that can remember the franchise’s lone great decade – the 1950s – are the few surviving members of the World War II generation.

Despite all that happened in this season of misery, standing tall at the end of it is Jackson, the embattled coach who has avoided the full wrath of fans because he’s a nice guy and he didn’t bench Bernie Kosar. Kosar’s coach, Bill Belichick, was vilified for that action in the 1993 season. The man now known as arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, literally had to be sheltered when he walked from the locker room to the media room at Cleveland Stadium, all the while hearing chants of “Bill Must Go” ringing from the huddled masses.

Jackson, 1-31 in two seasons on the job, has lived a comfortable existence compared to Belichick. The vote of confidence he was given by owner Jimmy Haslam throughout the season remained firmly in place as spoke with emotion about the 0-16 debacle.

If you still didn’t believe it was true, it was confirmed minutes later when Haslam conducted his annual season wrap-up interview outside the Browns locker room. Once considered an owner of little patience, Haslam is suddenly forgiving of all sins, including the one about honoring what’s left of the franchise’s pride.

“I don’t think anybody predicted 0-16, so that was disappointing,” Haslam said. “The progress has been uneven. We’ve got the ability or opportunity to move substantially forward this offseason for next year and that’s what we’ve got to do. Talk is cheap. It’s one thing to say it. We have to do it.”

In an era where head coaches can be gone as quick as one temper tantrum by an owner, Haslam’s faith in Jackson is strange. There was every reason to retain Jackson after the 1-15 season of 2016 – when the roster was gutted to the bone – but to keep him after this season is beyond logic.

The excuses have been talking points from day one of the season. You should know them by now – the Browns have to play perfect to win; quarterback DeShone Kizer’s mistakes can’t be overcome; and on and on.

At some time part of the responsibility has to fall on the shoulders of the head coach. The wasted timeouts, poor replay challenges and questionable play-calling have played a part in many of the defeats. There might not be an abundance of talent on hand, but you have to believe that Bud Carson would have found a way to win a few games with this group.

In another of what has become a series of strange comments, Jackson defended his performance the last two seasons.

“I don’t think anybody else could’ve done this job,” Jackson said, insinuating that some coaches would have tossed in the towel after last season. “I don’t think a lot of people could’ve done this job so I understand where our fans are and hope in time that will change. They don’t like it now. I don’t like it any more than they do. This is the hand that they’re dealt, we’re dealt and we’ve got to fix it and that’s what we’re going to do.”

If you say so, Hue. But what happens if you’re staring at 0-4 out of the gate next season? That’s when GM John Dorsey walks into Haslam’s office with a list of complaints, and you’re out of a job. Enter an interim coach and another awful season.

The Browns went 3-13 under Carson and interim coach Jim Shofner in 1990 after going 9-6-1 and reaching the AFC Championship Game in 1989. The title of the highlight film in 1990 was “The Season From Hell.”

Kudos to Browns management that year for being brutally honest. It’s a shame the current regime can’t be as honest.

As for the title of this year’s highlight film? I’ll leave that to the imagination of Browns Nation. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Mike McLain is correspondent for The Vindicator. He has covered the Browns since 1980.

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