BEREA, Ohio – Hue Jackson apologized. There was nothing else to do after making unwelcome history.
One day after an inconceivable season ended without a win, Cleveland’s coach was grateful to still have his job and Jackson took steps to sooth an angry fan base and players who may have doubts about him.
Jackson somehow survived the Browns’ 0-16 season, but it will leave scars.
“This is going to be next to my name for the rest of my life,” he said Monday. “This is part of my legacy now, some of the players that are here, the coaches that are here, everybody.”
For weeks, Jackson, who has managed to stay in the good graces of owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam despite a 1-31 record over two seasons, and the Browns did all they could to reject the possibility of football infamy. But with Sunday’s 28-24 loss in Pittsburgh , they joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to lose all 16 games.
It happened. It hurts.
“Hopefully they forget my name as the years go by,” Browns cornerback Jason McCourty said. “A terrible thing to be a part of, wish you weren’t a part of. We could have won the last game – 1-15 gets you out of the history book, but 1-15 is awful, just as bad. It’s tough.”
And sadly, the Browns aren’t done taking hits. They’re an easy target, a punchline, the team to pile on. While their dismal season has mercifully ended, they’re going to continue to take blows – until they win.
“It is awful,” Jackson said. “We all have to wear it. I don’t think anybody wants to be associated with that. No one started the season thinking that this is how it would turn out. I’m sorry and I apologize if people think that we are not distraught about it, but I don’t think us talking about it over and over and over again (helps) because I think everybody else will.”
Jackson’s right. The 2017 Browns have joined the unofficial club of notorious losers, lumped in with the worst of the worst from other sports genres.
Cleveland fans are beyond frustrated. Worn down by years of losing, one group planned a parade around the team’s downtown stadium on Saturday to “celebrate” the imperfect season.
Many are enraged that Jackson has returned, and he knows there’s only one way to satisfy them.
“Get to winning,” he said. “It is not going to be anything I can really say. It is not going to be words; it is going to be actions.”
As Jackson met with reporters for his year-end news conference, Detroit fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season and Chicago dismissed John Fox following a 5-11 season. Fox had five more wins in 2017 than Jackson, who understood he was lucky to still be employed.
“I get it,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who have better records and all of that who are being let go. I am very fortunate and blessed. I thank Dee and Jimmy for that because there very easily could be somebody else sitting up here. Obviously, they see something – I am very fortunate that they do – that I can lead this organization and this football team to where it needs to go. I thank them for that.”
One of Jackson’s first moves in the offseason could be hiring an offensive coordinator. He has held dual roles the past two seasons, and Jackson acknowledged that he may be trying to do too much.
“There is a possibility,” he said. “I have said before that at some point in time I would like to do differently because I think it is important to coach the team. Now that I truly understand the situation and have been through it and have looked at it, I did not want to put that pressure on somebody else early in this situation. Now knowing, now seeing and now truly believing in that the team is going to take a step forward, everything is on the table.”
As difficult as this season was for Jackson and the Browns, better days could be ahead.
They’ll have the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks in this year’s draft and three selections in the second round, invaluable assets to replenish the league’s youngest roster. New general manager John Dorsey could have as much as $100 million to spend in free agency.
“There is a tomorrow,” guard Joel Bitonio said. “It has been tough, but I know my goal is one day, next year, two years, three years down the road, when we get rookies coming in and we are winning games, they are going to appreciate what we did this year and what we have done the past couple of years that we fought through to make this a winning franchise.”
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