The San Francisco 49ers are scheduled to interview Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson this Sunday for their vacant head coach position. Jackson has spent the past four seasons as an assistant with Cincinnati after a brief stint as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Jackson started with the Raiders in 2010 as offensive coordinator, and was promoted to head coach in 2011. He started the season 7-4, and finished 8-8. It was a tumultuous time, marked by the death of owner Al Davis midway through the season.
I recently spoke with Levi Damien, editor of our Raiders blog, Silver & Black Pride. As we do with the 49ers, he passionately follows his Oakland Raiders, so he had plenty to say about the Hue Jackson era. I've got a phone call planned for Friday with another person who can give us even more insight, but for now I wanted to start with this. All the content below comes courtesy of Levi.
Hue Jackson was and is a brilliant offensive mind. In his two seasons in Oakland (one as OC and one as head coach) he managed to make Darren McFadden into a superstar for a season and a half and Jason Campbell also looked better than he ever had. In the process the team had its only two non-losing seasons in the past 13 years. Not surprisingly Jackson worked himself back up the ladder in Cincinnati and now once again is a hot name in the head coaching search. That being said, as a head coach, he made many mistakes.
His trades as the unofficial 'acting GM' not withstanding, immediately after signing Carson Palmer off the couch, he played unnecessary mind games with the media about who would be starting at QB the following week against the Chiefs. In the end, it backfired badly. After splitting snaps in practice, Kyle Boller got the start and threw three interceptions (the last game of his career). Carson Palmer started the second half and threw three picks of his own. And after Jackson teased everyone by tossing Terrelle Pryor's name in the mix, Pryor saw one unofficial snap (false start). Hue also traded for Aaron Curry and simply handed him the starting outside linebacker job without earning it or giving him time to acclimate to his new defense. That was a disaster too. The last straw was when Rolando McClain was arrested for shooting a gun by a guy's head while in Alabama for his grandfather's funeral, he met up with the team in Miami for their week 13 game against the Dolphins and missed exactly ONE snap. I believe he lost the team that day and it is no coincidence the then 7-4 team lost four of the last five games and missed the playoffs on the final game of the season.
That being said, it is reasonable to expect he learned a lot from his one season at the helm in Oakland and his subsequent firing. Without being inside his head, I would bet the entire experience was humbling for him. And I mean that in the ACTUAL meaning of the word "humbling". Not the more common incorrect usage when they really mean "honored."
As far as why he was fired, some believe it was his press conference tirade following the season ending loss that knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs. There were two things that stood out to me about Hue Jackson's tirade. The first was how for the first time since he became head coach, he laid some blame for the team's failings on the players for not getting it done. A lot of people like to say he 'threw his team under the bus'. Maybe so, but I personally appreciated the candor. He always came off as a politician so that statement was somewhat refreshing. The second statement, and the one that didn't sit well with owner Mark Davis, was Hue's statement about taking a more active role in the direction of the franchise. With the death of Al Davis during the season, Jackson had already been handed the keys to the castle. The result was him sending the farm to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer, calling it the greatest trade in football, along with sending a fifth round pick to Seattle for bust Aaron Curry. After all that, and missing the playoffs, at that moment he was sounding like the power he was wielding had gotten the best of him.
Even with all that, I was pretty surprised Hue Jackson was fired. I honestly did not expect Reggie McKenzie to make his first act as new General Manager to fire a first-year head coach coming off an 8-8 season. Even if he was afraid that perhaps Jackson would overstep his bounds, we're talking about the coach who had brought the Raiders back to respectability and on the doorstep of the playoffs. But it wasn't as simple as McKenzie bringing in 'his guy'. The ultimate decision was McKenzie's to make, but that decision was heavily influenced by Davis's suggestion. But that decision was heavily influenced by Davis's, let's say, suggestion. Davis's feelings on the matter were pretty apparent when in McKenzie's opening press conference, Davis was asked point blank if Jackson was let go because of his words about taking over more organizational control and Davis gave one of the more loaded 'No comment' responses you'll see/hear.
In the end, the Raiders replaced Jackson with one of the few coaches who were willing to take on sinking ship -- Dennis Allen. The Raiders had some huge 'out of whack' contracts and they set on cleaning house. They all knew they were in for at least a couple of seasons of ugly, non-competitive football. They had Hue Jackson already in place and could have let him go through all that, but opted to start fresh.