There is a shaved-truffle-thin sliver of solace for 49ers this year, and it is this: Their team won a game. Yes, it came months ago and is difficult to believe in retrospect, but 1-11 is so, so much better than 0-12. Infinitely better, mathematically and spiritually.
Ask the Cleveland Browns, who are four games away from being the second 0-16 team in NFL history, and one of the few ever to go winless over the course of a season. Flipping the connections to the East Bay, the Browns’ coach is none other than Hue Jackson, who spent one strange season (2011) as Raiders head coach before Reggie McKenzie entered the building and promptly fired him.
Back on Nov. 14, Cleveland VP of football operations Sashi Brown declared that Jackson’s job was safe through 2016. Well, okay. Nice to get the public vote of confidence. But the Browns were 0-10 at the time. Now they’re 0-12 and stumbling closer to the precipice. So I don’t buy the VP’s declaration as an absolute, not by a long shot. The Lions fired Rod Marinelli, a highly respected coach, when they went 0-16 in 2008. If the Browns lose to Cincinnati, Buffalo, San Diego and Pittsburgh to close out the season, there will be strong pressure to make a coaching change. And let’s be honest, Hue Jackson knows how to set a few bridges afire.
In other words, Jackson could be on the verge of something historic. An exhaustive review by the Press Democrat (i.e. poaching information from pro-football-reference.com, the NFL Record & Fact Book and the wonderful 1986 edition of The Official NFL Encyclopedia) reveals that Hue has a chance to become just the second coach in the modern history of the league to go one-and-done twice.
I do not include interim coaches who failed to retain the job. I do include interim coaches who kept the job, but then were let go during or after their next season. Basically, if a guy was announced as head coach during the offseason, and wasn’t in his office more than one year, he’s eligible. Also, I investigated the NFL of the 1920s and 1930s, but the number of one-and-dones was off the chart, and the circumstances of their departures murky. This was the era of the player-coach, and reading the coaching records of the day makes it seem like a dozen guys on the team got together each year and said, “OK, who wants to coach this season?” It’s also possible that some coaches stepped down simply to earn more money delivering blocks of ice or steering trolley cars.
In any case, Hue Jackson could be in wonderful company. Because the only other post-1930s coach to go one-and-done twice is none other than the great Sid Gillman. Hall of Famer. “Father of the Modern Passing Game.” Mentor to Al Davis. Gillman did great things with the early LA/San Diego Chargers of the AFL. But after he came back to coach San Diego in 1971, he resigned “by mutual consent” (hey, Jed; hey, Harbs) after 10 games, with the Chargers at 4-6. Three years later, the Houston Oilers hired him. They finished 7-7, and Gillman was gone again.
Standing alongside Sid Gillman is pretty exclusive. But in reality, Jackson has the opportunity to stand alone. He could be the first modern NFL coach to twice be fired after only one season. That’s because Gillman didn’t exactly get canned in 1975. How do we know? Because when the Oilers hired Bum Phillips that season, the general manager who made the decision was… drum roll… Sid Gillman! Even the contrarian Sid wouldn’t have fired himself.
Hue Jackson going one-and-done again (and I’m not arguing it will definitely happen) would be an especially odd twist, because the circumstances of his dismissals would be so different.
Jackson’s 2011 Raiders were a solid 8-8, and they were exciting. He improved the offense by leaps and bounds. McKenzie didn’t dump him for anything that happened on the field, but for everything that happened away from it. The new GM simply didn’t trust Jackson, who had brazenly announced his intention to exert influence over personnel decisions.
This year, everyone in Cleveland seems to like Jackson fine. His players are terrible but, from a distance, appear to be expending effort. If the coach gets the ax, it will have everything to do with 0-16.
I don’t root for people to get fired. But if Hue Jackson is going to get his walking papers in January, he may as well make a little NFL history in the process.