So this is what life has become for the 49ers: Battling another bad NFL franchise, the Cleveland Browns, for the services of an offensive coordinator who was one-and-done-ziggied by the Raiders four years ago and is no certainty to create buzz, appease the Stadium Builders License mob, fix Colin Kaepernick or win many games.
In fact, wouldn’t Hue Jackson bring the same emotional reality show, if also a more likable disposition, that led to Jim Harbaugh’s pink slip 13 months ago in Santa Clara? Last we saw him in the Bay Area, Jackson struck the pose of an outspoken, ego-crazy character who always snared the media spotlight yet, in the end, melted down in a memorable Coliseum press conference at which he ripped his players and vowed to assume more front-office control.
“To say I’m pissed off is an understatement,” he said that tenure-ending day. “I’m not going to sugar-coat it. … I’m pissed at the team. This team needs an attitude adjustment. What I mean by that, the killer instinct has got to exist here.
“Let me tell you something: I’m going take a stronger hand in this whole team, this whole organization. There ain’t no way that I’m going to feel like I feel today a year from now. I promise you that.”
Meltdown also describes what happened Saturday night to the Cincinnati Bengals. In a postseason self-destruction unlike any in NFL history, they crashed again with two abominable personal fouls from two dubious characters, Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones, in a stunning last-minute loss to Pittsburgh. Jackson is the offensive coordinator of the Bengals, and while Burfict and Jones are defensive players who were brought in by owner Mike Brown and coddled by the playoff-allergic head coach, Marvin Lewis, do the 49ers really want a head coach associated in any way with that all-time disgrace and loss of composure?
Again, in a necessary rewind of the same baffling question that will haunt this franchise for years, why would Jed York and Trent Baalke fire Harbaugh for being too emotional and demanding more control of the football paradigm … and then, in 2016, hire a head coach known for being emotional and, in at least one very public instance, wanting more control? Does this sound, uh, inconsistent? Hypocritical? Didn’t I ask the same question last week when they interviewed Chip Kelly, who lost control of a team in Philadelphia in a red-flag disconnect for his next employer? Are there no boundaries for the public puzzlement created by the owner and general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, the team that once hired Bill Walsh and George Seifert to win Super Bowls and the team that recently hired Harbaugh to at least reach a Super Bowl?
It’s revealing, though hardly surprising, that Jed and Trent flew to Cincinnati, spent five hours with Jackson on Sunday and made it known to the NFL Network (York to reporter Michael Silver) that Jackson was their first choice — only to leave Ohio empty-handed. There is no evidence that an offer was made, but perhaps he didn’t want one from either bottom-feeder when a legitimate NFL franchise, the New York Giants, seeks to meet with Jackson as early as today. Given a choice of signing with the dysfunctional Niners, opting for a tragicomic Browns franchise that may draft Cal quarterback Jared Goff and just hired former Billy Beane operative Paul DePodesta (played by a larger Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”) as a “chief strategy officer” or plotting strategy in East Rutherford with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., well, Hue may be a little wild but he’s not dumb.
All of which makes it clear the 49ers won’t be hiring a major name to replace Jim Tomsula, not that anyone expected one after watching Jed and Trent trash the franchise since the move to Levi’s Stadium. Not even Jackson, 8-8 in one season as an NFL head coach, is sure he wants to work for them. David Shaw doesn’t. Sean Payton didn’t. Kelly might, but I’m betting he’d rather reunite with Marcus Mariota in Tennessee.
“I believe in chasing perfection,” York said the other day.
Perfection isn’t walking through that door. Mediocrity isn’t even walking through that door.
“We want somebody that has leadership ability and a clear vision of what the San Francisco 49ers are and a clear vision on how to get us back to a championship caliber,” York said the other day.
But how is he sure that Jackson eventually won’t lash out as he did after his final game in Oakland? Mark Davis should have been impressed that Jackson was the last coaching hire of his late father. But Jackson fell out of favor when he made bold moves after Al Davis’ death — trading for Carson Palmer and Aaron Curry — that didn’t help the Raiders avoid a late-season, 1-4 swoon that left them out of the playoffs. The coach didn’t help himself in his locker room when he continued to trot out the troubled linebacker, Rolando McClain, after a gun episode in Alabama. When the tension resulted in failure, Jackson blamed everyone but
“I ain’t feeling like this no more. This is a joke. … Yeah, I’m going to take a hand in everything that goes on here,” he declared.
Mark Davis brought in new blood: general manager Reggie McKenzie. Days later, Jackson was looking for work. He made his way to Cincinnati, where he honed a potent offense this season and appeared to turn erratic Andy Dalton into an elite quarterback. But once again, the Bengals went bust in the playoffs. And their offense didn’t impress anyone on a failed two-point conversion with 1:50 left, giving Pittsburgh a chance for the winning field goal … which came after Jackson’s running back, Jeremy Hill, fumbled the ball away.
Those who’ve worked with Jackson are divided. CBS analyst Bart Scott, who played in Baltimore when Jackson was on the Ravens’ staff, said he “was too much of a players guy. He was hanging out with players off the field. It has to be a fine line that you walk.”
Amy Trask, the former Raiders executive, said the public wasn’t aware of how Jackson “labored under challenges no one is aware of” that season — presumably, related to the Davises. “I worked side by side with this man,” said Trask, also a CBS analyst. “If anyone were able to comment on whether he was ‘power-hungry’ or not, it would be me. And let me tell you something: Of all the coaches with whom I’ve worked over a roughly 30-year period, he was at the low end of power-hungry coaches.”
One of my resolutions this year is to stop mentioning Harbaugh. Life, like khakis, go through spin cycles. But when I hear about Hue Jackson and Chip Kelly and the possibility that one of their large personalties is coming, sorry, I can’t resist.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.