Shock of Browns coaching changes yet to wear off among players

Players learned Monday of firings by watching TV, social media

Daryl Ruiter
October 31, 2018 - 2:45 pm
John Dorsey Jimmy Haslam Cleveland Browns fire Hue Jackson

Daryl Ruiter-92.3 The Fan

Categories: 

Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Wednesday’s are typically the day the focus and attention shifts to the upcoming opponent, but Oct. 31, 2018 wasn’t your ordinary Wednesday for the Browns.

And it had nothing to do with Halloween.

The shock from the firings of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday wasn’t even close to wearing off yet when the locker room opened to reporters prior to the first official practice under interim head coach Gregg Williams.

“Blindsided, I would say,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “It’s unfortunate anytime someone you’ve been working with the last few years gets fired or is let go. As an organization, it’s a tough decision. As players, we have to move on and get ready to play this week. You never expect something like that to happen. It just happens. Now we have to regroup.”

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was caught off guard as well.

“It was just surprising to me,” Mayfield said. “I have never gone through anything like that. That is my ‘welcome to the business moment,’ I think.”

Mayfield experienced a coaching change at Oklahoma when Bob Stoops stepped down after 18 seasons and Lincoln Riley took over in June 2017, an experience he hopes to draw from and that this team responds the same way they did at Oklahoma.

“It was different. It was new to us. We used that to come together,” Mayfield said. “I expect the guys in here to be grown men, to be experienced football players and to handle it that way and keep that same mindset of that we have the same goal. We need to reach that and work with each other.”

Players learned of the Jackson and Haley firings in the Brownsiest of ways – through social media and the TVs that were on within the building.

“We had a special teams meeting in the morning and nothing had happened yet and so we have that meeting with Amos [Jones] and we came out of that and we heard coach Jackson was fired but we didn’t hear it from anybody,” Bitonio said. “It was probably how you guys heard it, online or through the TVs and then an hour or so later they said meetings are pushed back until 2 and then Todd [Haley] got fired as well. Once we had that meeting, Jimmy Haslam was down there and that’s when he told us.”

One player who probably isn’t sad to see either Jackson or Haley go is running back Duke Johnson, although he won’t say it.

“I’m a player. I come in to play regardless of the coach,” Johnson said.

Jackson and Haley couldn’t figure out how to effectively use the explosive Johnson if their jobs depended on it with no complaints from the fourth-year back.

"I'm a pro," Johnson said. "Regardless of how I feel, it's irrelevant. We're losing, we're not winning and things are not well so my feelings doesn't matter." 

The “internal discord” as Haslam put it was behind the changes, but players claimed to not notice, feel, or observe it having any negative affect within the locker room or on the field.

“Other than people talking about it outside the building,” Johnson said as he shook his head, “I didn’t feel anything. [I] come in, do my job and go home.”

The problems between Jackson and Haley seemed to be news to right guard Kevin Zeitler.

“I have no idea about any of that,” Zeitler said. “It doesn't matter, it comes down to players, we have to make things happen and, going forward, that's how we have to think about it.”

Jackson allowed Haley space to run the offense according to Bitonio.

“We didn’t really get a sense of it. At least for me, there was never any fighting on the field or anything like that,” Bitonio said “It was just business as usual. Todd ran the offensive meetings. Coach Jackson would sit in on them, but he was never really a voice in them. He ran his team meetings and had his input on the field if something looked off, but there was never any discord that we noticed as players.”

Regardless of the Jackson-Haley dynamic, the bottom line is the Browns weren’t doing everything it takes to win, and that’s where Mayfield placed the blame for their 2-5-1 record.   

“If [the discord] was there, wasn’t paying attention to it,” Mayfield said. “What it comes down to is the fact that we weren’t making the plays and doing our job well enough to win. If you look at the tape, it was always a mistake here or there, a bad read, stuff like that, missed assignments, so it doesn’t come down to the stuff off the field, it comes down to the play.”

Williams takes over with a lot of football remaining – 8 games worth – and everyone seems to be looking to Mayfield, the future of the franchise, to lead the charge and salvage as much of the season as possible.

“Bring it on,” Mayfield said.