Note to 49ers: Beware of Hue Jackson.
Jackson may be frontrunner in the 49ers’ head coaching search. Chip Kelly may be frontrunner. Rumors swirl. Today’s column is about Jackson, possibly the world’s biggest phony. If Kelly remains a candidate, more on him later.
Easy to see why the Niners like Jackson. Smart offensive coach. The Niners need a coach with offensive smarts. You saw what happened this season, the 49ers with one of the dumbest offenses in football history. Has to change.
But is Jackson the right changer?
I experienced his worst moment, was there when he ripped his team. His behavior was disgusting. He was disgusting. He had been nicey-nicey all season. Too nice for his own good. Too nice to be true. A real phony.
But on Jan. 1, 2012, after his team got eliminated from the playoffs by losing at home to the Chargers, he let his players have it. In a press conference. To the media. Violated the first tenet of the football code — keep things in-house; don’t embarrass your players publicly.
Jackson threw his team under the bus. That’s a cliché, sure, but it works here. Jackson didn’t just throw his team under the bus. He backed the bus over the players’ prone bodies and honked the horn.
Here’s a sample of what Jackson said that day. Warning: When you read this you may feel queasy.
“I’m pissed at my team. At some point in time as a group of men you go in the game and, you can say whatever you want about coaches, you win the game. Here’s your time. Here’s your time to make some plays. We didn’t get them stopped and we didn’t make enough plays. Yeah, I’m pissed at the team. Like I tell them, I always put it on me, but I am pissed at my team because when you have those kind of opportunities, you’ve got to do it and we didn’t do it.”
Translation: Jackson coached well. His players let him down, sold him out, betrayed him. What a bum.
Question: If the Raiders didn’t play well — and they didn’t — isn’t it the coach’s job to make them play well? To induce a good performance? I mean, if a coach isn’t in charge of the level of play, what is he in charge of?
This you should know. At one point in that 2011 season, the Raiders were 7-4. Then they lost four of their final five games. Jackson could blame his players till the end of time. He, the coach, couldn’t get them to play. The Raiders ended the season 8-8. Same record as the previous season under Tom Cable. No progress with Jackson.
What Jackson said — what he did — is the stuff coaches never live down. It was a failure of leadership. Complete lack of leadership. And of character.
And remember a direct comparison exists with Jackson’s behavior after that loss. The Raiders lost their final game this season. Instead of a .500 record, they went 7-9. Jack Del Rio didn’t blame his players. He praised them, said the team will improve. The way Del Rio acted is how a leader acts.
Let’s move onto Jackson’s second theme in that infamous news conference. Call this one hubris to the max.
“Let me tell you something,” he said, “I’m going to 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. I ain’t feeling like this no more. This is a joke. To have a chance at home to beat a football team that is reeling after being beaten in Detroit, who’s one of your rivals and they come in here and beat us like that, I’m going to take a hand in everything.”
Right, Jackson was taking a hand. Actually, he was taking a hike. Mark Davis, who had just taken over the team after his dad died, listened to Jackson’s blatant power grab, hired Reggie McKenzie as his new general manager and watched happily as McKenzie kicked Jackson out the door.
If Jackson had a sense of where he fit in the Raiders organization, of his own well being, of how things work, he would have expressed his ambitions privately to Mark Davis. Or kept his mouth shut. But he bullied Mark Davis. What he tried in that dank, dreary, gray interview room was a palace coup. He lost. And got what he deserved.
How does all this relate to the 49ers?
After the futile attempt at a power grab in Oakland, the 49ers and all potential hirers have to be aware of Jackson’s hidden agendas. Can he be trusted not to upset the organization’s structure after a year or so, especially if he feels empowered because he wins some games?
Here’s another way to state that question. Can the 49ers trust him as a person?
Then there’s the issue of Jackson and current general manager Trent Baalke. Baalke is a power horder. Jackson is a power grabber. Combustible mix. Baalke has to be leery of what happened in Oakland recurring within his team, especially since he knows he’s on a short leash as GM. He’s next to get fired if things go badly.
Jackson could use Baalke’s vulnerability to put himself forward. It’s how he operates. You wonder how he and Baalke will work together on personnel decisions, free agency, the draft. Not to say Baalke is good — he isn’t. But these two could have total war — exactly what the Niners tried to avoid by letting Jim Harbaugh go.
So, sure, Jed York and his advisers may be in love with Hue Jackson, with his smart words, smooth manner and bewitching smile. Beware.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.