The wins piled up -- unexpectedly to many -- but something was off.
As he reflected on his first and only season as a head coach, Hue Jackson said he “felt like you were in a maze by yourself” during a whirlwind year in Oakland that was splintered by the death of legendary owner Al Davis.
Those memories resurfaced this week when he met with the Browns search committee twice before accepting the job as Cleveland’s new head coach. What he felt with owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta was nothing like he experienced in the past.
“I understood that through that process what I learned more than anything you have to have support and you can’t do it alone,” Jackson said. “That’s what’s different here. There are a lot of people to support and help and get you what you need as a coach, as a leader to have an opportunity to have success.”
Within a 10-day stretch during the 2011 season, Jackson lost his owner and his starting quarterback. The Raiders never truly recovered from either but battled to an 8-8 finish. It was good enough to finish in a tie for first in the AFC West but not enough to make the playoffs, as Denver beat out Oakland with a tiebreaker.
With heavy hearts following Davis’ death, the Raiders reeled off two consecutive wins, the second of which coming against the Browns, to move to 4-2. Starting quarterback Jason Campbell was lost early in the 24-17 win over the Browns with a broken collarbone and was ruled out for the season.
Shortly thereafter, the Raiders acquired Carson Palmer, who hadn’t played since the end of the 2010 season, in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals. Palmer made his first Oakland start in the Raiders’ eighth game and finished out the season. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,753 yards, 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, and the Raiders went 4-6 in games he played.
“There were challenges under which Hue labored that most people were not aware existed, burdens placed on him that most were not aware existed,” said Amy Trask, the former CEO of the Raiders who now works as a CBSSports analyst, in an interview with 92.3 The Fan’s Bull and Fox. “And then we started losing skill position players right and left.”
After the Raiders reorganized their front office, Jackson, who led Oakland to its most wins since 2002, was removed from his position after just one year. Trask, whom Jackson considered his closest confidante, resigned in May 2013.
Jackson didn’t have time to wallow. He got back on his feet during a difficult time and accepted a job as Cincinnati’s secondary and assistant special teams coach. In his 20 years of coaching to that point in his career, Jackson had never coached on the defensive side of the ball. Within two years, he was back in his comfort zone as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, a position that served as a launching pad back to becoming a head coach.
“I think what you do as an assistant coach in the National Football League is you work. You just put your head down and work,” Jackson said. “Everyone has aspirations, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out for some. I think I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do it again. I am looking forward to this opportunity.”
Jackson said Thursday the biggest lesson he learned in his first head-coaching job was “you can’t do it by yourself.”
“You better have a support group,” Jackson said.
And that aspect is exactly what sold him on the Browns.
“This is about people,” Jackson said. “You have to feel comfortable that you have the proper support to have a chance to have success, and I am more than comfortable with our structure. I’m more than comfortable with the people that I’m sitting up here before.”