Hue Jackson the front-runner in Browns search

Posted at 9:33 AM, Jan 12, 2016

The Browns' coaching search has gone strangely silent.

After interviewing seven candidates last week, the team did not conduct any meetings on Monday, a break that could indicate owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have someone in mind to become their eighth coach since 1999.

Or they could just be catching their breath.

Cleveland's search committee was back at the team's headquarters to regroup after a busy few days talking to prospective coaches.

On Sunday, the Browns concluded the first week of their search with a four-hour interview with Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson shortly after the 50-year-old visited with the San Francisco 49ers about their vacancy.

Jackson, who has spent 15 years as an NFL coach, appears to have emerged as the front-runner to replace Mike Pettine, fired following a 3-13 season. However, as of Monday night, the Browns had not offered their job to Jackson, also drawing interest from the New York Giants.

Both complicating and adding intrigue to the pursuit of Jackson is that NFL owners will be in Houston the next two days to vote on which team or teams will relocate to Los Angeles.

Jackson's familiarity with the AFC North—and the work he has done with Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton—may give him an edge over the other candidates. Jackson, too, has head coaching experience, another bonus for the Browns. He led the Oakland Raiders to an 8-8 record in 2011.

Jackson and Jacksonville offensive assistant Doug Marrone are the only coaches the Browns have met with thus far who have been NFL head coaches.

Fired by Oakland in 2012, Jackson joined Marvin Lewis' staff in Cincinnati as the secondary coach. He coached the Bengals running backs in 2013 before taking over Cincinnati's offense the past two seasons.

Dalton blossomed under Jackson, passing for 3,250 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.

Jackson has a history of working with quarterbacks. He was a quarterback at Pacific, although he spent a lot of time handing off. After 14 seasons of college coaching, including the offensive coordinator at Southern California when it was recruiting Carson Palmer, Jackson got his first pro job with the Redskins in 2001. He was promoted to coordinator there two years later.

Jackson was the receivers coach in Cincinnati from 2004-06—when Chad Ochocinco was their top target—before going to the Falcons as offensive coordinator. He was the Raiders' coordinator before getting his one-year promotion to head coach.

Jackson is known for the creative flair he brought to Cincinnati's offense with unbalanced lines, wildcat formations and linemen lining up as slot receivers.

He pushed Dalton to become one of the league's top QBs—he led it in passer rating when he broke his thumb on Dec. 13—and then got the inexperienced AJ McCarron ready to lead the Bengals into the playoffs.  McCarron won two of the Bengals' last three games in the regular season, and put them ahead with 1:50 left in their playoff game loss Saturday night against Pittsburgh by throwing a TD pass to A.J. Green.

Before speaking with Jackson, the Browns met on Sunday with Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who interrupted his preparation for this week's playoff game against Seattle to speak with Cleveland executives.

The Browns have also interviewed Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson and New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Adam Gase, the first candidate to meet with Cleveland, was hired by Miami on Saturday.