While the Browns relaxed during the bye week, their fired former coach went back to work.
Hue Jackson’s got a new gig.
And this strange season in Cleveland will take another odd turn Sunday when the Browns face the Bengals and Jackson, who somehow survived an 0-16 season and was only briefly unemployed before being hired last week as a special assistant to Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis.
“It is Hue,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said.
But even though Jackson has changed back into Bengals stripes, the Browns aren’t worried that their ex-coach on the sideline gives Cincinnati an added advantage.
“It’s a divisional game!” cried Browns safety Damarious Randall. “We knew what they were doing before he went over there and they know exactly what we’re going to do. At the end of the day, we’re just going to go out and punch them in the mouth — straight up. That’s exactly what you have to do on the road rivalry games. You have to go punch them in the mouth.
“If that’s what we do, it doesn’t matter what they have over there.”
Jackson’s same-season reunion against the Browns seems to be unprecedented. The NFL doesn’t keep record of coaches facing their former teams.
“It is surprising,” Browns guard Kevin Zeitler said.
The Browns (3-6-1) returned from their week off healthier than they’ve been all season, and there was even chatter inside the locker room about making a playoff run over the next six weeks.
First, though, comes a somewhat awkward reunion with Jackson, who was fired on Oct. 29, a day after the Browns lost in Pittsburgh. Jackson’s dismissal wasn’t unexpected, given his struggles in Cleveland.
But his return to Cincinnati, where Jackson worked as offensive coordinator with the Bengals (5-5) under Lewis before he was hired by the Browns in 2016, has created two matchups in which the spotlight will be focused on him — whether he likes it or not.
Jackson had a good rapport with his players in Cleveland and several on Monday said they were thrilled he landed on his feet so quickly.
“It will feel a little awkward, but I’m very happy for coach Jackson,” cornerback T.J. Carrie said. “He is a great coach and a great person. It was not going to be a long time before he wasn’t without a job, so it is really good just to be able to see him in a position where he is being able to control a lot of the things over there.”
Jackson’s intimate knowledge of Cleveland’s personnel, schemes and playbook would seem to give the Bengals an almost unfair benefit.
But like Randall, Carrie said AFC North games are decided by which team executes better and not by any insider knowledge.
Carrie doesn’t think Jackson jumping teams makes any difference.
“These divisional games, we play year in and year out twice a year,” he said. “We know what they are going to do. They know what we are going to do. There is not really more scheme-wise that they can really dive into that we can surprise them with. It is all going to be about going out there and playing smash-mouth football.”
Interim Browns coach Gregg Williams said he was “happy” for Jackson and called him a “very smart coach.” However, he said the Browns won’t change any of their play call or audibles and Jackson’s familiarity with the Browns won’t make much difference once the game starts.
“There is nothing private in our world anymore,” Williams said. “Every single clip of film is out there for everybody to watch. It is about execution. We have to go and execute. Even in practices, our guys know what the guys on the other side of the ball are going to be doing, but they get out-executed at times.”
Randall said Jackson’s impact will be minimal.
It’s not him vs. the Browns, it’s the Bengals vs. the Browns.
“The game is on 11-on-11 up on the field and I don’t feel like them having him over there is going to give them no type of edge,” he said.
“It is what it is. They see what we do up on film. Whatever they need to know, they can watch film and see it. We don’t got nothing to hide over here, we’re here to play football and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
NOTES: Williams said he intends to interview for Cleveland’s full-time job once the season ends. Last week, general manager John Dorsey said Williams had earned an interview with the job he’s done since stepping in. ... The starting left tackle job remains an open competition between rookie Desmond Harrison and Greg Robinson, who started the past two games before the bye.