BEREA, Ohio — For two years, the Browns have been following a rebuilding plan that has produced one win.
“What is this record?” coach Hue Jackson asked Monday. “1-25? Lord, have mercy.”
Divine intervention might be the only thing that can help Cleveland’s sorry football team.
With the losses piling up faster than he realized and his future very much in doubt, Jackson was asked directly on Monday if the team’s blueprint, developed by vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and his staff, was working.
“Which plan?” Jackson asked.
The overall one.
“I really don’t want to get into that,” Jackson said during a news conference in which he was at times defensive and combative. “I think you guys (media members) are the best judges of that right now. I think everybody speculates on it. This is what I want to do: I want to coach our football team to get better. My job is to do everything I can to help these players, these coaches be the best they can be and obviously with a 1-24 record, or whatever it is, it’s not been pretty good, so that’s where I’m going to continue to put my focus.”
The Browns are 0-10 this season, and 1-25 under Jackson. And while change seems inevitable in Cleveland, Jackson wouldn’t judge a front office that allowed several key free agents to leave, missed on quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the past two drafts and handed him the NFL’s youngest roster.
However, Jackson’s refusal to defend the team’s decision makers seemed telling.
“I’m not interested in talking about a plan,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about a plan. I want to talk about our football team and coaching this team and getting them better. That’s my attitude and my attitude’s not going to change. I’m going to keep telling you the same thing. I’m not mad at anybody in this room, but I’m not talking about no plan. I’m talking about coaching our team. That’s all I’m going to do.”
Last week, owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam met with Jackson and several players to discuss the sad state of the Browns, who are 4-43 since the end of the 2014 season — the worst 47-game stretch in NFL history.
Guard Joel Bitonio said he and his teammates — members of the leadership council — appreciated the chance to give their input. He described “good dialogue” between the sides, but would not comment on any specifics of the discussions.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction still, even though we haven’t put a win on the board,” Bitonio said. “But I think it just shows that the owners are in such a good position where they’ll hear from their players to see what they think we need to do because we’re in the battle every day and they’re here supporting us, but they want to know from our perspective what we think needs to change and what’s doing well.”
Bitonio came away with the sense that the Haslams intend to stay patient throughout a painful process.
“As far as I know, I think they’re sticking with the plan,” he said. “That’s all I know. I mean, I’m just a player, but from what I’ve seen, we’re trying to stick with the plan and keep building.”
It would be hard to imagine the Haslams keeping things intact. The Browns remain a league-wide laughingstock, and Cleveland’s loyal fans are no longer filling FirstEnergy Stadium the way they did during previous lean seasons. The stadium was no more than half-full during any point in Sunday’s 19-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And while there are reports the Haslams may try to entice former NFL star Peyton Manning into taking a prominent role in Cleveland, the truth is the Browns are not appealing to anyone at the moment.
The losing has stained everyone involved, but Jackson isn’t hiding in shame.
“It is not what anybody wants it to be,” he said. “We have earned this. Whatever record we have, we have earned in this organization. The only thing we can do is do everything in our power to change it. That is what we have to do.”