Baker Mayfield isn’t mincing words about former head coach Hue Jackson. But his comments highlight Mayfield’s need to grow up.
When LeBron James chose to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer, he left Cleveland desperate for a new sports savior. Enter Baker Mayfield—the 23-year-old undersized, overconfident rookie who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns.
At the time, many in NFL circles had doubts about whether Mayfield could live up to the billing of his draft selection, and if he was mature enough to lead an NFL huddle.
This past Sunday, Mayfield and the Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in convincing fashion—35-20. The former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback completed 19 of his 26 pass attempts, threw for 258 yards and four touchdowns while posting a passer rating of 143.9.
Instead of talking about his remarkable performance—albeit against one of the worst defenses in NFL history—all we could discuss was Mayfield’s reaction towards his former head coach Hue Jackson.
At the end of Sunday’s game, as the players and coaches converged at midfield, Jackson went to congratulate Mayfield—no different than any other former head coach would do his former player. The only problem was Mayfield—standoffish and aloof—had other plans. He kept Jackson at a distance—the same way you would do someone you don’t trust or don’t respect.
When asked about the exchange, Mayfield said this to reporters:
Baker Mayfield was not a fan of Hue Jackson going to coach the divison-rival Bengals. pic.twitter.com/uvTblVZdo8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 25, 2018
“I don’t know. Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati. I don’t know. It’s just somebody that was in our locker room, asking us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it, but that’s how I feel.”
Jackson and Mayfield were never a perfect fit for one another. When you’ve got two guys with similar personalities, there’s not enough room for both of their egos. Their relationship got off to a rocky start when Jackson opted to start the season with veteran journeyman Tyrod Taylor as the starter. Think about this for a second. The entire world watched HBO’s television series “Hard Knocks,” when Jackson brought Mayfield into his office to tell him that he “earned” the backup quarterback job over Drew Stanton.
Stop the press.
It took Taylor getting injured for Mayfield to get the chance to play in Week 3. And despite leading a come-from-behind win against the New York Jets, Jackson was still hesitant about turning over the reigns of the franchise to the first-year starter.
Can you blame him?
Jackson entered this season with a 1-31 record as head coach of the Browns. Yes, developing Baker was a priority, but winning football games was his primary focus. He was determined to do it by any means necessary. He brought in Gregg Williams to spearhead the defense and Todd Haley to serve as offensive coordinator. Little did he know that the combination of the three combustible personalities would ultimately cost him his job.
The offense struggled to reach its full potential with Mayfield under center. Despite the Browns playing in a lot of close games, they still displayed an inability to close them out due to a lack of discipline. Subsequently, both Haley and Jackson lost their job. In the immediate aftermath of his firing, Jackson was invited on every major sports network to tell his side of the story of what happened in Cleveland.
It was evident that he and the future franchise quarterback did not get along, and the Browns chose Baker over Hue—as they should. I’m sure Mayfield still harbored animosity towards Hue for not believing in him enough to start the season, and probably felt limited in what he could do offensively given the strategy, or lack thereof, his coaches provided for him.
Since Jackson’s departure, Mayfield has seen a spike in all his numbers—touchdowns, completion percentage, and passer rating.
Jackson ultimately landed in a familiar place—in Cincinnati with the Bengals and good friend of his Marvin Lewis. We’re all aware of the scarcity of African-American head coaches in the NFL. As it currently stands, there are only six Black head coaches in the NFL—seven minority head coaches if you include Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. For whatever reason(s) exist, there aren’t many.
Mayfield’s comments ripping Jackson shows immaturity and a lack of sensitivity to the plight of African-Americans as it pertains to climbing the coaching ranks in the NFL.
The Browns no longer wanted Jackson, and neither did Mayfield. So to expect Jackson to pick and choose which NFL team he wants to employ him as if he has that luxury, tells me that Mayfield doesn’t understand how the NFL works. (“Not For Long” isn’t just applicable to players.)
Reports that Jackson is next in line to take over as head coach of the Bengals if the team parts ways with Marvin Lewis quickly surfaced. If those rumors are true, then him signing with the team makes sense. Plus, I’m sure a part of him did want to be able to compete against his former protégé twice a year. Jackson has been in or around the league for a long time, so he understands better than anyone that the NFL is a business—a lesson that Mayfield should quickly learn.