Jackson the logical choice to replace Gruden as Bengals’ OC
CINCINNATI — The Bengals lost an offensive coordinator Thursday. They didn’t have to look too far for his replacement.
The Washington Redskins announced Jay Gruden, the Bengals’ offensive coordinator the last three seasons, as their new head coach Thursday afternoon. A few minutes later, the Bengals announced Hue Jackson would replace Gruden.
"I am very excited to move forward with Hue," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We are blessed to have a staff that allows us to promote from within. It keeps some of the continuity with our offensive team, yet we get new direction and fire from an aggressive and innovative coaching mind. Hue’s expertise in all aspects of football and coaching is very wide."
Gruden joined the Bengals in 2011, the same year they drafted wide receiver A.J. Green in the first round and quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round. He helped the Bengals become a top-10 offense while making postseason appearances each season.
"I’m ecstatic for Jay," said Lewis. "From the first time we met I’ve been a Jay Gruden fan, and I’m grateful for what he did for us, his work with a young quarterback and helping take us where we’ve been, the last three seasons in the playoffs. I knew he might get this kind of opportunity, of course, so it’s not a surprise, and I just wish him all the best."
Washington fired Mike Shanahan at the end of this regular season after it went 3-13.
"I’d like to thank Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis for giving me the opportunity to be offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals," said Gruden during his introductory press conference in Washington. "They took a chance on me and we had some great seasons there. Unfortunately, we didn’t win in the playoffs but we had some great seasons there and it was a great opportunity for me. I’d like to thank the Bengals coaching staff and, of course, the Bengals players for their commitment to coming to work every day and their commitment to excellence and trying to get better every day. They provided us with a great spark and (were) a great group to coach. A lot of fun."
Jackson, 48, was the obvious choice to replace Gruden. He has been a coach in the NFL since 2001, including one season as head coach with Oakland and stints as the offensive coordinator with Washington, Atlanta and the Raiders before he was promoted to head coach. He and Lewis worked together in Washington in 2002, the year before the Bengals hired Lewis.
"It’s an honor to be Bengals offensive coordinator, and to keep working with Marvin and Mike Brown and the Brown family," Jackson said. "I thank them all for this opportunity. Our goal is to be the best, to be the one team hoisting that trophy when it’s all over, and that’s what I’ll be working for every day."
Jackson is in his second go-around with the Bengals. He joined Lewis’ staff in 2004 as the wide receivers coach and spent three seasons coaching Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as they produced some of the most prolific receiving seasons in franchise history. The pair had a total of 19 100-yard games during those three seasons as they caught a combined 520 passes for 7,090 yards and 45 touchdowns.
He rejoined the Bengals in 2012 as an assistant on special teams and defensive backs. He took over the running backs this past season after the retirement of Jim Anderson. Jackson was fired by Oakland after the 2011 season in which Oakland finished 8-8. He also helped orchestrate the trade of quarterback Carson Palmer to the Raiders at the trade deadline. The Raiders had lost Jason Campbell for the season with a broken collarbone.
That trade garnered the Bengals two draft picks which they used to select cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012 and running back Giovani Bernard last year.
The Bengals finished No. 10 in the NFL this season in total offense, averaging 368.4 yards per game. They were eighth in the league in passing, averaging 258.7 yards per game, and Dalton threw for a franchise-record 4,296 yards and 33 touchdowns. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October and twice earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"Jay’s first year was my rookie year, and it was cool coming in together and growing and getting better," said Dalton. "One thing that really helped make it smooth for me was that from the start, Jay was big on asking my input, what I’m most comfortable with and any ideas I had. With Jay I had a very positive transition from college to the NFL. I feel fortunate to have had him as my only pro coordinator. He’s helped me in a lot of ways."
Green finished with 1,426 yards receiving, just 15 yards shy of breaking Johnson’s single-season team record, while scoring 11 touchdowns. Marvin Jones had 10 touchdown catches, giving the Bengals two receivers with double-digit touchdowns for the first time in franchise history. Bernard had 1,209 combined yards rushing and receiving and nine touchdowns on a team-leading 226 touches.
Dalton and the offense also had its struggles; he threw 20 interceptions in the regular season (tied for second most in a season in franchise history) and turned the ball over on three straight possessions in last Sunday’s 27-10 loss to San Diego in the AFC wild card playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium. They turned it over four times altogether after losing 30 turnovers in the regular season. They had multiple turnovers in 10 of their 17 games this season.
"I’m excited about having Hue lead our offense. He’s a coach we all know and respect, not just the running backs, and he’ll bring a little different perspective that can help us move forward. He’s been around a lot of places in college and the NFL, part of some great offenses. So it looks very good to me, what we’ve got going forward."
Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said the job Gruden did in Cincinnati shouldn’t be overlooked.
"Amazing job," said Whitworth via text with Fox Sports Ohio. "Consider how young his skill positions were. That kind of success pretty rare with this young of skill."
Regarding Jackson, Whitworth texted: "Have always thought Hue J as a great coach."
The Bengals could also be looking for a new defensive coordinator but for the time being they’ve still got Mike Zimmer. Zimmer has reportedly interviewed with Minnesota and Tennessee this week for their vacant head coaching positions. The Bengals finished ranked No. 3 in the NFL this season in total defense and fifth in points allowed. It was their highest ranking since leading the NFL in defense in 1983.
Zimmer came to the Bengals in 2008 and they have finished ranked in the top-15 each season, including four seasons ranked seventh or better.
This year’s defense lost nine players to the injured reserve, including All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall.
"We did good for the people that we had and all the players they worked their rear ends off for us," said Zimmer this past Monday. "They were smart, they studied hard. We got (great) guys in this locker room."
Zimmer has had interviews before, including with Cleveland last year, but has never been a head coach. He’s been an assistant coach in the NFL since joining Dallas in 1994. He became the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator in 2000 and was with Atlanta for one season, 2007, before joining the Bengals.
"Everybody’s been honest and sincere with me, I think," said Zimmer on Monday. "I felt like Cleveland, the owner and I had a good relationship. So, it’s just really, when there’s 32 of these jobs and there’s a bunch of coaches in the world and guys that you know, they’re looking for something, it may not be me. But if it is, they’ll get a full day’s work and a good football coach."
Whether or not a ready replacement for Zimmer, if necessary, is on staff is less certain. Linebackers coach Paul Guenther could be a candidate.