For the first time in over three decades, as teams in the NFL and colleges have been training for the rapidly approaching fall, Hue Jackson is not coaching.
The 53-year-old was fired by the Cleveland Browns last October, with the team 2-5-1 for the season and 3-36-1 during his two-and-a-half years in charge.
He and the Browns became a punchline. But Jackson has struggled since the day he was fired, and he pulled the curtain back in a Sports Illustrated story posted Thursday.
The worst day of the worst year of his life
SI reporter Greg Bishop traveled to Jackson’s home outside Cleveland (the family will soon move back to the Cincinnati area) for a revealing conversation.
Bishop wrote that Oct. 29, 2018, the day Jackson was fired, was “the worst day in the worst year” of the coach’s life. If you watched “Hard Knocks” last year, you’ll recall that Jackson’s brother died just before training camp began, and two weeks after that, his mother died.
On Oct. 29, when owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey delivered the news that he was out, Jackson told them to “get the [expletive] out of my office,” grabbed a few personal belongings, and got in his car.
He drove to his house, went to a guest room in the basement, turned off the lights and stayed there for three days.
“I could have laid there for three months,” Jackson said.
Depression set in
Jackson loves his wife and three daughters, but he admits that he defines himself first and foremost as a football coach. Getting paid by Cleveland to go away hurt. Deeply.
He experienced depression for the first time. He wouldn’t turn on the television, only ate when his wife Michelle brought him meals and worried about everyone he was certain he’d failed, from his daughters to his mentors to the players on the Browns’ roster.
Friends would send text messages, wanting to get him out of the house, wanting to brighten his spirits, wanting to share uplifting messages.
But he rejected them, responding, “Stop texting me.”
“Football is what made me feel like who I am,” Jackson says. “People might say that’s too far. No, it’s not. You can’t be good at what you do if you don’t pour all of yourself into it.”
After a few weeks, his best friend Marvin Lewis offered Jackson a job on his Cincinnati Bengals staff. Baker Mayfield mocked Jackson as a traitor, but Lewis knew his friend was hurting and needed an outlet, a lifeline.
“I needed that jolt,” Jackson says. “[Marvin] helped me. What he did wasn’t about football. I don’t know what would have happened had he not.”
‘I failed tremendously’
Jackson has been fielding business calls and working with his foundation and driving his youngest daughter to dance classes, but he says he’s bored. He’s a coach without a team.
He knows he could have done better. He knows the losses aren’t all on him. But he also knows that his 3-36-1 mark will follow him forever.
“I failed tremendously,” he says. “Regardless of how you look at it.”
Bishop’s full story and video of his sit-down with Jackson are here.
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