Jackson says Raiders owner made call to fire him
Newly hired Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie fired Hue Jackson on Tuesday morning, telling the brash head coach that he wanted to start over and bring in his own man.
However, Jackson believes his dismissal after a single 8-8 season as the Raiders' coach was a decision ultimately made by owner Mark Davis, who has been running the franchise since his Hall of Fame father, Al, died last October.
"I'm not going to shed one tear, because I busted my ass for this organization, and I cherished the opportunity to do it," Jackson said Tuesday in a telephone interview shortly after he received the news. "I have nothing but good things to say about the Raiders and their fans, and I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish in two years, as an offensive coordinator and coach.
"But it's Mark Davis' football team, and Mark's going to do what he thinks is best. In the end I think he said, 'I want to put my own stamp on it,' and he wanted his own coach."
Jackson said he and Davis had a meeting late last month, shortly before the team's season-ending defeat to the San Diego Chargers, during which the coach asked if he would have a chance to meet the candidates during the franchise's search for a general manager. Davis, Jackson said, rebuffed the request.
"I told him, 'Then I have a concern, because normally a GM that comes in wants to bring in his head coach,' " Jackson recalled. "I said, 'You can understand how that would make me feel,' and he said, 'Yes, I can.' I gave him three opportunities to give me a vote of confidence, and he didn't give me one. He said nothing.
"I knew then that there was a chance, regardless of how things went the rest of the season, that he wanted to make his own mark in this organization."
If Jackson's job was indeed in jeopardy at that point, the Chargers game and its aftermath certainly didn't improve Jackson's stock. With a chance to win the AFC West (given the Denver Broncos' defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs) and secure their first playoff appearance and winning season since 2002, the Raiders suffered a 38-26 setback at the O.cO Coliseum. In an emotional news conference afterward, Jackson told reporters, "To say I'm pissed off is an understatement."
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Later, Jackson said, "I'm pissed at my team. At some point in time, as a group of men, you go into the game and you can say whatever you want about the coaches, you win the game. … I've been taking it all year for this football team. Not anymore."
Some media members have since speculated that Jackson's comments caused him to lose the football team, a perception with which he quarreled strongly on Tuesday. "You can call any players you want," Jackson said. "I never lost the team. The defense didn't finish, and I said something. But lost the locker room? [Expletive] no."
Veteran defensive end Richard Seymour agreed that Jackson didn't lose the support of his players.
"No, not at all," Seymour said Tuesday from his offseason home in Georgia. "I didn't hear any rumblings about that. I heard news reports make more of a deal about it than it actually was. I feel like Hue did a good job and made great strides as a coach."
Wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a midseason signee who Jackson knew from his time as a Cincinnati Bengals assistant, concurred with Seymour, saying in a telephone interview, "I don't think he lost the locker room, and I'd be eager to find a guy who didn't think he did a good job. I would be hard-pressed to find a guy who didn't like Hue. I'll bet you San Diego, Kansas City and Denver like this move, because we would have been good next year with Hue."
Jackson did concede that his bold statements in the wake of the Chargers defeat, including a publicly enunciated desire to assume a more powerful role in determining the direction of the organization, might have caused him to fall into disfavor with the owner. He believes the franchise's controversial trade for quarterback Carson Palmer last October may have also played a role.
[ Photo gallery: Hue Jackson's run with the Raiders ]
"When I think back on it, I think I'm being blamed, and have been blamed, for [all of that]," Jackson said. "What gets me is, I know [Bengals owner] Mike Brown and I know Carson Palmer, but I didn't make the trade. That decision came from above. It involved draft picks and money. But it wasn't my call.
"I'm tired of people saying that I'm power hungry, that I'm a blowhard, that I'm saying all the wrong things. I never said I wanted to be the general manager. I said I wanted input. What coach wouldn't want some input in the direction of the organization?
"When I said I wanted to play a greater role, what I meant by that was, I'm going to get a defensive coordinator that I want. I'm going to get the staff members that I want. And the players that weren't playing well aren't gonna be here.
"Before, I didn't have a chance in all of those things. Everybody knows my hands were tied – I worked for Al Davis. He ran the defense, always had. It's part of the job."
Jackson's emotional reaction to the Chargers defeat, in which Oakland set single-season marks for penalties and penalty yards, was intensified by his sense of its implications.
"We were playing for a championship, for a winning season, for Mr. Davis," Jackson said, referring to the late owner's memory. "We're playing for the trade, let's face it. Winning that game would have justified everything.
"I knew what was on the line. I'm not stupid. That's what was coming out of me at that press conference."
Houshmandzadeh believed Jackson's postgame comments were a sign of the coach's devotion to the cause.
"I guess in the world of NFL head coaches, you can't do that, apparently," Houshmandzadeh said. "I don't know, maybe he was emotional because he was invested in it, and in us – because he was two feet in. A lot of coaches would have been politically correct. He put his emotions out there.
"He had a great grasp on the guys. If you weren't playing well, he would let you know, and say, 'We need you to play better.' If you were playing well, he'd let you know. With me seeing Hue for the first time as a head coach – and Carson and I talked about this – I thought, 'Wow, Hue does a good job of addressing things in meetings that needed to be addressed.'"
Palmer did not return telephone or text messages Tuesday.
Al Davis brought Jackson to the organization following a 2009 season in which the team performed miserably on offense, giving him the play-calling responsibilities formerly held by then-head coach Tom Cable. The Raiders more than doubled their point total in 2010 and went 8-8 – their first non-losing season since 2002 – and, after firing Cable, Davis promoted Jackson to head coach, glowing about his potential.
The Raiders got off to a fast start in 2011, improving to 3-2 with a dramatic road victory over the Houston Texans on Oct. 9 – the day after Al Davis' death – and winning again the following week.
However, starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone in that Oct. 16 victory over the Cleveland Browns. With the trade deadline looming, the team dealt first- and second-round draft picks to the Bengals for Palmer, with whom Jackson had worked in Cincinnati.
Had Oakland not made the deal and stuck with backup Kyle Boller, Jackson believes the team's record would have been "not very good. We wouldn't have been playing for the AFC West championship on the last game of the season."
After some early struggles, Palmer's play improved, and the Raiders continued to perform well offensively despite the absence of star running back Darren McFadden, who missed the second half of the season with a foot sprain.
"He was probably the offensive MVP of the league at that point," Seymour said. "You lose him and your quarterback, it's tough. But I thought Hue did well.
"He was very meticulous in his thought process. In terms of getting the team ready to play, every day he challenged the team to go out and be better than the day before. Even in practice, as a team, I just thought we gave it all we had, every day since training camp.
"I never felt like we had a letdown. He always got his team ready to perform. Obviously, it didn't show as much on Sundays as we would've liked, given our record. But I thought we had the right process."
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The Raiders lost four of their last five games, blowing a late 13-point lead to the Detroit Lions in a Dec. 18 defeat.
"I just know we were prepared," Houshmandzadeh said. "I thought he did a hell of a job calling plays and putting guys in position to make plays. It's crazy. I'm shocked. I thought the team had a chance to be really, really good next year.
"The proof is in the pudding. I thought offensively, we played well. Carson came in midway through the season. It's tough. Think about this: We're up by two scores with six minutes left against Detroit. We win, we're in the playoffs. Carson threw for 400 yards against San Diego. … But we didn't make enough plays."
Jackson believes he improved the Raiders' organizational environment, insisting, "I think there was more direction, leadership and unity in the building." Seymour agreed, saying, "I can only speak for the time that I've been there. Every year, we made strides in the right direction. I think we did that this year, though our record didn't improve."
Obviously, Mark Davis did not share that opinion. And though the owner and McKenzie insisted in a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the general manager had made the call to dismiss the coach, Jackson believes otherwise.
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"It ain't Reggie," Hue said of McKenzie, with whom he is friendly. "Me and him get along. The easiest thing to do is to start over and bring in all new people, which is what he's doing. The hardest thing to do is to say, 'I'm gonna keep a guy who's already here and try to build around him.'
"I feel horrible. I'm pissed off, and everybody's surprised. But I get it. At the end of the day, I have to swallow it. You have to win. We didn't."
As for his immediate future, Jackson said, "Whatever comes up – and something will come up – I think I'm an OK head football coach, and I know I can coach offense."
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