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Hue Jackson’s ‘cleanse’ is about far more than losing

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Mistake on the Lake used to mean the old Municipal Stadium to those in Cleveland. For a newer generation, it could just as easily conjure up the thought of the Hue Jackson era with the Browns.

Even for a franchise which has had one playoff appearance since its reboot in 1999, the one win over the first 32 games during Jackson’s two seasons at the helm is especially poor when you consider the prior regime at the top of football operations — Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta — passed on legitimate prospects like Patrick Mahomes and Mitchell Trubisky, never mind a superstar like Carson Wentz and potential difference maker Deshaun Watson, over back-to-back years.

Brown, who tried to marry an analytics-based approach with an NBA-like tanking operation, has now been replaced by highly-regarded personnel executive John Dorsey, who immediately stopped ignoring the game’s most important position in this year’s draft although not without the typical Cleveland-trademarked controversy, going with Baker Mayfield over the perceived “safer pick,” Sam Darnold, at No. 1 overall.

Whether that works out or not will play out over the coming years but what doesn’t need any hand-wringing is the perception that Dorsey has shifted the organization from neutral and always waiting for the next big thing at QB into drive.

The losing isn’t necessarily over in Cleveland but the historical aspect of it almost certainly is, while the acceptance of it will simply no longer be tolerated.

For that reason Jackson’s leap into Lake Erie last week was not only the payoff to a bet that seemed like a sure thing after a 1-15 2016 campaign, it was a cleanse from the prior way of thinking.

For those who don’t know Jackson said he would leap into the lake if the 2017 Browns weren’t better than the prior version and just the second 0-16 finish in league history, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions, forced the veteran coach into action.

Promising to be better than 1-15 isn’t exactly boasting, although Jackson claimed he learned from his mouth attempting to cash the world’s smallest check that couldn’t be covered.

“I’ve learned to shut my mouth a little bit more. Don’t say something that you might end up having to do,” Jackson joked to reporters.

Actually, Jackson should have doubled down and guaranteed the Browns would at least lap the win total over the past two seasons, something that is nearly assured with competent quarterback play which Cleveland will get from veteran trade pickup Tyrod Taylor even if Mayfield struggles to get on the field as a rookie.

Add in all the talent the Browns have added over the past two years: players like Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler and Austin Corbett on the offensive side of the ball as well as Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Jabrill Peppers, DaMarious Randall, EJ Gaines and now Mychal Kendricks on defense, and you will quickly realize this is no 1-15/0-16-level roster from a talent perspective any longer.

And hey, even if the unthinkable does happen and the Browns finish 0-for-16 in consecutive seasons, Jackson won’t last the season anyway never mind be in Cleveland next spring to pay off the vig on incompetence.

What Jackson did do is dip his toes into the less-than-balmy 57-degree water with the rallying cry: “No more freakin’ losing, let’s go.”

To his credit, Jackson also turned his embarrassment into a positive by pledging to donate $100 for himself and about 150 brave souls, including his wife and many members of the organization who joined him, to the Hue Jackson Foundation, which fights against human trafficking in Cleveland and the surrounding area.

“Those people have been with me every day,” Jackson said. “When you lose a game and you lose as many games as we have and you keep parking your car and walking into the building and have to see those faces every day, I carry them with me. I carry them and their families and this city with me. …I wear it every day.”

Browns’ owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam will be matching those contributions, so about $30K was raised already for his foundation and Jackson will be trying to bolster that even further by hawking “The Cleanse” T-shirts, with all proceeds going to the charity.

On an even more personal level for Jackson, however, this ‘cleanse’ was not about the losing or the good that came out of it for a worthy cause, it’s about the washing away the excuses.

There will be no more pointing fingers at Brown or DePodesta’s ultimate failure to realize what Wentz was or assume a baseball-like Moneyball strategy could seamlessly translate into another sport built on parity. The crutches of cleaning up the Johnny Manziel mess, RG3 being shot physically, DeShone Kizer not being ready, Cody Kessler not being good enough or Josh McCown being limited have been tossed into the wood chipper.

This cleanse is not even about Jackson putting up or shutting up, it’s about proving he’s a competent head coach or moving on to another NFL city in a reduced role.

“Let’s go” find that out.

“We’re gonna cleanse ourselves, and we’re going to be done with the past,” Jackson claimed. “Everything that’s gone on in the past in the year 2016 and the year 2017, we’re closing the book on. I truly believe that as we move forward that we’re heading in the direction where we have a chance to win and win consistently.”

Written by John McMullen

-John McMullen is a national NFL columnist for and the NFL Insider for ESPN South Jersey. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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