Cincinnati Bengals head coach and new defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis tipped his hand during Monday’s press conference that former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson might be returning in some fashion.
When asked if he might need some help with some of the extra responsibilities that come with being both head coach and defensive coordinator, Lewis said with a smile, “Watch and see.” Prompted if that person could be Jackson, he gave the same response.
The team made it official Tuesday morning, announcing the recently fired Cleveland Browns head coach as a special assistant to Lewis. The Bengals were off on Tuesday but Lewis is scheduled to meet the media Wednesday during his regular press conference.
“I have a great comfort level with Hue and his ability to assist me with the day-to-day responsibilities on defense, including analyzing our opponents and helping me on game days with the players and defensive coaches,” Lewis said in a press release.
Lewis on Monday fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on the heels of a 51-14 loss to New Orleans, which marked the team’s third straight game allowing 500 yards, and Lewis will take charge of the defense going forward.
Cincinnati (5-4) is surrendering a league-worst 454.6 yards per game and second-worst 32.0 points per game.
Jackson, a former quarterback, has been with the Bengals in various roles before, including first as the wide receivers coach in 2004-06, but he holds just one season of experience working on the defensive side of the ball. After stints as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and head coach elsewhere, Jackson returned to Cincinnati in 2012 as a defensive backs assistant and special teams coach before an opening came up on offense the following year.
By 2014, he was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he held until becoming the Browns head coach in 2016.
“I’m pleased to have the opportunity to join the Bengals this season,” Jackson said in a statement provided by the team. “There is a lot of talent on this team, and I look forward to doing my part to help it finish the season strong.”
»ARCHDEACON: Bengals are a team going in reverse
Jackson is in his 18th season overall as an NFL coach, but he found himself out of a job midseason for the first time three weeks ago when the Browns fired him after posting a 3-36-1 record over two and a half seasons.
He is 11-44-1 overall as a head coach.
Lewis had been asked Monday how he would handle managing the whole team and directly running the defense, a combination that is rare in the NFL, and he confidently said, “I have a plan.” His statement Tuesday in the team press release seems to indicate Jackson will be helping him with the defense, which seems to indicate Lewis plans to continue calling fourth down plays for the offense, rather than allowing Jackson to do so.
Jackson ran an offense that ranked seventh in scoring (26.2) and 15th in yards in 2015, a 12-4 season in which the Bengals won the AFC North but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The year prior, after Jackson replaced Jay Gruden, Cincinnati went 10-5-1 and ranked 15th in points and yards.
The defense he worked with in 2012 ranked eighth in scoring (20.0 ppg) and sixth in yards (319.7); however, the only defensive player he worked directly with that is still on the team is cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Other players he is familiar with from his time in Cincinnati include quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, who he managed directly as offensive coordinator, and defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson and safety Shawn Williams.
Regardless of Jackson’s role with the players, he does bring a unique knowledge of the AFC North and in particular, the Browns whom Cincinnati still has to face twice, but Lewis seems to believe Jackson can be helpful in filling in where Lewis gets stretched two ways on game days.
“A lot of things happen when you’re on defense,” Lewis said Monday when asked why he never before thought to take over the defense. “I had my back turned (Sunday) to the offense a couple times, trying to bring the defense together. Things happen. It could be whether or not we made a catch, and if we made a first down or not. If I’ve got my back turned, I have to make the decision if we’re going for it. Are we in four-down territory? I have to let offensive coordinator) Bill (Lazor) know and the quarterback know that they have three downs here. Those kind of things. If I have my backed turned by making corrections or whatever, I can’t do that. I’m going to try to minimize that as much as possible. I feel strongly that I have to make the correction to coach the defense right now.”