Opener: I’m watching last year’s Hard Knocks (HBO) this year because I don’t have/want/need HBO, and not getting it just for Hard Knocks. So, I watch it for free and review it for fun the following year and have done so for years. We’re watching/reviewing Hard Knocks Cleveland this week…which should be a ‘trip’, now knowing what really transpired in the 2018 regular season.
Enjoy this review daily (five episodes over 5 days), and I’m doing it in my favorite format for such things (a rip-off of what someone else created) – the ‘Best and Worst’ format. Next week, we’ll be doing a subscription show on a platform I do subscribe to – Amazon prime’s ‘All or Nothing’ Carolina Panthers. Same deal for that starting next week.
The Best and Worst of Episode #1 Hard Knocks 2018 Cleveland Browns
BEST: Cleveland, your Savior has arrived…
The first episode opens up with a very cinematic moment where the announcer is talking over a scene where workers are taking down/tearing down a giant LeBron James display banner off the side of a building. There was an ‘oh, woe is Cleveland’ vibe to it.
Well, a kid from Texas who was a star at Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield) is now Cleveland’s new favorite son…and I think Baker will surpass LeBron and anyone else you want to offer up as the most beloved Cleveland sports figure of all-time.
If there was any doubt what position was most important in the NFL, and it’s not even close, it’s the quarterback position – the QB can change the entire direction and perception of a franchise in a very short order. That’s why the picks of Sam Darnold or Josh Allen or Daniel Jones are so devastating – weak QB talents who waste the franchise’s time in mediocrity or worse for 4-6 years (see: the Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota #1-2 punch in their NFL Draft…I see you too Derek Carr).
Baker is a blue-collar hero in the blue-collar Midwestern city. He’s going to be hated, nationally, more than Tom Brady soon enough…respect-hate. They’ll hate him like they hated Larry Bird more so than how they hate Brady. Baker Mayfield is like the greatest pro wrestling heel…he’s going to be ratings and money, but the NFL establishment will not like his brashness and try to harness him…which will only further his legend. Get ready, it all starts in 2019. It should’ve started in 2018 Week 1…
WORST: Hue Jackson is not that Savior…
This first episode really tries to prop Hue Jackson up, but in retrospect (and for anyone who has followed him for years) he looks like his typical empty self.
Most of the episode is Hue mindlessly chattering, speaking empty clichés, telling his staff that he calls all the shots (missing the irony of how awful the team has been for years because of it), and then time spent in a sympathetic mode because he lost his brother and mom the same month (July).
You want to feel sympathy for Hue, but that’s the thing with Hue Jackson – there is not a genuine human connection moment from Hue at any time I’ve even seen him speak/interact with anyone or any group; in person or in a press conference, etc. Hue Jackson loves being in charge of a football team and getting forced adulation/validation from it. Everyone acts like they care about Hue…but in a scant few weeks, no one will care about him from that Cleveland locker room.
I would also like to re-re-remind everybody that Hue Jackson was ALL the smart football people’s choice/commentary/analysis as a great hire by the Browns to turn them around. They ALL felt he was a great coach. Hmmm…they just missed that one. Just slightly off…he wasn’t a great hire; he was only the worst head coach in the history of football.
The football establishment was so close on their assessments of Hue. Don’t think about that and please listen to them unconditionally on their next football brilliance to share…
WORST: Hue Jackson is the embodiment of the entire, warped NFL management philosophy…
There is a quick moment captured in this episode that may not have overly grabbed anyone’s attention, but to me it will probably be the defining moment of the series. It’s everything wrong with the NFL (and Corporate America).
You could tell right away, in this episode, that Hue Jackson was all-in on Tyrod Taylor and didn’t care for Baker Mayfield (because he knew he couldn’t control him…or get fake loyalty from him). Tyrod knew how to play Hue…as most all NFL stars/starters know how to play their coach…as most middle employees know/try to play their bosses.
Out of nowhere in the middle of this episode, mid-practice, mid-field, one-on-one, Hue grabs Baker and talks to him face-to-face (inches away). Hue asks what time Baker got into the building that day. Baker says he ran later than normal and tries to pull away to get away from Hue (a sight we’ll see again in a few months after this moment). But, no, this is a Hue teaching moment…
Hue says that Tyrod got into the building hours early, and that Baker should consider doing the same. Baker was like, “I’m usually in 2-hours ahead?” That’s not good enough for Hue. He wants to make an example out of Baker and prop up Tyrod. He uses the time-honored tradition of “How early do you arrive to work?” to judge/punish Baker.
Talentless managers/leaders/coaches equate time served with ‘great work’. They like to control situations by pressuring everyone to come in early and stay late, like them. Because they cannot spot talent, or manage it, or design work environments for talent -- they use the easiest barometer a dummy can use…”How much are you at work?” Some jobs are more about natural talent and efficiency…quarterbacking is one of those jobs. If hours mattered supremely, Chase Daniel or Derek Anderson might Hall of Famers.
It doesn’t matter if the person is at work for 12-14 hours a day…if they aren’t that talented. I’d rather have Baker Mayfield never showing up to work until Sunday morning for the game versus Tyrod Taylor at the facility from 3am to Midnight seven days a week, just to con management. The next time I hear “First one in, and last one to leave” about a football player I’m going to scream. How is that the #1 desired trait? How do you know what these people are doing while they are there? What if the extra time there is counter-productive or wearing them down or destroying their families (and thus adding mental strain)?
If you could pick a doctor for a surgery…would you choose the one who works the most hours per year (with no other info) or the one who works 25 hours a week, but is the highest-rated success in his/her field?
Let’s start putting a football team together by answering the question of who has real talent…then let’s get into work ethics, etc. If someone has 10% body fat and benches 25 reps and spends three-hours a day at the company HQ doing it…while another player has 10% body fat and benches 25 reps and works out at home for however long they workout – what do I care where and how they manage their bodies…I just want the final result. Not the NFL…they’d rather have someone who worked out five hours in the team gym and had 15% body fat and could only bench 15 reps, but they try so hard and are seen on site – so they are assumed better employees.
My old company used to value the number of sales calls a salesperson made per week over the actual sales salespeople made, honest to goodness – it’s same stupid principal as ‘first in, last out’. Judging talent on the wrong attributes is coaching/franchise-death.
Hue Jackson, like most NFL head coaches, have no real business or management experience, but now run the highest-profile multi-million-dollar businesses in America. Their training usually consists of nonsensical things passed down to them from other business-untrained, business-unsavvy coaches. They know X’s and O’s, but that doesn’t mean they know real talent or the value in the marketplace of it when they see it or are near it. Hue Jackson saw Baker and Tyrod and tried to bury Baker and linked his absolutely believed his dying career was better off with Tyrod. He also professed DeShone Kizer and Cody Kessler in prior years…so we saw how bad he was at his job, even though he’s ‘the first in, last out’ guy among the coaches.
The NFL is run so poorly and this ‘first in, last out’ is a prime example…and not exclusive to the NFL at all.
WORST: The great Josh Gordon legacy…
The voiceover for the episode mentions Gordon is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, when he’s on the field.
The Browns’ wide receiver room, we see in this episode, proudly displays top Browns’ WRs on the wall…first and foremost was Gordon displayed with his 2014 Pro Bowl label. In 2018, a guy who missed 43 of the Browns last 48 games (three seasons)…and a guy who is ‘first in, last out’ of anywhere trouble is found, and who is hardly ever at the team facility – how could you honor that guy in all this rah-rah/family/team/commitment stuff? But there’s his picture blown up on the wall…
Again, we saw Hue pull aside Baker and jab him about getting to the facility earlier. However, we also then see a scene in Episode 1 where Hue is protecting Josh Gordon as he announces to some coaches/staff that Gordon is out indefinitely again but promises he’ll be back…and says it with the hope of a teen desperate for a prom invite. Why does Gordon not have to live up to the work ethic standards? As soon as he is cleared, he’s right back in the starting lineup…and then right back in trouble…and no one cares, but Baker is only two hours early to work not four, so that’s a bigger issue.
NFL management makes no sense at all.
WORST: D-C Gregg Williams, martyr/liar/psychopath
If ‘first in, last out’ wasn’t enough of an example of bad management practices…there’s ‘hiring Gregg Williams to work for you’ as another example.
We get to see him holding court in the defensive meeting room, and he’s as wacky as ever. When trying to preach about (football) ‘family’ and ‘wanting to be there’, Williams says that he turned down 7-8 other jobs because he wanted to be with the Browns. I saw at least 2-3 players try not to laugh when he said it. No one purposefully goes to coach for Cleveland, with Hue Jackson, with equally good offers on the table. Who does he think he’s conning? So much of the NFL coaching is a con.
I guess I cannot blame Williams, he has conned three head coaches in the past four years to employ him. You want to know if a head coach/organization is terribly run the past five years…just see which ones hire Gregg Williams. Jeff Fisher and Hue Jackson are two of the worst coaches the past decade in the NFL, but I’m sure Adam Gase is a gem that will break that string. What’s that…the GM who rubber stamped that Gase hiring got fired before the season started? Great…
Gregg Williams is so bad that he is eventually named head coach of the Browns by attrition midseason, and the team has its best run in years with him at the helm…and yet Williams is passed over for the official HC job. It’s really all about Baker, not Hue or Williams or even Freddie Kitchens.
WORST: Jarvis Landry, ‘the motivational speaker’ (not)…
I remember, last year, when Landry gave a so-called fiery speech when this episode aired in 2018, and recall everyone was all excited by it. I know that receiver rooms/positional rooms are the worst examples of anything productive getting done ever…so I didn’t even pay attention to it. Well, I watched Landry’s (definitely not preplanned for the cameras) ‘speech’ to the WR group in this episode.
Two minutes that felt like 200 minutes of Landry yelling, “If you’re not hurt, you gotta practice” over and over with F-bombs generously sprinkled in. Wow, my life has changed from that inspiration…
What players are not practicing if they aren’t hurt?
Cut to Hue Jackson getting into a minor battle with the coaching staff at a staff meeting because he is giving players days off from practice to keep them healthy.
Anyway, fine speech Jarvis… Glad to hear such a sentiment from a guy that just became one of the highest paid players in the NFL. He can afford to tear a hamstring or miss time. These other guys are fighting for their lives. They’re either pushing it to stay on the team or taking a day if kinda hurt so they can be at their best when they are back in to impress. They don’t need Jarvis Landry yelling at them like they are children…if they do, why did the Browns bring them into the ‘family’ in the first place.
FYI…Landry is in front of the room spewing profanity-laced, passionate nonsense and the entire room of WRs are not reacting at all. Either blank stares…looking at their shoes…and one guy more interested eating yogurt.
Everyone of these behind the scenes ‘speeches’ from a player…they’re always nonsensical, irrational, profanity-laced, and no one is paying attention. The only people who get off on it are the guy giving the speech and the dumb fans watching. The intended audience in the room is asleep with their eyes open waiting for it to end.
WORST: Christian Kirksey tries his hand at ‘motivational speaking’
Another recently overpaid player gets up and tells the defensive group to get out a writing utensil and jot down their ‘Why?’ Why do they play football? and then wants them to post that note somewhere in their rooms so they can see it, to remind them of why they are there.
Because most all of this is a giant con, we see video of players at their hotel rooms writing it down and posting it on their walls, etc. I’m sure they didn’t want to, but they need to make sure they keep the con up in case a coach, etc., comes into their room for any reason.
I didn’t see anyone write…because this life beats the hell out of working at Burger King.
If you have to be reminded why you’re at training camp/in your profession…reminded by a note, you might be in the wrong profession. I got no problem with inspiration posted in view. I have some in my office…but it’s meaningful to me things and it was my choice. It wasn’t forced. Actually, some of mine are negative reminders. Things to remind me why I’m here, and what not to go back to. That’s my choice…not something Christian Kirksey forced me to do.
We used to get a ‘dedicated to excellence’ coin at my old job…every employee. One year, we got one the size of a drink coaster. The thing to do was to display it on your desk and it was supposed to remind you of our mission. I put it on my desk and never looked at that thing again. It became part of the background noise in the office or buried under paperwork/files. I definitely didn’t sense any other employees dedicated to excellence because of the coin-reminder. I did see a lot of ‘dedicated to cost cutting’ and ‘dedicated to cutting corners’ and ‘dedicated to writing hot air reports to explain poor results on things’ but ‘dedicated to excellence’ wasn’t really felt…maybe those coins were bad luck? I’m sure management felt great about itself every time they passed out the coins to us stupid drones.
If I would have gotten to work two hours early and stared at my ‘dedicated to excellence’ coin until the workday started, I might have been CEO in record time.
WORST: Ending a meeting with a unison clap
What the hell?
A perfect way to end this report…
At the Browns’ coaching meeting, 15+ people deep around a table…Hue Jackson was speaking some nonsense and then tried to close the meeting. The camera panned quickly to Gregg Williams and Todd Haley who for some reason had their hands coming up at the same time, and I wondered what was going on because they raised them and stopped because Hue started re-rambling for a moment…then he stopped talking and the meeting, I guess, was now over…so I saw why they were starting to raise their arms up -- they ended the meeting with a unified clap (one clap) a la breaking the huddle.
You cannot be that dumb. Grown men ending a meeting with a ‘break’ clap from a staff meeting?
You think I want to work for an NFL organization? Hell, no. I wouldn’t last a week. I’d have been fired from the Browns for not unified clapping at the end of the staff meeting. I guess if I was getting seven-figures, I would happily clap like a seal. Again, more conning of the head man for keeping gainful employment.
The big takeaway from the 2018 Browns: Get to work 2-7 hours early…never leave…have motivational things on your office walls…clap in unison when a meeting ends – got it! Now, let’s go try not to lose 31 of our next 3 games!!!
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