CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns and Hue Jackson have had a second date. All that’s left is a long-term commitment.
The Bengals’ well-liked offensive coordinator with head coaching experience and a knack for fixing quarterbacks met Tuesday with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who skipped the NFL meetings in Houston to focus on finding his next head coach.
The Browns confirmed Haslam’s second meeting with Jackson, who has emerged as the front-runner to become the team’s eighth coach since 1999 — and sixth since 2008.
Cleveland has not yet extended an offer to the 50-year-old Jackson, who has also interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers and is expected to meet with the New York Giants in the next two days.
It’s not known where Haslam’s meeting with Jackson took place, but while it was going on, Dee Haslam, who has owned Cleveland’s franchise with her husband since 2012, attended the meetings in Texas and will likely vote on the future of pro football in Los Angeles on behalf of the Browns.
Jackson is the only one of seven candidates to meet twice with Cleveland’s search committee so far. It’s not known if the Browns have any more interviews scheduled. They first met with Jackson on Sunday, a day after the Bengals came unglued in the final minutes and lost to Pittsburgh in a testy AFC wild-card game.
Before the search began, Haslam said it could take up to two months to find Cleveland’s next coach. But it appears the Browns have zeroed in on Jackson and are eager to get a deal done with him before another team swoops in.
It’s possible the 49ers have already moved on from Jackson. The team met Tuesday with former New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, a person with direct knowledge of the meeting told The AP. The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach met with 49ers general manager Trent Baalke at an unspecified location on the East Coast, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team isn’t making public its interviews or candidates to replace the fired Jim Tomsula.
Jackson’s initial interview with Cleveland lasted more than four hours and the Browns clearly liked him enough to have a second face-to-face.
Jackson’s background working with quarterbacks, his knowledge of the AFC North, and his experience as Oakland’s coach has made him attractive to the Browns. Cleveland owns the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, a selection they could use on a quarterback, perhaps California’s Jared Goff or Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, considered the top two college QBs in the 2016 class.
Jackson went 8-8 in his only season coaching the Raiders in 2011. He was fired amid an ownership change and joined Marvin Lewis’ staff in Cincinnati as a defensive assistant. He previously coached the Bengals wide receivers from 2004-06.
He has served as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. The Bengals ranked 15th in overall offense and quarterback Andy Dalton had his best statistical season before injuring his right thumb late in the season.
The Haslams fired Mike Pettine — and general manager Ray Farmer — on Jan. 3, hours after a loss to the Steelers in the season finale. The team has restructured its front office with newly appointed vice president of football operations Sashi Brown having control of the 53-man roster. The team’s next GM will be responsible for acquiring talent, which has been a problem in Cleveland for much of the past decade.
Cleveland confirmed interviews last week with Adam Gase, Chicago’s former offensive coordinator who was hired by Miami; Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin; Jacksonville assistant Doug Marrone; Dallas secondary coach Jerome Henderson; New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia; and Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
Jackson and Marrone are the only candidates with head coaching experience. Marrone went 15-17 in two seasons with Buffalo. Gase was the club’s first interview and the 37-year-old was believed to be its top target.