By Craig Ellenport | Aug. 8, 2018
“Hard Knocks: Training Camp With the Cleveland Browns” premiered on HBO Tuesday night and while most fans are understandably interested in following the plight of Heisman Trophy winner and top overall draft pick Baker Mayfield, Head Coach Ranking is watching from the coaches’ perspective. As always, the show offers tremendous behind-the-scenes interactions. Each week after “Hard Knocks” airs, we’ll offer our key takeaways.
1) The Cleanse
After the Browns finished 1-15 in 2016, Hue Jackson said he’d jump into Lake Erie if the team didn’t improve in 2017. So after going 0-16 last season, Jackson made good on his promise. But he used it as an opportunity to get fans fired up. He called it “The Cleanse,” and made it a media event.
“I know our fans here have been very disappointed,” Jackson said. “I get it. I came here two years ago to win, and I’m gonna win here. I truly believe that. Hopefully this will turn the page on that.”
2) The human side
To open the show, Jackson was in his car talking about how he’s dealt with the losing. “It’s been tough,” he said “Contrary to what people think, I’m human, too. Our players are human. The people I work with are human.”
As a harsh reminder of that, one of the key storylines of the episode was the fact that Jackson’s mother passed away at the start of camp – less than two weeks after his brother also died. Jackson would leave camp to attend his mother’s funeral, but for much of the rest of the time, there was a “show must go on” approach.
3) Where’s Josh?
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley was introduced early on, though not for the best of reasons. Haley is seen explaining to his offensive assistants that troubled receiver Josh Gordon will not be around for the start of camp – and he’s not sure exactly when Gordon would be there.
“What’s he got?” asks one of the coaches. “He’s just working through some things,” is Haley’s reply.
4) Motivating Mayfield
Early on in the episode, we see starting QB Tyrod Taylor pulling into the team facility at 5 a.m. Later on, we see Jackson asking Mayfield what time he gets up in the morning. It’s clear Jackson is trying to push his star rookie to push himself. “It’s a competition,” Jackson tells him. “Everything you do.”
5) Differing opinions?
It’s critical for a head coach to have a strong connection with his staff, and episode one of Hard Knocks quickly introduced a potential rift. In a coaches meeting, new running backs coach Freddie Kitchens expressed concern that too many players were not dressing for practice – that even if they were nursing minor injuries, they should be more involved. Haley quickly agreed. “Our team has to get mentally tougher,” said Haley. “If we’ve got guys … sitting around doing nothing, I just don’t know how we’re gonna do it.”
Jackson respectfully disagreed, saying he understood where they were coming from but had a different take as the head coach.
“I get to watch from a different lens, and I think you guys can all respect that,” he said. “At the end of the day, I get to drive this bus. And I’m gonna get it the way I want it. That’s just how it works.”
Jackson then called on senior offensive assistant Al Saunders to offer a quote that Jackson particularly liked: “It’s your team, you can do whatever the hell you want.”
This was the most jarring moment of the show. With four more episodes of “Hard Knocks” left, it will be interesting to watch how this staff develops.