CLEVELAND -- The bonds formed on a football field are hard to break, and that is not limited to just the players.
Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson and Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer were coordinators together with the Cincinnati Bengals, and the respect runs deep between the two men as they prepare to face off at Twickenham Stadium in London Sunday as part of the 2017 NFL International Series.
“Mike, he is one of my really close friends and I have a lot of respect for him,” Jackson said. “He is one of the best football coaches in pro football in my opinion because he can get guys to play and they played hard. He has a vision for his football team and the way they play on defense is Mike Zimmer style.
“They are really talented, really good football team. I appreciate the things that he says, but I think he knows me extremely well. I don’t like being in the situation I am in and I want to do something about it as fast as I can and we will. We are just not there yet, but we will get there.”
Zimmer left the Bengals to take over the Vikings ahead of the 2014 season, while Jackson stayed in Cincinnati for another two years before taking the job with the Browns in January of 2016. Despite not sharing the same sideline for four years, the two have remained integral parts of each other’s support systems.
“Hue and I are really close,” Zimmer said in a conference call with the Cleveland media Wednesday. “We have been in the same room a lot of times and been together. He went to my daughter’s wedding. When we are in the same town, we always end up seeing each other.”
For the second consecutive year, the Browns find themselves at 0-7 and firmly in last place in the AFC North Division through the first seven weeks of the season.
Despite the Browns’ struggles over the past two seasons, Zimmer feels Jackson is the man who can turn around the fortunes of a franchise with just two winning seasons (2002, 2007) and one playoff appearance (2002) since returning to the National Football League in 1999.
“Hue is a heck of a football coach,” Zimmer said. “He is tough. He is smart. He is a great competitor.”
Including the 0-7 start to the 2017 season, the Browns are 1-22 since Sashi Brown took over as executive vice president of player personnel on January 3, 2016 and Jackson was hired eight days later.
Over the last three years, the Browns have gone 4-35, and the record has not been much better since Dee and Jimmy Haslam officially purchased the team in October of 2012.
In five seasons under Haslam’s majority ownership, the Browns have posted an NFL-worst 15-56 record. Factoring in the remaining games of the 2012 season after the sale was approved at an NFL Owners Meeting in Chicago, Haslam’s Browns have gone 19-61.
“I know that it is taking him a little bit longer than what he has anticipated, but he is going to get that thing turned around,” Zimmer said. “That is the kind of guy he is. He will never stop or relax until he gets it all right. Really, they are not that far away. They are really good on defense, and they just turn the ball over offensively.”