CLEVELAND -- The road is clearing for Hue Jackson to return to the Cincinnati Bengals as coach -- if Jackson wants to do that and if the Bengals are willing to hire him.
Nothing is certain, but the news that Marvin Lewis will leave the Bengals at the end of the season, as reported Sunday by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, could put into motion some change in both Ohio cities.
As crazy as it might sound based on Jackson’s record in Cleveland, the possibility that he would return to the Bengals is not out of the question.
Jackson is liked and respected in Cincinnati. He had success there as an offensive coordinator. He is familiar with the organization and front office.
The Bengals would also be a team where he is more familiar with the people; in Cleveland, new GM John Dorsey and Jackson had no relationship before Dorsey’s hiring.
The decision in Cincinnati would fall to owner Mike Brown, who is very fond of Jackson.
This can’t happen just because Jackson or the Bengals want it. The Browns would have to let Jackson out of his contract, or they could seek compensation in the form of a draft pick.
It also should be said that Dorsey has spoken highly of Jackson and said he is eager to work with him and get him players. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam also was adamant in saying that Jackson would coach the Browns in 2018 and for years beyond. The problem is that Haslam has made similar promises about other coaches and front-office types in the past, and none of them is in Cleveland.
It’s tough to tell the odds of this scenario playing out.
If Jackson did decide to go, he and the Browns would start fresh in 2018. The Browns would have a new coach and GM, and Jackson would be with his former team and Andy Dalton, the quarterback he groomed. Bengals players would welcome him back.
It would also clear up what has been portrayed as a murky situation between the coach and GM in Cleveland, who are developing a relationship as they work together.
Jackson has said over and over that he is in Cleveland to turn around the Browns. But before he moved to Cleveland, Lewis and Jackson had proposed a scenario where Jackson would stay with the Bengals and be the heir apparent to Lewis.
Jackson felt it would be messy working under his good friend, though, so he came to the Browns.
Now it might be less messy.
One other possibility exists: that Lewis would join the Browns, either as an assistant head coach or in the front office. Jackson would have say over Lewis’ hiring as a coach, Dorsey with the front office.
Schefter reported that Lewis might join a coach he had worked with and mentioned Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer as an example. Lewis and Jackson also have a close professional and personal relationship, and it's even possible Lewis joins the Bengals' front office with Jackson as his coach.
All of this could happen, or none of this could happen.
But the news about Lewis does send ripples to Cleveland. Which means there could be more change coming to the Browns.