Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Because they appeared on HBO’s Hard Knocks in 2018, the Browns are exempt from reappearing any time soon. And that is a good thing.
The popular NFL reality series proved to be an uncanny harbinger of unfortunate events for many figures on the Browns.
In fact, the curtain has closed on most of the show’s breakout stars.
Four months after the series’ fifth and final episode, an alarming number of them are gone.
The embattled head coach appeared in more scenes than anyone, and most of them were unflattering. In the defining scene of the series – no, of the 2018 season – he sparred with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and then-running backs coach Freddie Kitchens about giving players days off. Jackson shed tears over the loss of his mother and brother, questioned Baker Mayfield’s work ethic, lambasted a lethargic team practice, gave the players a tongue-lashing in a meeting, took advice from Tyrod Taylor, and over-hyped the return of rehabbed Josh Gordon as “big fish” and “the bird.”
What happened: Jackson was fired after a 2-5-1 start and joined the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks later. In the first meeting against the Browns, Jackson endured pre- and post-game snubs from Mayfield and was mockingly handed the football on the Bengals sideline after a Damarious Randall interception. In the second meeting, he received a prolonged, icy stare-down from Mayfield during a big catch-and-run by David Njoku. Jackson’s future with the Bengals is uncertain.
He was cast as a voice of reason early on, garnering fan support by challenging Jackson and grumbling about overzealous pass rushers (“We deserve what we get. We play like we practice.”). His blunt responses to Jackson’s excitement about Gordon (“Is he in shape?”) and to breaking news of Mychal Kendricks’ indictment for insider trading (“Is he going to jail?”) were LOL-funny. He implored Jarvis Landry to mentor the young receivers and wondered why any parent would name his baby Carl.
What happened: An hour after Jackson was fired on Oct. 29, Haley was blind-sided with his own dismissal. He thought he would be the interim coach. Haley has not spoken publicly since his firing.
A veteran of Hard Knocks with the Los Angeles Rams, his stinging, profanity-laced tirades on the field resulted in a case of laryngitis within three days of camp. He received a box of lozenges in the mail from a fan. He also sparred with Haley over defenders banging into Mayfield, prompting Jackson to referee a vocal confrontation between the two coordinators on the field.
What happened: Williams was the surprise winner of the Jackson-Haley blow-up and was appointed interim coach. He put the train back on the tracks and steered it to a 5-3 finish, earning the respect of many and the first interview for the full-time job. Alas, he was not retained and departed with the distinction of being the only coach with a winning record in the expansion team’s 20 seasons.
After a soft feature about his obnoxiously large sneaker collection, the 2016 first-round bust got upset with a demotion to second team and demanded an answer from Jackson, who told him, “Go ask Todd.” Coleman responded, “If you don’t want me to play, why don’t y’all just trade me?”
What happened: He got his wish and was shuffled off to Buffalo just before the second preseason game. He was released by the Bills, signed by the Patriots, released by the Patriots, and signed by the Giants. Coleman finished the season on the Giants active roster with two catches for 20 yards.
The erstwhile unassuming defensive end gave a profanity-laced lesson on financial literacy, lecturing defensive linemen on the merits of saving paychecks and getting rich off compounding interest.
What happened: He was released on the Browns’ final cut and acquired via waivers by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nassib went on to record the finest season of his three years, finishing second on the Bucs with 6.5 sacks – the first two of which came against the Browns in a Bucs overtime victory on Oct. 21.
The journeyman tight end’s story of his close relationship with his health-stricken father, Gregory, who revealed on camera that he suffered a third heart attack while Devon was at Browns training camp, was the series tear-jerker. Cajuste’s story then took a mystical turn when he revealed a second career as a crystal healer and passionate collector of stones and crystals, prompting Mayfield at one point to advise him, “Treat the ball like one of your rocks.”
What happened: He was released on the final cut and spent the year out of the NFL.
The ditsy No. 4 quarterback and social media heart-throb was assigned the task of stocking the quarterback RV with drinks and snacks. In a later episode he took his girlfriend to Botanical Gardens, where he wondered aloud if butterflies changed colors.
What happened: He was released and spent the year out of the NFL, but recently signed a futures contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The rotund offensive line coach with the Wilford Brimley mustache became a YouTube sensation when he ranted against stretching exercises, saying two World Wars were won on jumping jacks and push-ups, and set off gyrations in his sizable girth when he barked, “Set, hut” in offensive line drills.
What happened: He oversaw a good year for the offensive line, suffered a freak broken ankle injury in practice prior to Game 16, and then was released after Kitchens was hired as head coach.
The Quarterback RV
At the urging of veteran backup quarterback Drew Stanton, Mayfield rented a RV to be used exclusively by quarterbacks for private down time between practice sessions. After two small versions were used, a luxury version was transported outside the team facility. Country music artist Brad Paisley, a renowed Browns fan, was given a VIP tour of the RV by Mayfield.
What happened: Neff Brothers RV in Lorain, OH, recently put it up for sale in a bidding process through Jan. 18. Retailing for $195, 000, the RV comes with a framed rental contract signed by Mayfield and the quarterback’s autograph on the stainless-steel refrigerator.