Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam fired back at former coach Hue Jackson on Thursday, saying that Jackson "has never accepted blame for one thing" and that the claim he paid Jackson to lose games is "an absolute falsehood."
"Hue Jackson has never ever accepted any responsibility for our record during that time period," Haslam told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "He's been masterful at pointing fingers but has never accepted any blame. I have accepted a ton of blame, and rightfully so."
Wednesday on ESPN's SportsCenter, Jackson said that the Browns had a "four-year plan" that incentivized losing during the first two years, which led to his 1-31 record during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and Cleveland having the No. 1 overall draft pick in back-to-back years.
"Teams that win are just not the youngest team, not that the youngest teams can't win, so I didn't understand the process," Jackson told ESPN. "I didn't understand what the plan was, I asked for clarity because it did not talk about winning and losing until Year 3 and 4. So that told you right there that something wasn't correct but I still couldn't understand it until I had the team that I had."
Jackson added later in the interview that, "I do know that no head coach is going to survive if you lose a lot of games."
Jackson, who is now the head coach for Grambling State, claimed that bonus money was available if certain measurables were met such as aggregate rankings, being the youngest team and having a certain amount of draft picks. Jackson said that he told Haslam he wasn't interested in bonus money and instead wanted that money used to improve the team.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Browns called Jackson's charge "completely fabricated" and said that "any accusation that any member of our organization was incentivized to deliberately lose games is categorically false."
In a series of Twitter posts earlier Wednesday, Jackson also wrote that Haslam "was happy while we kept losing" and "trust me it was a good number," when referencing bonus payments he claims were offered for losing.
Jackson and Kimberly Diemert, the executive director of the Hue Jackson Foundation, which works to prevent human trafficking, were tweeting in response to Brian Flores' lawsuit against the NFL and three teams -- the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and New York Giants -- alleging discrimination regarding his interview processes with Denver and New York and his firing last month by Miami.
In the lawsuit, Flores alleged that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attempted to incentivize him to purposely lose games shortly after he was hired in 2019, allegedly offering Flores $100,000 for every loss that season.
In her tweet, Diemert claimed the Browns paid Jackson and several executives a bonus to lose games when he was the head coach in Cleveland, adding that "we have records that will help" Flores' case. Jackson also had earlier tweeted multiple times backing Diemert's claims.
"Unequivocally, Hue Jackson was never paid to lose games," Haslam said. "That is an absolute falsehood. And it's also an absolute falsehood that I laughed while we were losing."
In 2018, the Browns fired Jackson after he posted a 2-5-1 record midway through the season. Cleveland went on to finish 7-8-1.
With the top picks in 2017 and 2018, Cleveland drafted All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, then quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Browns also drafted Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward with the No. 4 overall pick in 2018.
On Thursday, former Browns All-Pro offensive tackle Joe Thomas said on 850 AM ESPN Cleveland that he has a hard time believing that Jackson wasn't at least initially on board with the team's rebuild plans.
"Who in Browns Nation didn't realize that the team was on a deep rebuild and their focus was being competitive for championships three and four years down the line?" said Thomas, who retired after the 2017 season.
"Everybody who was a Browns fan knew that that's what they were doing."