Ex-Browns coach Hue Jackson says bonuses allegedly tied to tanking plan maxed out at $750,000

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson stands before the game against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson stands before the game against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Hue Jackson said the end-of-season bonuses he allegedly received from the Browns as part of a plan to lose in the 2016 and 2017 NFL seasons maxed out at $750,000.

Jackson attached a financial figure Thursday to his previous accusations during an interview on ESPN Radio’s “Keyshawn, JWill & Max” show.

“It was a total of $750,000, but it was based on whatever those benchmarks you hit,” Jackson said. “What it was that you got every year from it, I really don’t know. Those things were directed right into your checking account.”

The “benchmarks” were not tied to winning or player development, Jackson said.

“I think that bonus was for the group working together towards what this plan was that they had set out,” Jackson said.

Jackson went 3-36-1 (1-15 in 2016, 0-16 in 2017 and 2-5-1 in 2018) in two and a half seasons as the head coach of the Browns before owner Jimmy Haslam fired him on Oct. 29, 2018.

FILE -Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross during practice before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the NFL and three of its teams Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 saying racist hiring practices by the league have left it racially segregated and managed like a plantation.

FILE -Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross during practice before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the NFL and three of its teams Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 saying racist hiring practices by the league have left it racially segregated and managed like a plantation.

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the NFL, Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos, alleging racial discrimination by the league’s franchises in hiring practices and accusing Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering him $100,000 per loss in an effort to tank during the 2019 season for better draft position the following year.

Flores’ lawsuit seeks class-action status, and Jackson didn’t rule out joining it during an appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Wednesday evening.

Kimberly Diemert, the executive director of the Hue Jackson Foundation, alleged Tuesday on Twitter the Browns had paid bonus money to Jackson, former head of football operations Sashi Brown, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and General Manager Andrew Berry to tank in 2016 and 2017.

In a phone interview Wednesday with the Beacon Journal, Diemert stood by the statements she made on social media.

Meanwhile, Jackson has been on a media blitz the past two days to detail what he describes as a four-year plan the Browns devised to field a young team and build draft capital in his first two seasons without an emphasis on winning until the third season.

Hue Jackson was fired with a 3-36-1 record for the Browns.

Hue Jackson was fired with a 3-36-1 record for the Browns.

Hue Jackson says he didn’t become aware of Browns’ plans until a month and a half after they hired him

Jackson said “it was never told to me that we were going to strip the team down” by releasing veteran players. He also said he wasn’t told about the end-of-season bonuses until a month and a half after he had been hired.

“You really don’t know what it is until you’re in it,” said Jackson, who was hired in December as the head football coach at Grambling State University. “When you’re losing games like you are, it’s so easy to put it together when you start to look back it because here’s the losses and you’re still getting what is considered a bonus, right? People don’t get paid bonuses for losing. That makes no sense.

“It was presented to me as a bonus structure. This is part of the bonus of your contract. That didn’t make any sense because I’ve never seen one of those. I’ve been in football long enough to know that that was different, but I still didn’t understand what it was coming from. Later, it was described that this is something that they did at Pilot J Flying to keep all of the workers who worked together collaborative, working together, working for the same cause.”

Haslam was the longtime CEO of truck-stop empire Pilot Flying J and still serves as Pilot Company’s chairman of the board.

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam talks with former head coach Hue Jackson before the 2017 NFL International Series game between the Vikings and Browns.

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam talks with former head coach Hue Jackson before the 2017 NFL International Series game between the Vikings and Browns.

The Browns vehemently denied Jackson and Diemert’s allegations Wednesday.

“The recent comments by Hue Jackson and his representatives relating to his tenure as our head coach are completely fabricated,” a team spokesperson said in a statement. “Any accusation that any member of our organization was incentivized to deliberately lose games is categorically false.”

Asked on “Keyshawn, JWill & Max” whether he accepted bonus money for losing games, Jackson said, “No. When you say did I accept, no because I didn’t know exactly where this was all coming from until we’re in it. And when you say accept it, it’s like somebody hands you the money. Money just directly deposited into your account. Once I realized what this was, I went to Jimmy Haslam and said, ‘Jimmy, I’m not interested in bonus structure money. What I would hope you do is take the money, this extra money you’re paying me because you pay me good enough as your head coach, and go get us some football players so that we’ll have a better football team.’”

Jackson said he hopes people understand a key difference between the allegations he and Flores are making.

“Brian says that he was offered $100,000 per [loss]. That’s not the way this was ever presented [to me],” Jackson said. “This was presented in a four-year plan structure of a bonus that’s supposed to be a bonus for what you do for work and those things —working together. That’s the way this was put together.

“When you look at it, like I said, it’s really interesting because all of the contents of it had all these different ways between coaching, executives that they could make money for if you hit on these marks, these particular benchmarks, and, to me, like I said, it didn’t make any sense. And I still don’t even understand what’s the formula, how did you figure this out, what made this work that said that you would earn this extra money, but that’s what was happening.”

Jackson said he’s surprised the NFL will reportedly investigate Flores’ accusation of a pay-to-tank offer in Miami but the league declined to launch a probe into Cleveland when he told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the Browns’ four-year plan. The league has yet to respond to two requests for comment regarding Jackson’s statements.

“[The league] admitted that 95% of my claims, 95% of what I know, is detrimental to the National Football League,” Jackson said.

Jackson ultimately took the Browns to arbitration, and “the case was dismissed basically,” he said.

Oct 15, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas (73) during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 15, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas (73) during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Thomas says everyone knew Cleveland Browns were in a deep rebuild in 2016 and 2017

Former Browns 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said Thursday he liked Jackson as a coach and called himself “probably like the last Hue Jackson defender on earth” during a radio interview with ESPN Cleveland’s “The Really Big Show” on WKNR (850-AM).

But Thomas said he doesn’t entirely buy Jackson’s claim that he didn’t know the Browns would be focused more on the future than winning in 2016 and 2017, when the team went 1-31 in those two seasons.

“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.

“I have a hard time believing [Jackson didn’t know]. Now maybe his argument is, ‘The day I signed the contract, I was just excited about becoming the head coach, and I didn’t really dive into the weeds of how the analytics side had come up with this plan where we said, ‘Hey, if we don’t think we can win the Super Bowl this year because we don’t feel like you can win a Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback and the only way you can get a franchise quarterback is to get top picks in the draft and so rather than being competitive, 8-8 or whatever, and then always being out of the market of one of those franchise quarterbacks, let’s save our resources, save our salary-cap space, draft picks, trade for the future and then hopefully get our franchise quarterback, build around him, win three or four years down the line.’

“Everybody who was a Browns fan knew that that’s what they were doing. As players, especially a guy like me who was at the end of my career, it’s a little hard to swallow feeling like, ‘Hey, they’re more focused on winning when I’m not going to be here than right now when I am here.’ But in the end, if you’re a franchise or you’re fan base, you might have different things that are important to the player who’s going to be there for maybe one year or the coach who’s going to be there for a short period of time. Your timelines are different on trying to win a championship when you are the franchise versus you’re an employee of the franchise.”

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Jackson maintained he did not willingly sign up for a major rebuild.

“What minority coach, when there’s not many minority coaches in pro football, would take a team or take a job when he knows the team’s going to be taken down to the studs? That makes no sense,” he said. “You can’t win in the National Football League when you take a team down to the studs. So what am I saying? Again, I was not told these things. This is not what I was told when I took this job, and I wasn’t told that there was going to be a bonus structure. I was going to find out a month and a half into the job.”

Jackson continued to argue the Browns know what they did to him is wrong and pointed to a contract extension he said he received in 2017 as evidence.

“It was told to me, ‘Hue, I’m apologizing to you for what we did to you. I’m apologizing for putting you in this situation because we tried to do something that wasn’t right,'” Jackson said.

“My beef in this is you took a minority coach who was the offensive coach of the year when he left Cincinnati, you put him in a situation where he did not have a chance to be successful, you ruined his career, and we all think that’s OK. When I was in it, nobody wanted to listen.”

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, left, watches warm ups with head coach Hue Jackson before their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland Nov. 20, 2016. The Steelers won 24-9.

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, left, watches warm ups with head coach Hue Jackson before their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland Nov. 20, 2016. The Steelers won 24-9.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at [email protected].com.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Hue Jackson alleges Browns’ bonuses tied to tanking maxed out at $750K