The decision of former Browns coach Hue Jackson to join the Bengals came after the Browns decided to fire Jackson during the season. And it has sparked a passionate debate in some circles regarding whether Jackson should have been able to jump ship to a rival.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield doesn’t think Jackson should have surfaced in Cincinnati. And Mayfield wasn’t bashful about responding to an ESPN video featuring Damien Woody suggesting that Mayfield is being hypocritical because he transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma.
“Not even comparable,” Mayfield said in a comment posted on Instagram. “I didn’t lose 30+ games be fake and then do that. . . . I wasn’t gonna have a scholarship. Good try though buddy.” (It would have been better if he’d closed with, “Buddy boy.”)
The debate spilled over to PFT Live, where we’ll never contrive a disagreement but will fully unpack one that naturally arises. Peter King believes that coaches who are still being paid by one team should not be able to join another team unless the coach is willing to renounce any rights to financial compensation from his former team. I believe that the current system is fine as it is, and that coaches already sacrifice plenty of rights in an league that has yet to try to prevent a coach or an executive from carrying secrets from one team to another. (In Jackson’s case, the secrets didn’t help the Bengals.)
And here’s the simple reality: Coaches currently can get fired, get paid, and sign with another team because that’s how the industry works. If, as King wants, the Competition Committee were to propose a rule changing this approach, if the rule were adopted by at least 24 owners, if all teams were to incorporate standard contractual language implementing this restriction, coaches would have no choice but to accept, if those coaches want to coach in the NFL.
Coaches already give up enough of their rights to coach in the NFL, however. They have no collective bargaining protection (a union drive would never work because anyone pushing it would have to worry about being blackballed), their First Amendment rights are limited (fines are imposed for criticizing officiating, for example), and they waive the right to a jury trial regarding any legal disputes, agreeing to submit the case to arbitration by the Commissioner, who works for and is paid by each of the teams.
So even if it’s “unfair” at some level for a coach to leave one team and coach a rival in the same season, any further erosion of coaches’ rights could lead to even more erosion of coaches’ rights. Besides, if any team wants to prevent a coach from coaching another team, the simplest solution is this: Don’t fire him.