ALAMEDA — Hue Jackson made a big impact in his two seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
He helped revive Darren McFadden’s career, turned Darrius Heyward-Bey from a bust to a capable NFL receiver and sparked a moribund offense that was one of the most inept in the league before he arrived.
Jackson helped bring credibility back to Oakland first as offensive coordinator in 2010 and then head coach last season. But when Reggie McKenzie was hired as general manager last January, he overhauled the organization starting by firing Jackson after an 8-8 season and bringing in Dennis Allen.
The Raiders (3-6) will see their former coach again Sunday when they visit Cincinnati (5-5) to face the Bengals, where Jackson is an assistant secondary and special teams coach.
“I thought he was a great head coach,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Obviously, it was time for a switch here with the new regime coming in, but I thought Hue was great and I think he will get another opportunity. There’s just guys you know, kind of like DA, you know he is going to be a head coach. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Hue will be a head coach again because he is a great leader, he understands enough about the game to be a head coach but he’s also passionate. Guys follow him.”
Late owner Al Davis brought Jackson in to be offensive coordinator under coach Tom Cable for the 2010 season after Oakland finished second-to-last in scoring and yards per game the previous season.
The improvement under Jackson’s play-calling was immediate and the Raiders had developed into one of the NFL’s better offenses. In two seasons with Jackson running that side of the ball, Oakland ranked 10th in the league in scoring and first in rushing over that span.
“He’s a phenomenal play-caller,” Palmer said. “He does a great job of keeping defenses off-balance and surprising defenses with some new stuff.”
But the Raiders have fallen to 22nd in the league in scoring, averaging 3.2 fewer points per game, and are second-to-last in rushing with a drop of more than 62 yards per game from Jackson’s two years.
The biggest beneficiaries of Jackson’s offense were McFadden and Heyward-Bey. McFadden struggled his first two seasons after being picked fourth overall in 2008 as he was limited by injuries and a blocking system that didn’t suit his game.
One of the first things Jackson did when being hired by the Raiders was ask McFadden what were his favorite runs and using those power schemes more than the old system. After rushing for 856 yards with a 3.9 average in 15 games over his first two injury-filled seasons.
That all changed under Jackson’s leadership as McFadden had 1,771 yards rushing and a 5.3 average in 20 games in 2010-11.
“I felt like he helped me a whole lot, just building my confidence in the league and he gave me the opportunity to show folks I can go out there and run the ball the way I do,” McFadden said.
With the Raiders going back to more zone runs this season, McFadden has reverted back and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
Heyward-Bey had just nine catches as a rookie the year before Jackson arrived as he struggled to hold onto balls. While never living up to his No. 7 draft status, Heyward-Bey finally emerged as a legitimate threat with 64 catches for 975 yards and four touchdowns last season.
“He just saw the work I put in,” Heyward-Bey said. “He believed in me. He was the type of coach that he will call plays because he wanted to see if you were going to make a play. He did that the years he was here.”
But despite his success on offense, Jackson was fired as head coach by McKenzie last January when Oakland fell one game short of the playoffs.
He ended up back in Cincinnati, where he had spent three years as an assistant previously, getting a taste of defense and special teams after being exclusively an offensive coach for most of his career.
“He’s a great technician as a coach and he sees the details and he sees the big picture. That’s why he’s so special as a coach. He can see both the detail work you have to have to be great but he can also see the entire big picture,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “It’s been great. I’ve missed him since he’s been gone and it’s great to have him back here.”
The roster in Oakland is quite different from the one Jackson last coached in the season finale against San Diego. Of the 53 players on the team for that game, more than half (27) are no longer active with the Raiders and the system has changed on both sides of the ball.
“I maybe can shed some light on a thing or two here or there, but at the end of the day it’s going to be two really good football teams out there playing and they’re going to do everything they can to win and we’re going to do everything we can to win,” Jackson said.