If you want to know why the new Bengals offensive coordinator believes you win in the NFL by imposing your will with a physical brand of football, you have to go back to Hue Jackson's senior season of 1986 when he took tiny Pacific into a game against the mighty Big Ten at the Metrodome.
As an option quarterback running and tucking and passing the daylights out of a Minnesota team that would beat ninth-ranked Michigan a few weeks later, Jackson had his school of 4,000 and second-hand uniforms on the brink of a 24-20 victory in the fourth quarter. The problem is that he was so dehydrated that his arms and face were crusted with a ghastly white salt and when he went to the sidelines during timeouts he rested his head on the shoulder of offensive coordinator Greg Seamon.
"His whole body was cramping. He was locked up. But I knew he wasn't coming out, either," said Seamon, now the Bengals East Coast scout.
Facing a third-and-two late and trying to kill the clock, Seamon called for a pitch, never thinking the hobbled Jackson would keep it. But there was Jackson, sticking a foot in the ground, breaking one tackle, dragging another, and then reaching and getting the first down, not giving up the ball until his teammates half carried him back to the huddle. The clock ticked, Minnesota would only have time for four desperate downs, and Seamon would have a lifetime memory.
"His will to win was incredible," Seamon said. "He was a consummate leader, players followed him and they still do. A tough guy but, just as importantly, intelligent and strong-minded. He was goal-oriented."
Nearly 30 years later the 48-year-old Jackson still has goals and on Thursday he expounded on them as he envisions what his Bengals offense is going to look like. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has had three offensive coordinators in his 12 seasons and the first two, Bob Bratkowski and Jay Gruden, were always a bit hesitant to talk about an identity because they wanted to be multiple.
So does Jackson, but he also wants the Bengals to be able to do one thing well and that's push people around in the running game. One of the small knocks on Gruden was that he wanted to do everything well and while he's got a quick and innovative mind, the knock said, he went into Sundays with an unfocused game plan that had too many plays. It remains to be seen what Jackson will bring into a game, but he's intent on running the ball.
"I wanted to give him a standing ovation," Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham said after Jackson's introductory news conference. "Some coaches throw it to set up the run. Some coaches run it to set up the pass. He runs it to set up the pass. Not the other way around."
The proof is in the numbers. This is his fourth job in the NFL calling plays and in his last stop in Oakland, where he was also the head coach for a year in 2011, the Raiders finished second and seventh in rushing. But they also finished 11th in passing when he was the head coach. The option QB did throw two touchdown passes in Minnesota that day, so Jackson likes to do both. Balance and aggressive, as he says.
"The forward pass is important. We will throw it. We have too many talented players not to throw it. Please, don't ever think we won't," Jackson said. "That's not what I'm saying. I think in order to establish who you are as an offensive football team, you have to be able to put your hand down and block the guy in front of you. You have to be able to attempt to run over the other team. If you can't do that in this league, you have no chance of winning."
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the '70s, there wasn't a lot of room to be a wallflower. While his father painted aircraft and his mother cooked at a school, Jackson quarterbacked and point-guarded Dorsey High School, good enough that he also played some basketball at Pacific. The kind of guy that would drive around L.A., get his schoolmates off the streets and onto the practice field.
"I remember when Hue Jackson began coaching," Lewis recalled after giving Jackson his fourth title with the Bengals. "He doesn't know this, but he kind of knocked me out of the way one day at the University of Pacific out there, a junior college, Stockton Junior College."
The option QB from Watts and the rhythm thrower from Texas are going to have to get to know each other because Jackson says he and Andy Dalton are going to be joined at the hip. And Jackson is a Dalton guy. So is Lewis. And Bengals president Mike Brown. The Bengals may draft another quarterback. But it won't be to push Dalton, saddled with his third-straight messy postseason loss.
"I'm going to be the guy that pushes Andy and I think Andy will push himself," Jackson said. "I would hope that my expertise and my experiences and things that I've been through will be able to help him, along with (quarterbacks coach Ken) Zampese, because Kenny's done a great job with him so far to this point. Now we need to do something a little different to help him get to where he's called one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. He can be. He's won a lot of games. You go look at some of the guys who are considered some of the best, they didn't win as many games in a three-year period. Some of them didn't even see the playoffs. This young man has it. What we have to do is make sure that we're helping him to get it done at the level that we all want."
Jackson isn't worried about Dalton's confidence after his three-turnover game last Sunday in the playoffs.
"Any young man that has won 30 games and been to the playoffs three times has confidence. Now we have to take it and make it even better so that we can push him over the top," Jackson said. "The way I speak will be the way Andy speaks. He might say it a little different now and then but the message will be clear. It has to be clear and kind of one voice. It can't be three, four or five different voices because all of a sudden you start to play that way, very inconsistent. I've had the opportunity to talk to him. What a great young man and I'm excited."
The two spoke Wednesday and the first thing Dalton wanted to know is if Jackson would change the vocabulary. He found out the playbook is staying the same because Jackson wants the offense "to hit the ground running." Lapham thinks Gruden asked Dalton to do a lot and that he'll be better if Jackson takes some of the load off with easier and fewer throws.
"If you change what you do there's a period where you have to get adjusted. I want these guys to come in and know the playbook is still the playbook but it might look and be called a little different," Jackson said. "(Dalton) was excited about it."
The language of the playbook may be the same, but the body language of the new coordinator won't be. Left tackle/guard Andrew Whitworth says it will be a difference with Jackson's passion in your face every day.
"Hue is known to coach with an energy and passion and try to push guys to be as good as they can be," Whitworth said. "He's more of an in-your-face guy every day. When things came up, sure, Jay dealt with it, but it wasn't his style. It's just a different mentality, not better."
It's one of the reasons Jackson is going to call the plays from the field and not from the press box.
"I need to feel the players and look in their eyes and look at the defensive team because if I catch them lagging I need to jump on that," Jackson said.
In your face.
"Guys are going to have to adjust to that. They have to find a way to push themselves and that's what Hue will do well," Whitworth said. "One thing he's really good at, one of his talents is he's able to create a bond with his players so he can really push them and they want that. That's the tricky part. He is going to find a way that they want to be pushed."
Jackson invited the media to come to practice to watch how he imposes this physicality. Asked if those practices are going to be more physical, Jackson cited the rules limiting the use of pads and the need to keep people healthy. But it won't stop him from imposing his will.
"There is an environment you can create for your team to work in to where they understand what you're trying to accomplish," Jackson said. "There are going to be no games for a long time, but at the end of the day it is about mindset. Football is a tough sport for tough people. It's not for everybody. The guys that are here are the guys we chose and they said, 'I'm in. I know how to play this. How to line up and push the other guy.' "
Jackson is already challenging his players. "I hope they watch this video," he said to Bengals.com. "They're going to have to be ready."
But Jackson thinks they already get it. They don't need a headline.
"We have to create this environment here," Jackson said. "I think our players know it. They know what's coming."