The 49ers had a marathon interview Sunday with the man atop their head-coaching wish list: Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
Jackson, 50, met with 49ers officials, including CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, in Cincinnati just hours after his team lost in the first round of the NFL playoffs. According to NFL.com, the session lasted five hours. The 49ers left Ohio without making Jackson, who also met with the Browns on Sunday, a contract offer, and there were reports that the Giants also were interested in Jackson.
A source close to Jackson said no interview with the Giants had been set up as of Sunday evening.
The 49ers also have interviewed Browns assistant John DeFilippo, former Eagles coach Chip Kelly, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn. They appear to be zeroing in on Jackson, however.
The main attraction of Jackson, a onetime quarterback at Pacific, is his expertise at that position and his background running an offense. He’s been an NFL offensive coordinator in Washington – where he came into contact with a young scout at the time, Baalke – as well as Atlanta, Oakland and Cincinnati.
The 49ers finished 31st this season in yards gained as well as several other major offensive categories, including third-down percentage and sacks allowed. They have a number of decisions to make at quarterback, including whether to draft one in the first round.
Jackson has been an unabashed admirer of Colin Kaepernick in the past, and he’s said the Raiders wanted to trade up to grab Kaepernick in the first round of the draft when he was their head coach in 2011 but couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal with New England.
Kaepernick’s future with the team is uncertain. He’ll be owed his full salary, approximately $14 million, if he’s on the roster on April 1. He is rehabilitating from three injuries – to his left shoulder, left knee and right thumb. He had surgery on all three in Vail, Colo., not with team doctors at Stanford’s hospital, signaling his discontent with how they were handled initially.
Team officials have said they will sort through the quarterback situation with the new coach. But if Kaepernick were to stay, it could take some convincing from someone like Jackson in the same way Jim Harbaugh got Alex Smith to remain in 2011 when early on it appeared he would bolt.
Jackson’s supporters will point to his balanced offense in Cincinnati, one of the few in the NFL that was even between the run and pass. The Bengals attempted 505 passes in 2015 and had 467 runs. Quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert all were among the top players at their positions. Dalton’s 106.3 passer rating in 2015 was second to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson’s 110.1 rating.
They also will note his one-year tenure as head coach of the Raiders, one that included the death of iconic owner Al Davis and trades – triggered by Jackson – for quarterback Carson Palmer and linebacker Aaron Curry. Oakland started 7-4 but finished 8-8.
When Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie as general manager after the season, he fired Jackson and hired Dennis Allen, who went 4-12 in his first two seasons and was fired early in his third season with the team.
Detractors will note that there was plenty of drama during that season and that it has continued to percolate since Jackson left town.
Some feel Jackson was a self-aggrandizer. They point to a scathing news conference he held at the end of the 2011 season in which he blamed his players for a season-ending loss to the Chargers, which knocked the Raiders from the playoffs.
“To say I’m pissed off is an understatement,” he fumed at the time. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. ... I’m pissed at the team.”
Linebacker Bart Scott, who was with Jackson in Baltimore in 2008, said Jackson deserves a second chance to be a head coach but needs to adjust his style.
“He was too much of a players’ guy,” he said Sunday on CBS. “He was hanging out with players off the field. It has to be a fine line that you walk.”
Others say he was a victim of circumstances.
Former Raiders executive Amy Trask, who like Jackson departed the organization after Mark Davis took over, said Jackson “labored under challenges no one is aware of” in 2011.
As to the perception Jackson was power hungry?
“Look, I worked side by side with this man,” Trask said on the same CBS pregame show. “If anyone were to be able to comment on as to whether he was ‘power hungry’ or not, it would be me. And let me tell you something: Of all the coaches with whom I’ve worked over a roughly 30-year period, he was at the low end of power-hungry coaches. I can give you a list of men I worked with that were phenomenally more power hungry.”