weather icon Clear

Browns recall ‘Hard Knocks’ lessons as Raiders take center stage

BEREA, Ohio — As the Raiders prepare for their highly anticipated but largely unwanted star turn on HBO’s popular “Hard Knocks’’ all-access training camp reality series — which debuts its 14th season Tuesday — where better to seek a preview of what they’re in for than Cleveland, with the Browns having so memorably served as the entertaining and sometimes controversy-producing subjects of last summer’s show?

If there are indeed any “Lessons of Hard Knocks’’ to be learned by the Raiders, the Browns definitely came about them the hard way. By trial and high-profile error.

“‘Hard Knocks’ is only going to affect you if you let it affect you,’’ said new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, a first-year Cleveland assistant in 2018. “The people at NFL Films, those folks are great to work with. But people have a hard time making sure those cameras don’t affect them. Because they see the cameras everywhere. So sometimes you don’t always get the truth. You get coaches and players playing up to the camera instead of just the truth.

“If you’re truly asking the players to be all about the team, I would say ‘Hard Knocks’ makes it very difficult to do. Because those cameras are always looking for someone to make a star out of.’’

Bringing up the topic of their “Hard Knocks” experience this summer in Browns camp elicits a series of knowing smiles and fond memories of the highlight moments. But it’s accurate to say the Browns endured rather than enjoyed their time on stage. And is it coincidence or correlation that so many of the featured stars of last year’s miniseries are no longer with Cleveland?

Chief among them, of course, are former Browns coach Hue Jackson and ex-offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who both were fired after Week 8 last season. Those moves came about two-plus months after they and Kitchens engaged in a cringe-worthy battle of wills on “Hard Knocks” regarding how much time off from practice players should receive in an attempt to avoid injury.

Not that Raiders fans have any such worry thanks to coach Jon Gruden’s 10-year contract, but Jackson’s dismissal made it two of the past three years the “Hard Knocks” coach didn’t finish out the year they were on the show, joining the Rams’ Jeff Fisher in 2016 in that dubious distinction. In fact, in the series’ well-decorated history, the only head coach who is still employed by the team they did “Hard Knocks” with is Houston’s Bill O’Brien, whose Texans were featured in 2015. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about that trend.

“The thing I don’t like is every time you see (‘Hard Knocks’), the coaches who have been on them, they wind up getting fired,’’ said Jackson, now an unemployed coach for the first time in 32 years. “It’s crazy.’’

Jackson: ‘Everyone saw a 1-31 coach’

Jackson’s 3-36-1 record in two-plus years as the Browns’ coach had everything to do with his demise in Cleveland, but the scene of him, Haley and Kitchens butting heads in that coaches meeting room revealed real tension and to many served as a microcosm of the issues that then plagued the NFL’s worst team.

“I had no idea why that scene with me and Todd would hurt,’’ said Jackson, who authorized the inclusion of the scene. “I mean, other than he wanted to push his thought process on the head coach. I would think people would have thought, ‘Wait a minute, this dude needs to shut up.’ You would think it was like insubordination.

“You’re talking about a coach who had lost, but at the end of the day I was still head coach of the football team, and nobody wanted me to act like the head coach of the football team. Because maybe he shouldn’t be because he lost so many games. Had the record been different, people would have felt different about what I felt at the time. But what everyone saw was a 1-31 coach. So the head coach was supposed to let the assistant do whatever he wants to do? Then why is he the head coach?’’

Were the Browns the subject of the 2019 “Hard Knocks” series, Kitchens said the ground rules would have been different in at least one key aspect.

“Would I do that (show) again? Yes, I would,’’ Kitchens said Friday from the team’s practice bubble. “But if I was the head coach, the cameras wouldn’t be in the staff meeting. The media took that interaction and turned that into a problem. They’re looking for anything. And let me tell you something, they’re going to look for anything with Oakland.’’

Haley stands by his actions

Out of the NFL and not working for the first time in 26 seasons, Haley said he went into last year’s “Hard Knocks” experience wary of how much the cameras might capture and believing the show couldn’t possibly aid the Browns’ efforts to turn around a team that had just logged the worst two-year stretch in league history. Unsurprisingly, he’s even more convinced of it now.

“When (Browns general manager) John (Dorsey) told me they were doing (the show), I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ’’ said Haley, reached by phone at his family’s lake house in New York. “We’re trying to make a drastic change here and turn things around, and this is the wrong thing to happen. I told the Browns owner, ‘Jimmy (Haslam), this is a mistake. Don’t do it.’ The No. 1 thing in camp is getting the team ready to be able to compete.

“In that coaches meeting with (Jackson), what I said was authentic, because I wasn’t even thinking about the cameras. We were in a passionate and very important conversation. It was cut out, but I told him I know how the Steelers (Haley’s former team) are practicing, and that’s who we have to beat. Then they cut to Hue with his ‘Well, when you’re in this chair’’ and all that. The part he liked being able to say was, ‘Well, I’m the boss.’ It’s comical. I wake up in the middle of the night and I lay in bed and start running through it in my head again. I don’t think I’d do anything different. You just have to be you, but you have to get the guys ready to play and you try to be off camera as much as you can.’’

Haley says Jackson ‘reveled in it’

Jackson spent about an hour reviewing the finished episode every Tuesday morning with the “Hard Knocks” production crew, a courtesy “so you’re not surprised by anything they put out,’’ he said. But Haley contends it consumed lots of oxygen in Browns camp.

“He’d come up to me at practice and say, ‘Wait ’till you see ‘Hard Knocks,’ ’’ Haley said. “He was like, ‘Wait ’till you see what’s on this week.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You’re spending time watching that instead of figuring out how to get the team to win?’ He reveled in it.’’

Former All-Pro Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas was more than an interested observer of last year’s “Hard Knocks.” Though he now works in the media for NFL Network, Thomas remains close to almost everyone in the Browns organization and communicates regularly with many. He remains grateful, he said, that he retired after the 2017 season and missed out on being part of “Hard Knocks.”

“Generally speaking, I can’t see any way doing the show would help you from a football standpoint,’’ Thomas said. “It’s just the way it is, with the additional drama and scrutiny and work it takes. Nobody on the football side of it I’m sure likes it. Maybe sales, marketing, branding, they probably love it. Because all the attention during training camp and at the start of the football season is pretty much on your team.

“I loved watching it, because it was my first training camp away from the team, and it was fun. At least until they went into the coaches meetings. I kind of recoiled at some of those scenes, because I knew fans wouldn’t have the context or the background to understand the dynamics of those relationships. So when you see something like Todd and Kitchens with Hue, their takeaway is going to be, ‘Oh, this organization’s in chaos. The coaching staff’s in chaos. They’re challenging Hue, and he’s up there acting like Caesar Augustus.’ Even though 31 other teams are probably having a similar heated discussion about something.’’

Raiders made for ‘Hard Knocks’

If there’s one thing everyone involved in the Browns’ “Hard Knocks” experience agrees on it’s this: The Raiders are going to make for fascinating subjects and could set a new standard for entertainment factor on the series.

“Jon Gruden’s been a showman on the sidelines, so he loves the camera,’’ Haley said. “But he’s also a football coach, so he’ll be torn. But A.B. (new Raiders receiver Antonio Brown) might be one of the all-time ‘Hard Knocks’ performers, because he’s a showman even when there’s no camera. If we did a walk-through in Latrobe, (Pennsylvania, site of Steelers training camp), and if there were only three people on that hill cheering for him, he’d still put on a show. The Raiders doing the ‘Hard Knocks’ thing, that’ll get crazy.’’

Said Jackson, also a former Raiders head coach: “The Raiders have got the right guys for it. They’ll do well and hopefully their story will get told better. We were a football team that needed confidence and needed the spotlight because I thought it would force our players to be at their best at all times.

“Sometimes you can overthink that. Sometimes it might not be the best environment for your players to be their best selves. I took a chance on ‘Hard Knocks’ because I thought that’s what needed to happen because everything had been so negative about the Cleveland Browns. But with the way it went, we just all wish it had gone differently.’’

Next up? The Raiders. Will they be ready for their HBO close-up? Then again, can anyone fully be?

More Raiders: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact Don Banks at dbanks@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DonBanks on Twitter.

Don't miss the latest Raiders news. Like our Vegas Nation page
Raiders Videos
Raider fans say their tradition is a lot like the Packers - Video
Raider fans visiting Lambeau Field ahead of the team playing the Packers discuss parallels they see in the teams' history, compare their stadiums histories and talk about the Raiders' move to Las Vegas. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Finish Preparations for Packers, Gruden's Return to Green Bay - VIDEO
The Raiders held their final practice before traveling to Green Bay, where head coach Jon Gruden was an assistant coach earlier in his career. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders' Trent Brown Doubtful, Tyrell Williams Out Sunday Vs Packers - VIDEO
The Raiders finished up their preparations for the Green Bay Packers on Friday, and listed offensive tackle Trent Brown as doubtful and wide receiver Tyrell Williams out due to injury. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Guenther Upset By Decision of Vontaze Burfict Suspension - VIDEO
Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther expressed his feelings on linebacker Vontaze Burfict's suspension being upheld. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul Guenther Calls Burfict's Suspension a 'Witch Hunt,' Waller Signs Extension - VIDEO
For the first time since Vontaze Burfict's suspension was upheld by the NFL, Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther spoke about the situation and was verbally unhappy with the outcome of the appeal. The Raiders signed tight end Darren Waller to an extension. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders' Ingold Praised by Gruden Ahead of Return to Green Bay - VIDEO
Raiders rookie fullback Alec Ingold will return home to Green Bay, Wisconsin this Sunday when the team plays against the Packers. Head coach Jon Gruden praised the rookie after Wednesday's practice. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review Journal)
Raiders' Trent Brown Accused of Domestic Violence - VIDEO
Raiders offensive tackle Trent Brown has been accused of domestic violence in a lawsuit filed earlier this week. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Announce New Sponsorship With San Manuel Casino - Video
The Raiders announce a new sponsorship deal with San Manuel Casino for when the team moves to Las Vegas in 2020.
Raiders' partnership with San Manuel Casino - VIDEO
The Raiders will host a press conference on Monday afternoon, October 14 at the Raiders Preview Center In Las Vegas. Raiders President Marc Badain and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena, along with San Manuel Band of Mission Indians CEO Loren Gill will kick off the announcement with remarks of the partnership followed by photo and interview sessions.
Raiders Return to Practice, Prepare for Packers - VIDEO
Coming off of their bye-week, the Raiders returned to practice Monday to begin preparations for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Offensive Guard Gabe Jackson and Wide Receiver Zay Jones practiced with the team for the first time this season. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Like The Progress of Young Team, Acquire WR Zay Jones - VIDEO
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden likes what he sees out of his young team who have been impressive despite injuries to veteran players. The team acquired wide receiver Zay Jones from the Buffalo Bills in a trade. The youthful Raiders are currently 3-2 and have and are on a bye week before playing the Packers in Green Bay. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Highlights from the NFL London - Raiders-Bears feature video
In the first NFL game to be played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, the Raiders came away with a win over the Bears to bring their record to 3-2. The Review-Journal spent the days leading up to the event speaking to soccer and football fans to discover how deep their passion for their teams is and what those overseas know about the NFL. Here's the highlights from our experiences in England. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Josh Jacobs says his goal was to keep the Raiders in the game
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs said his goal was to keep the team in the game after a miscommunication on a play caused a fumble that was recovered by Bears linebacker Khalil Mack. The Raiders won, 24-21. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders upset the Bears in London, improve to 3-2
The Raiders defeated the Bears in London and heads into their bye week breaking .500 on the season. The Raiders will have the opportunity to get healthy before facing the Packers in Green Bay in two weeks. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Victory in London Shows Growth of Young Players - VIDEO
The Raiders win over the Chicago Bears in London was rookie Josh Jacobs' best game this season. Jacobs, Moreau and the other Raiders rookies and second year players received praise from head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr after the game. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Win in London, Beat Bears 24-21 - Video
The Raiders are 3-2 after beating the Bears 24-21 for the team's first win in London. While the Bears were able to overcome a 17-point deficit, the Raiders took advantage of a 4th quarter penalty that set them up for success. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and Raiders beat writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Myles Simmons breakdown the win.
Vegas Nation Gameday Preview from London: Raiders vs. Bears
Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney previews the Oakland Raiders vs. the Chicago Bears and gives an update on the team's inactive players from Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Soccer fans in London talk about the Premier League, NFL
As the NFL comes to London with the Raiders vs. the Bears, fans at a Premier League game between West Ham United and Crystal Palace talk about their love for the sport they call football and what they've come to learn about the NFL so far. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Vs Bears Preview - Video
The Oakland Raiders will play the Chicago Bears in London on Sunday, and Raiders beat writer Myles Simmons goes over the three things to watch during the game.
Raiders fans in London talk about the team's impending move to Vegas
With the Raiders playing the Bears in London, fans of the team have traveled from near and far to come out and support them. Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney asks fans if they will continue to do so when the Silver and Black moves to Las Vegas. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders fans arrive in London for Bears game - Video
Raiders' fans from near and far traveled out for festivities in London where the team will play the Chicago Bears on Sunday. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Raiders LB Khalil Mack talks about facing his old team - Video
Linebacker Khalil Mack was traded to the Chicago Bears by the Raiders in 2018 and will play his former team for the first time since on Sunday, Oct. 6 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Personal seat licenses for Raiders almost sold out - VIDEO
Personal seat license sales (PSL) for the $2 billion 65,000 fan-capacity domed Allegiant Stadium are about 96 percent sold, with the sales process expected to wrap up by Thanksgiving. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Spend $28 Million on new parking areas - VIDEO
The Raiders have spent $28 million on new parking locations on Valley View Boulevard between Reno and Tropicana avenues. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Linebacker Vontaze Burfict Suspended for Rest of Season - VIDEO
Vontaze Burfict was ejected in the second quarter of the Raiders 31-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts after a helmet-to-helmet hit on tight end Jack Doyle. It was announced on Monday that the linebacker would be suspended for the rest of the season. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Head To London 2-2, Beat Colts 31-24 - VIDEO
The Raiders snapped their losing streak beating the Colts on Sunday in Indianapolis. The team heads directly to London to prepare for next weeks game against the Bears. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Nation: Raiders discuss their 31-24 win over the Colts
Following their 31-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Maxx Crosby, Erik Harris, Josh Jacobs and Trevor Davis discuss the key plays that the team executed to collect a road win. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gruden Proud of Raiders After Winning 31-24 in Indianapolis
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden says he is proud of his team after they came away with a win against the Indianapolis Colts in game two of their stretch of games away from Oakland. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Snap Two-Game Losing Streak With Win Over Colts - Video
The Raiders pulled away with the team's first road win of the season, beating the Colts 31-24.
Vegas Nation: Raiders-Colts Gameday Preview
T.Y. Hilton is out and the Colts have other injuries that could open the doors for a Raiders win in Indianapolis. Adam Hill and Myles Simmons look at who needs to step up for the Raiders to come out victorious on the road. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Searching For Identity With Constantly Moving Parts - VIDEO
With a lot of early injuries, cuts and trades, the Raiders head to Indianapolis still searching for their team identity and trying to put together a complete football game. (Le'Andre Fox/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders encouraged by linebacker situation, getting creative with LaMarcus Joyner - VIDEO
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said today that the linebacking core still looks shaky but they are encouraged by the progress they have made since Sundays's loss. In that loss defensive back LaMarcus Joyner was not used very much, but the team is looking for creative ways for him to make and impact. (Le'Andre fox/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Steel cables will hoist roof at Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
Stainless steel cables are being put into place at Allegiant Stadium to begin the process of putting the roof on the 65,000-seat stadium in Las Vegas. Stadium Chief Operating Officer Don Webb explains how the cables will be used to get the roof put on the future home of the Raiders and UNLV football. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Johnathan Abram's wife on his "Hard Knocks" appearance
Johnathan Abram's wife thinks her husband was annoying on the first episode of the Raiders on HBO's "Hard Knocks."
Raiders Johnathan Abram On Moving to Las Vegas - Video
Raiders safety Johnathan Abram talks about the team moving to Las Vegas and how he is ready to bring his game to the desert in the new Allegiant Stadium.
Raiders Safety Johnathan Abram and Wife Bri'Anna On Being A Football Family - Video
Raiders safety Johnathan Abram and his wife Bri'Anna sit down to talk about being a football family and what it means for their daughter and how it changed their lifestyle.
Allegiant celebrates naming deal with tailgate party
Allegiant Air employees celebrate with a tailgate party after the company’s naming deal with the Raiders for the new Las Vegas stadium.
A look at the Raiders headquarters under construction in Henderson
Don Webb, chief operating officer of the LV Stadium Co., gives the Review-Journal a tour of the Raiders headquarters under construction in Henderson. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts views Las Vegas stadium as opportunity
MGM Resorts International intends to offer tailgating experiences at its resorts before and after events at Raiders stadium. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NFL betting trends for Week 6

Raiders coach Jon Gruden has won and covered the last two road games after going 1-8 in the previous nine away games. The Packers are 4-2 against the spread.

Raiders healing just in time for game against Packers

The Raiders could be close to full strength when they meet Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Chiefs’ Mahomes to miss 4-6 weeks, source tells AP

A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes escaped significant damage to ligaments when he dislocated his right kneecap.

Mahomes suffers knee injury in Chiefs’ win over Broncos

DENVER — Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes injured his right knee in a pileup near the goal line before his Kansas City teammates rallied around their fallen superstar for a 30-6 thrashing of Denver on Thursday night.