Hue Jackson is not taking any Carson Palmer questions this week.
In an effort to limit any potential sideshow caused by discussing his role in the trade that sent Palmer to Oakland last year, the former Raiders head coach is politely declining to address the subject.
But he is perfectly willing to discuss Al Davis.
Jackson was the last head coach that the legendary Raiders owner hired before he died of heart failure last October. The day after Davis passed away, Jackson guided the Raiders to a 25-20 win in Houston. On the final play of the game, Oakland’s Michael Huff intercepted Matt Schaub in the end zone to preserve the victory. It’s referred to as the “Divine Interception” because the Raiders only had 10 defensive players on the field.
In an emotional address to the team in the locker room after the game, Jackson said that Al Davis had his hand on the ball.
“It’s still emotional,” said Jackson wiping a tear when I asked him about working for Davis this week. “It was awesome…a great time. I’ll never forget it.”
Al Davis was a polarizing figure nationally since he was involved in multiple lawsuits against the NFL and went through six head coaches in his final 10 years in Oakland. But Jackson grew close to the man that gave him his first opportunity to be a head coach at any level.
“He was special and I don’t think people get that,” said Jackson. “I know that he gets a bad rap about being what he was to the league and against the league or whatever that was, but he was a tremendous person. Obviously he gave me my first opportunity, but more so than that, he taught me so much about the game and about people and how to deal with people. I’ll never forget that.”
Jackson was fired in January by the Raiders new general manager Reggie McKenzie despite going 8-8 and tying for the best record in the AFC West in his only season as Oakland’s head coach. After spending the previous 10 years working on the offensive side of the ball as an NFL assistant, including three years as Cincinnati’s wide receivers coach (2004-06), Jackson is broadening his expertise by working with the Bengals’ secondary and special teams.
“I’ve grown,” Jackson told me. “Had I known some of the things I’ve learned from Mike (Zimmer), maybe I would still be in Oakland. We had some things that we needed to shore up on the defensive side of the ball. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve grown a lot in that area and in special teams. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Jackson downplays his potential impact on this week’s game plan, but Zimmer says that the former Raiders head coach will be a valuable resource this week.
“He can tell us a lot about each player – their strengths and weaknesses, ways to rush against certain guys, what he feels their true playing speed is, and how they react to different situations,” said Zimmer.
Additionally, this week’s game is the second of three straight against teams from the AFC West. In Hue’s two years in Oakland (he was offensive coordinator in 2010), the Raiders went 9-3 within that division.
“Obviously, I’ve played those teams and had some success when I was with Oakland, so every now and then somebody might ask a question or two, but our staff here does a good job,” said Jackson. “We really work hard here at trying to understand what the opponents are trying to do. Jay does a great job on offense, Zim does a great job on defense, and Darrin Simmons is spectacular on special teams. Our groups are headed up by some very talented individuals and they come up with quality game plans for anybody that we play.”
But this game isn’t against just “anybody.” For many Bengals fans, it is against Carson Palmer. For Jackson, it is against the team that dismissed him after one season as head coach. But Hue insists that it isn’t a game that he’s had circled on the calendar.
“Honestly, I know it’s all ‘coach talk’ but this is the next one on the schedule,” said Jackson. “It just happens to be a place where I was at. They’re trying to get a win and get off the slide a little bit, and we’re trying to keep winning. It’s going to be a fun game.”
(You can hear the entire Hue Jackson interview on “Bengals Game Plan.” Join Dave Lapham and me on Wednesday night from 6-8 on Fox Sports 1360 or FoxSports1360.com.)
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