BEREA — Had he not been charged with leading the Browns back to respectability, Baker Mayfield would be out of bounds with his cocky, brash and unrepentant criticism of former coach Hue Jackson.
But even as Mayfield recoiled from Jackson’s embrace on Sunday in Cincinnati, called Jackson “fake” on Instagram on Monday and refused to back down Wednesday, Mayfield wasn’t tip-toeing the sideline of immaturity.
The rookie quarterback was showing he demands loyalty and won’t cover up the truth. He was sticking up for himself and his teammates who were dragged into Jackson’s 3-36-1 quagmire. He was continuing to infuse the Browns with the fight and swagger they need to resurrect the once-irrelevant franchise.
Like this side of Mayfield or not, he hasn’t been fake the past few days.
Although most quarterbacks would have moved on to Sunday’s opponent, Mayfield made it clear he not only doesn’t like Jackson, but he also didn’t like him taking a job with the AFC North-rival Bengals.
“I get to have my own opinion on how it transpired and he gets to do what he wants,” Mayfield said. “I’m not a cookie-cutter quarterback, never have been, never will be. I speak my mind. I didn’t like the move and people don’t have to care. I’m not looking for anybody’s approval. I don’t regret any of it.
“A quarterback that’s a little different from some of the guys to have a voice, but that’s just how I’ve always been and I’m not going to change for anybody.”
Pressed on his use of the word fake, Mayfield said, “There’s just things that happened inside the building that I’m not going to get into detail with. It’s in-house information and it doesn’t matter.”
That was as far as Mayfield would go in reining in his feelings, even when it was suggested it was a contradiction for him to make the accusation and not explain it.
Mayfield may need to create such drama to keep himself hyped. Even his biggest champion, Browns General Manager John Dorsey, may tire of it eventually.
But this is the Mayfield with whom Dorsey fell in love after watching him in person at least six times last season — the former walk-on who loves football and is driven to prove people wrong, who became like a Pied Piper at the University of Oklahoma.
This is not a case of the Pied Piper straying onto the wrong path like grabbing his crotch against Kansas or slashing his throat after Georgia’s missed field goal or planting the Sooners flag in the Block "O" logo at Ohio State or getting arrested for public intoxication.
This is Mayfield referring to what went on behind the scenes as the Browns started the season 2-5-1, although Mayfield said he didn’t feel Jackson held back his development. Presumably this is about football, about winning.
As for those who believe Mayfield is showing the same immaturity he did in college, Mayfield said, “Some Oklahoma mistakes as in like sideline gestures and getting arrested, no. Those are the only mistakes I made at Oklahoma. People get maturity confused with me being 100 percent comfortable in my own skin. That’s absolutely how I am, I’ve always been that way. It’s not immature. It’s me being who I am every day. Being that same guy for our team and I think that is very important for us right now.”
Former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn, now with CBS Sports HQ, stuck up for Mayfield in a Pick Six Podcast on Tuesday, calling Jackson jumping to the Bengals two weeks after being fired by the Browns “incredibly disloyal.”
“You look at your coaches ... they are leaders of men. You're up there asking them to play for you, talking about what you want to accomplish as a team," Quinn said. "And this is a guy who is probably talking to Baker Mayfield about what he needs to improve upon as a young player, a young man.
"When this guy is preaching all that stuff to you and then two weeks later is across the field from you, in your opponent's garb, with a headset on, trying to beat you, there are gonna be two of these opportunities in the year? You've got to be kidding me."
Other Browns said as much, with left guard Joel Bitonio referring to the Bengals as “the enemy” on Sunday in reference to Jackson’s new job as special assistant to coach Marvin Lewis. Bitonio said Wednesday he did not believe this was a case of the immature Mayfield resurfacing.
“No, if you look at Baker’s body of work since he’s been here, I think it’s shown that he’s a confident, sometimes cocky player, but you need to be that to be a quarterback in this league,” Bitonio said. “People go about it differently and he plays the game the right way, he works the right way, he does things the right way. I’m happy he’s our quarterback.”
The NFL’s good old boys network probably doesn’t care that a 23-year-old rookie thinks Jackson is fake. Jackson might still succeed Lewis. Jackson will coach again, although he probably won’t get a third chance in charge.
Mayfield may learn eventually not to burn bridges, not to take pot shots at his former coaches. But at this point, his fire and willingness to speak his mind is a necessary evil the Browns need to get where they want to go.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.