NFC East: Jim Zorn

Ten thoughts (plus 2) on Jay Gruden

March, 27, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some leftover impressions after Jay Gruden's breakfast meeting with the press Wednesday:

1. I've said a few times that he's a breath of fresh air. Here's why: You don't get the feeling he's putting himself above anyone, even though his position puts him at quite a high level. He's personable, he's respectful. Shortly after he was hired, I spoke with him on the phone for a few minutes. After I was done asking him questions, he actually asked one of me. What does that mean? Probably not a whole lot, but I was not used to it. This only suggests that Gruden will be good to deal with from a professional standpoint. That doesn't mean he'll get a free pass.

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jay Gruden has set himself apart in interviews from his predecessors in Washington.
2. Jim Zorn was personable as well. But from the minute he took over, you knew he was in over his head. He also was a bit goofy with his stories and that did not play well with players and coaches who often wondered where the heck his tales were going.

3. There's zero of that with Gruden. He's at least been an offensive coordinator so being elevated to this job was no surprise, whether people think he should have been or not. Nobody outside of the Redskins felt Zorn should have been a head coach. Some thought Gruden should be one, others did not.

4. One reason Gruden did not want to come to the NFL long ago was because he wanted to enjoy his family, coaching their youth sports and just being a dad. I completely can relate to that sentiment. But I also think it makes him less likely to believe he's smarter than everyone else. Some coaches from the past did not share that outlook.

5. Gruden spoke for an hour at Wednesday's breakfast and said quite a bit that provided insight. Former coach Mike Shanahan often spoke that long, but usually said little -- for obvious reasons, of course.

6. Gruden has a sense of humor. The topic was Robert Griffin III's running and taking too many hits. Gruden, too, hurt his knee when he played quarterback. It was not from running, however. “I hurt my knee because the right tackle missed a block,” he said. You know, that may have sounded funnier when he was talking. Now I wonder if he's not still annoyed. Whatever. It was funny at breakfast.

7. It was very different to see other teams' coaches garner much more attention than the guy leading the Redskins. Chip Kelly, for example, had reporters sitting at the table and then another ring standing behind them, with cameras all around. Gruden had a couple of national guys stop by, ask about Griffin and then leave.

8. Look at the coaches hired by the Redskins under Dan Snyder (outside of Zorn): Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan. All brought a certain level of attention. Gruden's last name does, but despite him being a good quote there will be less attention. Unless they win: Hey, another Gruden who wins! Or unless things go south in a hurry: Hey, another Redskins coach in trouble! Griffin's presence will always bring a high level of attention, however.

9. One question that was asked often during the coaching search about any candidate: Can Gruden command the room? Can he sell his vision and plan? That was typically tops on the list of importance when I'd talk to various NFL people about coaching candidates. Don't know if Gruden can do that or not yet in Washington because he hasn't had the chance. But I'll be curious to hear how that goes. It's a key.

10. So, too, is Griffin's improvement and a defense that must -- must -- show some teeth for a change. They still need a safety. (Yes, Ryan Clark remains in the mix.) They need to prove that the talk in March will result in a better pass rush in September. And they need to cut down on big plays allowed. Do that and Gruden's task is much easier. Otherwise, all the personable traits won't matter a bit.

11. I also wonder how he'll handle the bigger media market and how dysfunctional things can get with this organization. There's no way to know until it happens, of course. But coming from being a coordinator in small-market Cincinnati to being in charge in Washington represents quite a leap.

12. What does all this means for wins and losses? Well, that depends on other factors -- do you believe Bruce Allen can build a winner is one of the big questions, of course. The organization has failed to produce a consistent winner and until it does, there will be massive questions about that ability.

Jay Gruden different from previous hires

January, 10, 2014
Jay GrudenAP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaNew head coach Jay Gruden comes to the Redskins with something to prove.
ASHBURN, Va. -- At some point during Jay Gruden's introductory news conference, it became clear: Gruden was, for lack of a better phrase, a breath of fresh air.

That doesn't mean he'll work out as the Washington Redskins' head coach. No coach has proved he can win in Washington under owner Dan Snyder. The owner isn't always the reason, but it is his organization and facts are facts: No coach that he's hired has left here with a winning record.

And he's hired some of the all-time winningest coaches: Marty Schottenheimer (career winning percentage: .606), Joe Gibbs (.665) and Mike Shanahan (.552). He hired the college hot shot, Steve Spurrier (.730). Yet that group posted a combined winning percentage of .420 as Redskins coaches with eight losing seasons out of 11. The three longtime NFL coaches combined for seven losing seasons in their other combined 48 NFL seasons.

Again, it's not all on Snyder. But the organization can't hide from its past and this is what they've done here.

Yes, Jim Zorn was not Snyder's typical hire, though that resulted as much from lack of preparation as anything. They were caught off-guard by Gibbs' retirement and had no real plan. Zorn, a nice personable guy, could not command a room and did not have the respect of his players. Even coaches would wonder about some of the bizarre tales he would tell the team, wondering how it related to his ultimate message. After Zorn's first news conference, I remember thinking: I'll like this guy, but it will not go well.

Gruden also is atypical, though in a different way than Zorn. He, too, comes across as personable. He does not come here with the résumé of the other non-Zorn hires. You can point to reasons why he'll be good and equally point to reasons why he won't be. A case can be made either way.

But it's good that Gruden arrives without the sizzle of the others. Gibbs did not arrive with any in 1981 either. Nor did Schottenheimer when he took over in Cleveland. Shanahan was a hot-shot coordinator but failed first-time head coach when he got the Denver job. They all won.

There's a different sort of energy that comes with a guy trying to reach a certain place rather than trying to maintain it. When you've had success, perhaps you start to get too confident in what you can do -- and with whom. You can overestimate your abilities as a coach because of your track record. Gruden, it seems, understands he'll need help -- from coaches, but mostly from players.

The past brings instant credibility, but it clearly hasn't guaranteed anything here. It's not like other teams wouldn't have hired any of these previously successful coaches. During their first news conferences you could see, and feel, why they'd won in the past. But duplicating past success is difficult, especially when you work for an organization with a weak foundation. Is it more firm now? Will there really be a better way of making decisions? I say: Prove it. We've heard this talk before about Redskins Way and Redskins Grades. Why is this time different?

But this is why hiring someone such as Gruden is intriguing. He needs to work hard to prove himself to his players rather than pointing to his résumé. It's not that the others weren't respected; they were. And I'm not even blaming them solely for their losing records here; good organizations win. The Redskins have not. Schottenheimer probably would have won had he stayed longer, but taking all control from Snyder was a bad move, one he felt he could do because of, well, his track record of success.

Of course, the track records buy respect with the owner and can keep him less involved.

But with Gruden, the newness brings something new, something fresh. His personality could be good for quarterback Robert Griffin III, a more personable coach with an even-keeled demeanor. I also can't imagine a former quarterback isn't hard on his own quarterbacks. And it's not as if Shanahan was out of control; Griffin deserves his share of the blame in this breakup. However, Gruden might just be a better fit for him.

Every coach needs authority, but not every coach needs power. Too often here there's a power struggle. Spurrier had none, but he was ill-equipped for the NFL. Zorn had none, but was blinded by an 8-2 start into thinking he was a coach he really wasn't. Only Gibbs knew how best to use that power under Snyder.

Gruden doesn't arrive here as a polished guy, nor as someone who will wow anyone with his charisma when he walks into a room. Maybe that's good because, for a change, it's not all about the coach here. The coach must be in charge; he must be the authority. But he doesn't have to be the star.

A lot has to go right for Gruden to work, just as would be the case anywhere (though Griffin could make his life easier by returning to his old self). The Redskins have never proved all will go right for more than a season at a time. So this is far from just up to him. That can't be emphasized enough. The front office must provide the players and also the support. The owner can't undermine his coach -- whether it's real or perceived -- by his conduct, whether in recommending certain moves or getting too tight with players.

The coach has to do his part too. That's where Gruden's newness can help. Yes, he has a famous last name. But he still needs to make his name.

Jay Gruden offers hope and concern

January, 9, 2014

This is the best hire the Washington Redskins could have made. That’s what some who know Jay Gruden say. He’s reserved and bright, they say. He’s an excellent motivator, others say. His relationship with general manager Bruce Allen will soften any tension that could arise with owner Dan Snyder. Look what he did with Andy Dalton, they say.

“I would have hired him,” one former general manager said.

This is not nearly the best hire the Washington Redskins could have made. That's what the skeptics say: There’s nothing special about him; his last name paved the way. Look what he did with Andy Dalton in the playoffs, they say.

“I like him, but his offense wasn’t more creative than any other coordinator out there,” one NFL defensive coach said. “If his last name wasn’t Gruden, we wouldn’t be talking about him.”

When it comes to the Redskins’ new coach, there’s a split opinion, and it makes this one of the more unusual hires they have made. Yes, he has a last name everyone knows. But it was his brother Jon Gruden’s success that made it a big name, not Jay's own success. In the past, all but one of the coaches hired by owner Dan Snyder was a big name.

But when it came to this coaching search, there was no big name left to hire. Bill Cowher wasn’t coming out of retirement. Nor was Jon Gruden. And no coach in this field had that wow factor the Redskins often gravitate toward (with the exception of Jim Zorn).

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad hire. We also don’t know if it’s a good one. There’s a chance it could be excellent. But one coach said several days ago that Jay Gruden does an excellent job of getting players to buy into his system. If that’s the case, it will be welcomed. While quarterback Robert Griffin III might have run the last system, it’s clear he did not buy into it. Others did, but if Gruden can sell this to them, as well, that will be a good start.

His Bengals offense sputtered in the playoffs, averaging 11 points per game the past three years -- all one-and-done showings. That’s not good. Nor is the fact that he was knocked for getting away from the run each time. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to judge a potential head coach by what his offense did when he was a coordinator.

Being a head coach incorporates so much more. It’s about leadership and command of the room much more than system. It’s about hiring the right people on your staff, and promoting tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator will be viewed by many on the roster as the right move. We’ll see where Gruden goes defensively, and that will be worth watching.

It was telling this morning that retired linebacker London Fletcher, knowing Jim Haslett was still around, tweeted this: “Defensive struggles where not solely on salary cap #excuses #blahblahblah” and this: “I think [Raheem] Morris as DC would be great choice! Brings energy & excitement! Would feel pretty good about HC, DC, & OC then!”

I’ve seen too many Redskins hires under Snyder to fully know if this one will work. There are parts to like and wonder about. Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan -- three of the all-time winningest coaches in NFL history -- all have failed to build consistent winners.

I know the opinions on Gruden from the people I spoke to throughout this search were as diverse as any.

But I also know of the candidates available, perhaps Gruden was the best fit. To have the familiarity he does with Allen and others on the staff will help. Gruden knows what he’s getting into, not just with Snyder but with the market and the entire organization. The fact that a relationship already exists will matter; Gruden needs to trust whatever he’s been told and to know how he must operate in regards to ownership. Here’s a tip: Keep Snyder involved -- and that doesn't always mean allowing him to meddle -- and win. Then he will be happy.

It will also help the Redskins and Gruden to avoid the leaking of stories that hurt the franchise since early December -- and in past years. The organization needs to rebuild a trust, not only with certain players (Griffin), but with the fans. As tired as everyone at Redskins Park was about the leaks, it’s probably quadruple for the fans, who thought that two decades of mediocre to bad football -- and needless drama under Snyder -- had finally ended after last year’s playoff run. A low-key guy has to help here, right? You would think.

Gruden is also tight with the Redskins’ director of football operations Paul Kelly, an understated but important aspect because of how closely the two must work.

There are a lot of reasons this has to work, for many people -- including Allen (who was at the forefront of this hire) and Griffin (who clashed with Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan). It's their jobs, their reputations on the line here.

What I also know is that this hire will shape the franchise for a long time. That’s obviously the case whenever you hire a coach. But it’s even more true now because of Griffin. They have a young head coach; they have a young quarterback. It’s boom-or-bust time.

Snyder's history of coaching hires

December, 31, 2013
Before the Washington Redskins' head coaching search gets fully underway -- though, in reality, it began a couple weeks ago -- let's take a look back at the coaching hirings owner Dan Snyder has made. This will be his sixth hire since buying the team in 1999. That leads to constant changing of schemes, which means a constant changing of talent to fit those schemes. And constant losing. Will this time be any different?

Here's a look at his past coaches, all but one of whom was considered a big-name hire:

Marty Schottenheimer

Why he was hired: Predecessor Norv Turner was viewed as too soft when it came to discipline. Snyder went for a strong-willed, no-nonsense coach.

Why it failed: Schottenheimer had too much power for Snyder’s liking. When Schottenheimer fired Vinny Cerrato shortly after taking over, it started the beginning of the end for him. Partners in Snyder’s group did not like Schottenheimer and, by Week 3 of his first season, rumors of his demise already had begun.

Record: 8-8 in one season.

[+] EnlargeDan Snyder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDan Snyder will be making another coaching hire this offseason.
The ending: Schottenheimer had to wait nearly a week after the season ended to have his fate decided. And every day a media horde would follow him from the facility to his car awaiting an update. It was bizarre. The day Steve Spurrier resigned from Florida, colleague Liz Clarke of the Washington Post and I were in the press room. I remember her immediately saying, “Snyder’s going to hire him.” It was a gut feeling based on knowing how the then relatively new owner operated. I hedged, saying how people close to him said he’d never: A) Leave Florida and B) Coach in a colder climate. A week later I vowed never to assume anything. And I'll still say this: Had Schottenheimer remained in control, the Redskins would have had more success. He went .500 with Tony Banks and Kent Graham at quarterback and a roster devoid of serious talent. You did not hear excuses when he was done.

Steve Spurrier

Why he was hired: After watching Martyball for a season, the Redskins opted for the supposedly innovative Spurrier, whose offenses at Florida were fantastic. He also was hired because he did not want power. That was evident from the get-go and most especially during the draft when Spurrier had little involvement.

Why it failed: Turns out personnel matters more than scheme. Who knew? Spurrier thought he could win with former Florida quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews. Nope. Spurrier did not keep typical NFL coaching hours. He was ill-prepared for the NFL and he did not have a front office that could bail him out. He was a good guy and entertaining. But I remember his first press conference when he could not name but one Redskins player. It became clear: He was unprepared for the job.

Record: 12-20 in two seasons.

The ending: Spurrier wasn’t fired, but rather resigned. When the news broke he was on a golf course. I happened to be on the phone with one of his former assistants, who said he had earlier told his wife that after being on his staff he could not figure out how the guy even won in college.

Joe Gibbs

Why he was hired: Because he’s Joe Gibbs. Snyder was like every other Redskins fan, a Gibbs worshiper because of the Redskins’ success under him in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Three Super Bowl wins tend to make you a legend.

Why it failed: It didn’t fail as much as it didn’t succeed in grand fashion. The Redskins did make the playoffs twice in four years under Gibbs. But the coach who oversaw dominant offenses throughout the 1980s with nine finishing in the top 10 in total yards had a mediocre attack in Washington. Their top ranking in total yards per game was 13th and in points was 11th.

Record: 30-34 in four seasons.

The ending: Before the 2007 season, Gibbs, myself and another reporter chatted casually outside their weight room. He talked about golfing and other leisure activities and seemed like a man wanting an easier lifestyle. Adding to that desire: His grandson had leukemia, which he often talked about. Then came the 2007 season and Sean Taylor’s death. By the end Gibbs was drained. Only Redskins management was caught completely off-guard by his retirement.

Jim Zorn

Why he was hired: Because others turned them down, notably, and lastly, Steve Spagnuolo, who did not like that the staff already had been hired. A month-long search led them back to Zorn, hired as an offensive coordinator. The Redskins also touted him as Gibbs-like in terms of his personal side.

Why it failed: Because he should never have been hired as a head coach. The Redskins started strong under him, winning six of their first eight games and there was a thought that perhaps the quirky Zorn could indeed make it work (players and coaches would say they often had no idea where he was going with his messages once he started talking). He could not. Injuries hurt down the stretch, but the Redskins went 2-6 and then 4-12 the next year. Zorn had no power in the organization and several players could bypass him and go right to the owner. But Zorn was overmatched.

Record: 12-20 in two seasons.

The ending: Came fast. Zorn was fired after the Redskins returned from a season-ending loss at San Diego.

Mike Shanahan

Why he was hired: He was the biggest name available and Snyder had been talking to him for a while. There was even chatter that had the Redskins indeed landed quarterback Jay Cutler, their next move would have been to fire Zorn and hire Shanahan. His two Super Bowl rings and résumé suggested it would at least be a solid hire.

Why it failed: All sorts of reasons, from the salary-cap situation to Robert Griffin III’s knee injury. But to just blame those would be incorrect. There were bad personnel decisions, not enough depth produced through the draft and a head coach who perhaps trusted his instincts too much. They had little margin for error so when anything went wrong, games (and seasons) unraveled.

Record: 24-40 in four seasons.

The ending: As you know, it occurred Monday morning.

Chiefs 45, Redskins 10: Ten Observations

December, 8, 2013

  1. I just don't see how Mike Shanahan survives, nor do I think he should. This situation has eroded that much and it's not even a matter of which side is right or wrong. I thought for a while it could be salvaged, but after this weekend it can't. It's not just about the playoff loss to Seattle last season and the distrust that developed over the play calling in that game. It's a general distrust on both sides over the source of all these leaks. It's not workable.
  2. [+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
    AP Photo/Evan VucciMike Shanahan's days in Washington may be numbered.
    Will Dan Snyder fire Shanahan this week? That's tough to say. But at this point, why not make your move? It's clearly going to happen after the season at the very least. If it continues the atmosphere will be bad for the final three weeks. It's hard to imagine after Sunday that Snyder doesn't know what he wants to do. This isn't about trying not to live up to his impatient image anymore; nobody would blame Snyder for making a move. That doesn't mean it's all one person's fault and the coach still has strong support in most corners of the locker room. That's been evident all season. But after three double-digit loss seasons out of four and with the issues between coach and quarterback, there really isn't a decision to be made. Move on.
  3. All the leaks and stories that have come out lately were supposed to stop under this regime. This is what happened in the Jim Zorn era, only that time there was clear player dissatisfaction. Some of the stories emanated with them. Some from the coaches. Some from the front office. It was ugly. It's ugly again. It's back to what it's been too many times in the Snyder era, an atmosphere that is not conducive to winning. The locker room is terrific and has been. This is not a divided team.
  4. I know players will be disappointed. But they're just as responsible for what's happened as the coaches. “I'm a guy that's backing [Shanahan] 100 percent,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. But is he worried about moves being made? “Who knows man? It's the NFL. Having been through it already who knows. I just have to keep playing.” A couple of months ago I thought we'd be talking about a team ready to go on a playoff run. Instead, it's a coaching search. I was far from alone in my assessment.
  5. The problem with starting over is not just bringing in a new staff, it's new offensive and defensive systems. Not many coaches run the stretch zone scheme the way Shanahan does. That means the bulk of the line will be gone because they fit something rather specific. And if a new coach comes in and wants to return to a 4-3 front? I hear the cheering now, but you need to know this has never been about the scheme they play. It's about the talent they've accrued to fit that scheme. If they switched to a 4-3 tomorrow they'd need to make major changes. If they stay in a 3-4 they'll need to make changes. Heck, it's probably a good time to undergo this transition defensively because of the need to make multiple moves regardless.
  6. I've heard Art Briles name floated. Maybe Snyder pursues him and hires him. That doesn't mean it would be a good move. I don't think the quarterback needs that sort of attention, with the thought being that he got one coach fired to hire another. Briles has never coached in the NFL and would not be prepared for what he would be about to face. Forget defenses, which will be much more complex, it's about dealing with issues he never had to in college. You would need a strong organization to make it work with a college coach. That's not Washington. Chip Kelly is not the rule. Heck, Steve Spurrier had pro experience before he arrived in Washington. Snyder will need to do better than Briles.
  7. The Redskins played a game Sunday and were embarrassed. Logan Paulsen: “Stunned, embarrassed. Those are all good words. We just got taken out behind the woodshed and got the belt taken to us. It's awful. No one expected this.” Santana Moss: “They beat our [butts] man and it was embarrassing.”
  8. [+] EnlargeDexter McCluster
    Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsDexter McCluster, lower left, returned seven punts for 177 yards and a touchdown.
    Embarrassing would describe the special teams, too. Do I need to go into detail here? They allowed 300 return yards! Yes, I used an exclamation point because that's an astonishing number. That goes on top of the 347 yards they gained as a team. They returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 95 yards. Punt returner Dexter McCluster returned seven punts for 177 yards. That's ridiculous. Field conditions played a part and McCluster's running style did as well. He is not a dancer; he's a glider who cuts and goes. That made it easy for him to weave through tremendous gaps.
  9. But Niles Paul was sickened by what he saw once again on special teams. It's not about special-teams coach Keith Burns and whatever he's teaching them. At some point effort and intensity must enter into play. They haven't, not as a group. I don't know how you can say you have the right players if you don't have guys buying into what they're asked to do on special teams. Here's Paul: “Hopefully they get it and understand this is your role this year, whether you become a starter next year is neither here nor there. This year your role is special teams and you should give the effort you're being paid to give. ... Reed [Doughty] has held meetings talking about effort. We haven't called anybody out. That's not the type of team we want to be. It almost comes down to us having to do that. It feels like everyone's not on the same page and it's frustrating. ... Coaching has never been an issue. The issue we've had is the effort from players. You can't have four or five guys out there giving effort and no one else is giving the same. You get what we had today, an embarrassment.” There's that word again.
  10. What else to really say about this game? It's one of the ugliest losses that I've seen because of the timing of certain stories and future implications. Jamaal Charles was terrific, though he had big gaps to cut through. Charles worked well on a slick field. Defenders had a tough time cutting; he did not. Meanwhile, the Redskins' offense was bad. The quarterback didn't play well. The line didn't create openings. It was 45-10.

Redskins back in familiar spot

December, 3, 2013
ASHBURN, Va. -- The message is one no one wants to deliver or hear. Not in early December. Problem is, it’s one the Washington Redskins have heard all too often in recent years. Play for pride; play to ruin someone else’s season. Play for your future.

It’s what the Redskins have been forced to do. With four games remaining. And in a season that began with expectations of a long playoff run.

“I’ve been here for seven years,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “This is a pretty low time. I can see if I didn’t feel we had the talent to get it done. I know we have the talent to get it done. It’s just a situation where we haven’t done it.”

There’s been a history in Washington of overstating the talent, though in the summertime it was viewed well enough for many, including myself, to predict good things for the Redskins. But if the talent really is that deep now, then the coaches did a bad job of maximizing it this season.

Offensively they have building blocks and a potentially strong nucleus with quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, receiver Pierre Garcon and left tackle Trent Williams. For now, though, they’re just part of an inconsistent offense, thanks mostly to the passing game.

Defensively, the nucleus is not as strong: linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley, nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive ends Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen, who might need micro-fracture surgery. They could re-sign Brian Orakpo to solidify their outside linebacking situation. Still, the potential is greater on the other side of the ball.

And in the next four weeks, the speculation over the future -- for both players and coaches -- will intensify. Coach Mike Shanahan’s future in particular will be a focal point unless and until owner Dan Snyder says otherwise. For now, Shanahan talks like someone who will return in 2014 for a fifth season.

Shanahan said he had a lot of confidence that his players would keep “fighting” over the next four weeks.

“If not, then they won’t be with us in a year,” Shanahan said.

This is what Shanahan said he told his players: “After it’s over and you go out there and play and the way you prepare, you play just as though you are in the playoffs. You want to spoil somebody else’s year. You want to play at a high level. You’re always being evaluated for the future. That never changes.”

It’s a speech Redskins players heard in 2010 and 2011 as well. And 2009. And for players such as Kedric Golston, Reed Doughty and Santana Moss, 2006, too. In fact, in Snyder’s tenure, the Redskins have entered December with a losing record 10 times. They were .500 or better in his first three years; since then, there has been one season in which they reached the final month .500 or better -- in 2008 with Jim Zorn when they were 8-4, only to finish 8-8. They were 5-6 a year ago en route to 10-6.

That’s not to pin it all on Snyder. He was praised for the current setup he put together. But this is his organization and those are facts; good organizations build consistent winners and the Redskins have failed miserably in that area. And it just means this team is used to playing for something other than the playoffs.

“You have to be a pro,” Fletcher said. “It doesn’t feel good playing for pride, but that’s what our situation is. You still want to win ballgames. You still want to have a good feeling of winning a game. That’s what we’re faced with. We earned it. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”

Redskins hurt themselves once again

December, 2, 2013
Will Hill Harry E. Walker/MCT/Getty ImagesWill Hill of the Giants takes the ball away from the Redskins' Pierre Garcon in the final moments.

LANDOVER, Md. -- The officials messed up the final sequence of plays for the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. There's little doubt about that, and it impacted the Redskins' approach to their final two plays. It might have altered the game.

There's just one problem.

Despite the botched handling of the yard markers and the confusion that followed, the Redskins still blew it themselves. Maybe they wouldn't have called a deep pass on third down and less than 1. Still, the play was open and tight end Fred Davis dropped the ball at the New York 30-yard line.

And maybe they would have opted for a different play than a short hitch on fourth-and-1. Still, receiver Pierre Garcon had the ball and it was stripped from him.

The chain gang hurt the Redskins. But the Redskins are 3-9 after a 24-17 loss to the New York Giants for a reason. They keep hurting themselves, and it's a big reason why many, many jobs are now on the line. And should be. It's happened way too often this season, and Sunday night provided more proof that they just don't know how to play winning football -- one season after they won the NFC East.

That means they roll back snaps that lead to 18-yard punts. That means they can't convert when given a golden opportunity at the Giants' 12-yard line after an interception -- getting three points instead of seven. That means a receiver (Garcon) kicks a ball in the end zone after a failed play (though it was on third down and didn't cost them points) and it means another receiver (Santana Moss) gets flagged for telling an official a holding penalty on him was a “B.S. call.” These are veterans.

That's frustrated football, of which the Redskins have played plenty. It's also how you end up losing games against sub-.500 teams at home and being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after 12 games.

“Losing is hard to deal with,” Garcon said.

“Frustrating to the point I can't even tell you,” Moss said.

Add it up, and coaches are in trouble and careers are in jeopardy. The Redskins are one defeat from their third double-digit loss season in four years under coach Mike Shanahan. He took over a team that had lost 12 games under Jim Zorn; four years later they need a strong finish to avoid tying that number.

“We're professionals. We know what's at stake in terms of our careers and the coaching staff and the season,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “We can't worry about what's already happened. We have to worry about what we can control, and that's the next game.”

The problem is, owner Dan Snyder will be looking back and wondering what the heck really has gone wrong this season. As he should. As he must. The Redskins have lost four straight games and look closer to a team that could finish 3-13 than one that might win a couple more games.

For weeks the Redskins have talked about the impact of the salary-cap penalty as well as the time quarterback Robert Griffin III missed in the offseason while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. The problem is, that does not explain this sort of collapse. Not in this game. Not in this season.

Plenty has changed in Shanahan's tenure from when he took over. What hasn't is the ability to win consistently. A competitive 7-9 finish given some of the outside issues? Understandable. A strong final four games? OK, they recovered. And, of course, a 7-9 mark could still happen. Problem is, the Redskins have shown no reason to think that it will. Therefore, the questions will now arise starting with the most obvious: What do you do with Shanahan?

He'll be owed $7 million next season. His staff will be owed a good chunk of change, too. That means if Snyder wants to change coaches he'll not only have to pay them off, but he'll have to pay for a new head coach and his staff. That also means new schemes on both sides of the ball and more roster turnover. It's not what Snyder wants.

All that without a first-round pick this spring thanks to the Griffin trade. A future that looked so bright before Griffin's surgery now looks cloudy at best. There are building blocks, but a lot more blocks are needed.

The coaches and players are giving Snyder little choice in the matter. They're not an undermanned team playing well but coming up short. They're a confounding team that has yet to play a complete game this season.

Two of their past four losses have come against Minnesota and the Giants, neither of whom have a winning record. They blew double-digit leads against both. The Redskins show flashes of what they were in building those leads and follow with reminders of who they are in losing them. Heck, they've held double-digit leads in four of their last six games, winning only one of those.

“We lost composure. We lost everything. We lost yards. We left points out there. It was everything,” Garcon said.

He was talking about Sunday's game. He was right. He also could have been talking about the season. Amazingly, they'll play their final four games with nothing on the line. Oh, except for jobs.

“You don't like to play for pride, but sometimes that's the card that's dealt,” Shanahan said. “That's where we're at right now. We'll see which guys step up and play at a high level for the remaining games.”

Through 12 games the answer has been: not many. If Shanahan and company want to return, that will have to change.

Inside the mind of Dan Snyder

January, 29, 2013
Gary Myers' new book, Coaching Confidential, apparently contains a chapter that should be of great interest to Washington Redskins fans, as it sprung from an apparently lengthy interview with Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Gary got Snyder to talk to him about the reasons for the hirings and firings of past Redskins coaches, including Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn, and to explain that the reason he fired GM Vinny Cerrato was because Cerrato did a poor job of protecting Snyder from himself. Per Dan Steinberg:
On Jim Zorn: "The general manager needs to prevent the owner from hiring someone who's not qualified. And that's why Vinny is no longer here, to be truthful with you. He's not here because his job was to prevent the owner from hiring a not-qualified coach. Having said that, we went in and had the worst two-year experience I ever dreamed. I apologized, according to my wife, ten thousand times. I apologize openly. I made a big mistake. It's a terrible experience when you know you got the wrong guy to lead the franchise."

The reason I found this interesting was because several people, when I spent time around the Redskins this past season, told me they thought that current GM Bruce Allen acts as a critical buffer in the Redskins' current power arrangement. The thought is that Snyder is, essentially, as off-the-wall as ever behind the scenes but that Allen absorbs it and deflects it away from coach Mike Shanahan and keeps Snyder from going public with or acting on his impulses. Snyder contractually promised Shanahan that he'd stay out of the spotlight and let Shanahan build and run the team his way, and he appears to have kept that promise. It's possible that the reason he's been able to do so is that he has the kind of GM he didn't think Cerrato turned out to be.

Lockout will hurt the Redskins

May, 26, 2011
Mike Shanahan Geoff Burke/US PresswireThe lockout threatens to disrupt the momentum Mike Shanahan built heading into the offseason.
The Redskins are a critical part of NFL labor strife lore. Under Joe Gibbs, they survived the strikes of 1982 and 1987 better than any team in the league, winning the Super Bowl at the end of each of those disrupted seasons. The New York Times did a big story on this a couple of months back, examining the reasons Washington was able to go 8-1 in '82 and 3-0 with replacement players in '87 and weather those labor storms to become champions. Not coincidence, say those who were involved, as much as it was about Gibbs and the way the veteran cores of those teams held things together.

Knowledge of this history has led some to suggest (facetiously, of course) that 2011 could be the Redskins' year. Hey, they always win the Super Bowl when there's a work stoppage, so this is just what they need, right? If there'd been a lockout two years ago, Jim Zorn would be wearing a ring right now and Mike Shanahan would be coaching the Cowboys. Or something like that.

Well, unfortunately for the Redskins, while history may well be on their side, reality is not. Not this time. Given their current circumstances, the Redskins are surely more likely than any other NFC East team to suffer damage as a result of the lockout. Given where they are right now in the development of their franchise, the Redskins might be hurt worse by this lockout than any team in the whole league.

This is a critical season for Mike Shanahan as Washington's coach. Sure, it's only the second year of his five-year deal, and for that reason job security is the last thing he's worried about. But this year is critical for other reasons -- reasons that pertain to Shanahan's goal of building the Redskins back into contenders.

Shanahan's first season was a bumpy one, and his midseason handling of Donovan McNabb and the quarterback situation in general raised eyebrows among people who'd expected a man with his résumé to deal with such things more artfully. But on balance, the 2010-11 season served a key purpose for Shanahan. It established him as the unquestioned leader, face and voice of the franchise. The skirmishes with McNabb and Albert Haynesworth were merely the most public manifestations of Shanahan's assertion of himself. Zorn had been weak and overmatched in the head coach role, and it was important for Shanahan to establish right away that he would be neither.

Critical to that effort was the subversion by team owner Daniel Snyder of his own out-front persona. As a condition of taking the job, Shanahan insisted that he be given control over football matters and that Snyder not meddle in personnel decisions to the extent that he had in the past. Against all expectations, Snyder actually pulled this off. The 2010-11 season was his quietest as Redskins owner, and his disappearance into the background helped Shanahan do the things he needed to do in order to deliver his new-sheriff-in-town message.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Snyder
AP Photo/Paul SancyaDaniel Snyder has stayed out of the limelight since Shanahan came aboard.
The lockout could wipe out some of that momentum. Shanahan's assertion of leadership and Snyder's step into the background are vital to the Redskins' near-future success, but one year wasn't enough to lock those things in. With Shanahan unable to coach, the risk rises that he ends up starting from or near scratch once his players return to Ashburn. With Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen unable to make personnel moves, the risk rises that Snyder gets itchy and impatient and backslides into his old ways. He could decide to go nuts once free agency opens against the advice of the football minds he hired and promised to leave alone. Not saying this is what will happen, mind you, just that the "pause" button the league has pressed on its offseason increases the risk.

It's also preventing the Redskins from doing a number of vital housekeeping things. They need to move on from McNabb and figure out what their 2011 quarterback situation really is. If it really is John Beck, then he'll need to know he's not just a Shanahan smokescreen and get in to practice huddles so his teammates know it, too. If it's to be Carson Palmer or someone not currently on the roster, then they need to get on with that as well.

They need to resolve the Haynesworth situation, of course. He needs to go, certainly, and dispatching him will be as cathartic a move as Shanahan's ever made. But the lockout will end with Haynesworth still on the team, along with all the distractions he brings, and his mere presence will be a story for as long as it takes them, post-lockout, to get rid of him.

They need to keep working on Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense, because as we discussed here Monday the second year is a crucial one for the install of a 3-4. They need a nose tackle, and they need to know how realistic it is to get someone like Aubrayo Franklin in free agency -- a move that probably would help them more than a splashier play for someone like Nnamdi Asomugha, though they need to know about him, too. And as they've seemed to since the Art Monk days ... sheesh, they still need help at receiver.

The Redskins have a lot they need to do -- more than most teams, really, given where they are in this particular chapter of their history. Because of that, when I'm asked which team in this division I think will be hurt most by the lockout, my answer's easy. This won't be 1982 or 1987 for the Redskins. This year's work stoppage is a huge problem for them.

NFC East links: Brandon Jacobs the boxer

March, 9, 2011
Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett was not among the head coaches on hand Tuesday at Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's pro day.'s Pat Kirwan is a fan of Rob Ryan coming over from Cleveland to run the Dallas defense.

New York Giants

The New York Daily News' Gary Myers on Tuesday's announcement that Tiki Barber is coming out of retirement: "There was a better chance of Tom Coughlin calling up Frank Gifford -- who happens to be 80 -- to coax him out of retirement than the Giants coach letting Tiki Barber walk back into the Big Blue locker room and poison it again."

Brandon Jacobs said he considered the idea of getting in a few boxing matches if there happens to be a work stoppage.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says quarterback Michael Vick "could end up being one of the greatest of all time."

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald says he never made a push for the Cardinals to acquire Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Washington Redskins

Former Redskins general manager Vinny Cerrato says ex-coach Jim Zorn was done in by his ego.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan weighs in on the state of the Redskins' offense and where things stand heading into the draft.

Jim Zorn gets fired again

January, 28, 2011
I thought former Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn would be a good fit as the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens. And by all accounts, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a tremendous relationship with Zorn.

But that didn't keep Zorn from getting fired Thursday after just one season. Apparently Ravens head coach John Harbaugh decided that offensive coordinatoor Cam Cameron needed to work directly with Flacco. And there's talk that Zorn was insubordinate to Cameron.

"We've talked about this since the end of the season, and we believe this will help improve our offense," Harbaugh said.

It seemed like Zorn was safe after surviving a seven-hour meeting with Harbaugh and Cameron last week. But obviously the Ravens changed their minds. Zorn was great to deal with when he was with the Redskins and hopefully he'll land a job quickly. But for now, he'll continue to get by on those paychecks from Dan Snyder.

Redskins assistant turns down Broncos

January, 18, 2011
Washington Redskins special-teams coach Danny Smith will remain with the club rather than accept an offer from Denver Broncos coach John Fox, according to Smith was one of the few holdovers from Jim Zorn's staff in Washington. He helped develop rookie Brandon Banks into one of the most exciting returners in the league and apparently he worked well with coach Mike Shanahan.

The Redskins were second in the league in punt coverage but 29th at covering kickoffs. The Redskins eventually released punter Hunter Smith this season after he botched a hold late in a game. Smith has a reputation for coming up with some entertaining fake field goals, some of which were on display during the Zorn era.

Mike Shanahan has lost a step

December, 22, 2010
It's hard to tell if the Washington Redskins are any better off right now as an organization than when the Jim Zorn era ended. I realize that Mike Shanahan has more skins (and rings) on the wall than the "Z Man," but things feel just as dysfunctional as ever.

My colleague Jeff Chadiha weighs in today regarding the way Shanahan has handled the Donovan McNabb situation. He's shocked that a man known for being a quarterback whisperer could've botched things in such epic fashion:

"As one league executive told me earlier this season, Shanahan's biggest mistake was not accepting McNabb for what he is," writes Chadiha. "Andy Reid molded his offense in Philadelphia around the fact that McNabb is more skilled as a deep passer and improviser. McNabb was never the quintessential, super-accurate quarterback who thrives in the West Coast system, and that appears to be what Shanahan covets.

"Mike should've just let Donovan be who he is," the executive said. "That's what worked in Philadelphia."

After watching the way Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have worked with Michael Vick following their successful run with McNabb, maybe we've given Shanahan too much credit for his work with quarterbacks over the years. It's not like John Elway had been a bust before Shanahan took over in Denver.

It appears that McNabb resisted the idea of changing some of the things that had made him a successful quarterback. And that seems like a reasonable response to 30-year-old Kyle Shanahan asking you to change your mechanics.

I understand that McNabb has played poorly this season by his standards, but I'd still place more of the blame on Father & Son Shanahan.

Wrap-up: Lions 37, Redskins 25

October, 31, 2010
Let's take a quick look at how the Washington Redskins lost to the Detroit Lions for the second consecutive season, this time 37-25.

What it means: The Washington Redskins blew a huge opportunity to get to 5-3 heading into the bye. And for whatever reason, the Detroit Lions own this team. Quarterback Donovan McNabb played poorly again, but surely he didn't deserve to get benched with the game still hanging in the balance. McNabb must've looked to see if his old buddy Andy Reid had wandered onto the sideline.

More on the benching: I was sitting in a press box in Arlington, Texas, when word started to spread of McNabb's benching. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan apparently played a hunch, and it backfired immediately. I'm not saying McNabb would've led the Skins to a late touchdown, but putting Rex Grossman into a game cold to run a two-minute offense is just ridiculous. "I thought (Grossman) gave us the best chance to win," Shanahan told reporters after the game.

If that's really the case, Shanahan should've given him a better chance to succeed. Saying that Grossman has a better grasp of the Skins' two-minute offense is an indictment of McNabb. (Yes, I know Grossman played for Kyle Shanahan in Houston). Shanahan said McNabb's still the starter, but he's unnecessarily sparked a controversy. On one hand, he placed Grossman in an impossible situation. On the other, he undermined a proud veteran. Now, McNabb will constantly be looking over his shoulder when he struggles. Sometimes it looks like Shanahan goes out of his way to show who's boss. Hey, we get it. The move smacked of desperation. And if Jim Zorn were still in office, he'd be getting destroyed right now. Those Super Bowl rings give Shanahan a little more latitude, but it's still a curious move.

A silver lining: The Redskins might have the most electrifying return man in the league (who's under 5-7). Brandon Banks single-handedly set this team up for 17 points against the Lions. I'd line the guy up and throw him a pass or two at some point.

No rushing game: The Skins only took two running backs to the game, and it backfired when Ryan Torain had to leave with a hamstring injury and missed the second half. McNabb was the leading rusher with 45 yards, and most of that came on one carry in the first half. By the way, it's not like Torain was that effective in this game when he was healthy with nine carries for 10 yards.

What's next: Shanahan will have a lot of questions to answer Monday. He and Bruce Allen convinced a fan base that they'd committed highway robbery by acquiring McNabb for a second-round pick. But at the first sign of trouble, Shanahan completely undermines the player. Maybe there are Skins fans who were calling for McNabb to be benched during Sunday's game after he threw into triple coverage for an interception, but I wouldn't have done it with under two minutes left. After the bye, the Skins will host the Eagles on "Monday Night Football." Will McNabb make it to halftime in that game? We'll find out soon enough.

In defense of Clinton Portis ...

October, 7, 2010
Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins has read the opinions that Clinton Portis (groin) won't be missed that much in the Redskins' offense, and she thinks that's ridiculous. Jenkins came up with some interesting numbers regarding the punishment Portis has absorbed for the Skins. She thinks we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the 29-year-old running back.

"Portis has earned some criticism for divalike behavior, like his occasional ingratitude to his linemen and quarterbacks, and for playing overweight," writes Jenkins. "But lack of toughness isn't one of his failings. Overall, he's probably given as much to the Redskins physically as he has taken financially. If you're inclined to resent his salary of almost $7.2 million this year, try to remember that. Even former coach Jim Zorn, who was often frustrated by him, said that when Portis is on the field, 'Your head better be on a swivel. Somebody is gonna get knocked down.'

"Remember that in four seasons, he has had at least 320 carries. Remember that he ran for a club-record 1,516 yards in 2005, alternately avoiding tacklers with suave cuts and knocking them down like bowling pins. Remember how he dislocated his shoulder in a preseason game with the Cincinnati Bengals, when launched into a tackle, trying to stop an interception return. Remember how just two weeks ago against the Houston Texans he raced half the length of the field to explode on a block and open a pathway for Fred Davis, resulting in a 62-yard play."

The only thing in Jenkins' column I disagree with is the part where she says Portis was "smart" to miss a lot of practice. I don't think players take a lot of punishment in practice these days, and all those absences sort of caused Portis to lose standing in the locker room. And it also doesn't help when you call out teammates.



Sunday, 1/25