NFC East: Washington hires Jay Gruden

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.

ASHBURN, Va. -- His path started out as a typical one, with Jay Gruden starring at quarterback for the University of Louisville. He left there as the Cardinals' all-time leading passer.

But there was no shot at the NFL. He's not tall, he's not strong-armed and a knee injury as a sophomore altered his game. So he wasn't drafted. And thus started quite a journey, one that started with a gig as quarterback for the Barcelona Dragons and then Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football.

After a graduate assistant's job with Louisville, he jumped to a $500-a-week gig as a quarterback in the Arena Football League for five seasons.

One of his linemen, Carl Watts, once told the St. Petersburg Times that Gruden's fearlessness as a quarterback wasn't always good (which should give him something in common with his new quarterback, Robert Griffin III).

"You know he's about to take off and scramble," Watts said. "I pick him up and say, 'Jay, you got to cut this out. We need you hanging around until the end.'"

His Louisville coach, Howard Schnellenberger, told the Times that Gruden, “Took a real physical beating with us.”

Gruden won six Arena League championships, including two as a coach. He once admitted to Dan Daly of the Washington Times that he was a little bitter that he never earned one invite to an NFL camp.

“Given the opportunity I could have at least played some preseason games or something,” he told Daly in 2003. “I think the rest of the league thought, 'If his father [a scout] doesn't want to sign him, why should we want to sign him?' But I see these other slappies who've gotten nine or 10 years in and wonder why that couldn't have been me.”

Even in that article, his brother, Jon, predicted Jay Gruden would someday be a great coach. But Jay Gruden often admitted that he was not as intense or driven as his brother. Jon Gruden would be with their father, a former director of player personnel in Tampa, while Jay Gruden said he'd be watching cartoons.

Still, he stayed on the path. He was the offensive coordinator for the Nashville Kats in 1997, then the head coach of the Orlando Predators from 1998 to 2001. He served as an offensive assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002 to '08. During that same period, after the NFL season ended he was the Predators' quarterback from 2002 to '03 and then their head coach from 2004 to '08.

"He's a hard worker," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said. "He would commute in the middle of the night from Orlando to Tampa."

Gruden not only called the offensive plays, but also the defensive ones for the Predators. And he resisted overtures from college and NFL teams. Finally, after two years in the United Football League, first as the offensive coordinator under Jim Haslett and then a year later as the head coach of the Florida Tuskers, Gruden made the jump to the NFL. He served as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator the past three seasons.

“There's a lot at stake here,” he told the Tampa Tribune in 2011 during his first offseason with Cincinnati.

Yes, there was. And it led him to Washington.

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jay Gruden's familiarity with several coaches on the Washington Redskins' staff helped make the job attractive. But, while it's likely that his future coordinators already are in the building, he's still going to interview other coaches for those positions.

The leading candidates to be the coordinators are thought to be Sean McVay (offense) and Jim Haslett (defense). Both are holdovers from the previous regime -- and both have ties to Gruden, having coached with him in the United Football League. Gruden said later Thursday that he greatly respects both. Because Gruden said he will call plays, it would be a surprise if McVay, who turns 28 later this month, wasn't elevated from tight ends coach. Also, Gruden said he wants to stick with a 3-4 defense, which Haslett has coached for four seasons here and two others in Pittsburgh.

But he also wasn't ready to name his coordinators just yet.

“We'll go through the process,” Gruden said. “There are a lot of great coaches out there.”

The Redskins also retained secondary coach Raheem Morris, who worked with Gruden in Tampa Bay for four seasons. But Morris fired Gruden when he took over as head coach in 2009, though it would still be a surprise if he wasn't retained considering he's well-liked by general manager Bruce Allen. Washington also has holdovers in running-backs coach Bobby Turner, offensive-line coach Chris Foerster, defensive-line coach Jacob Burney and assistant special-teams coach Richard Hightower.

“I will interview a lot of coaches,” Gruden said. “I'll look at each coach that has been retained by Bruce [Allen] and interview everybody. I know a lot of coaches here that can coach. There are also good football people across the country looking to work and work for the Redskins. I've had 350 texts from great coaches looking to coach. I don't think finding a great coach and coaching staff will be difficult as it will be finding the right ones.”

It helps the Redskins that only two other teams have filled their coaching vacancies and four others remain.

“The good part about getting our coach now is, his phone is blowing up with people ready to coach who are available now,” Allen said.

Jay Gruden offers hope and concern

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
12:45
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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.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is all too easy for Eagles fans to be dismissive of the hiring of Jay Gruden as the head coach in Washington.

It’s not like it’s Jon, right?

Doesn’t Dan Snyder always get this wrong?

With Chip Kelly completing his first year on the job, the Eagles still have the shiniest, most progressive program in the NFC East.

But it could be a mistake to take the hiring of Gruden too lightly, even if it means much of Mike Shanahan’s coaching staff remains in place.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Nick WassIs Jay Gruden the coach who will get the most out of Redskins QB Robert Griffin III?
Washington didn’t go for the wow factor the way the Eagles did with Kelly last year. The hiring of Gruden is much more reminiscent of the hirings of Marc Trestman in Chicago, Bruce Arians in Arizona and Mike McCoy in San Diego. Like Gruden, they were all NFL veterans who had been just under the radar for head-coaching opportunities in the past. They were almost too obvious for owners looking to make a splash.

And guess what? They all did just fine.

Arians’ Cardinals went 10-6, same as Kelly’s Eagles. The difference was that Arizona plays in the NFC West with Seattle and San Francisco and missed the playoffs, while that record was good enough to win the NFC East by two games.

McCoy’s Chargers didn’t have as good a regular-season record -- 9-7 in a division with Denver and Kansas City -- but they are still alive. They may have backed into the playoffs, but they won their first-round game.

Trestman’s Bears played for the NFC North title on the final day of the regular season. If Jay Cutler hadn’t gotten hurt -- or if Trestman had stayed with Josh McCown when he was hot -- who knows how Chicago’s season might have been different?

Kelly’s Eagles trounced Trestman’s Bears 54-11 in a crucial game for both teams. Kelly beat Arians head-to-head, as well. Kelly lost to McCoy in their head-to-head meeting.

Point is, there is value in hiring a smart coach with a fresh approach and an outsider’s perspective, as the Eagles did. But long experience in the league and a sound program are not to be discounted, either.

The biggest question is whether Jay Gruden is the right coach to get the absolute best out of quarterback Robert Griffin III. He doesn’t seem like it at first glance. Going after San Francisco’s Greg Roman, who has designed an offense around Colin Kaepernick, might have made more sense from that perspective. But we can’t be sure until we see Gruden’s offense with Griffin running it.

In the division, Tom Coughlin remains the No. 1 coach until someone else wins a Super Bowl. That said, in 2013 the New York Giants looked like a team on the decline.

Kelly jumped ahead of Dallas coach Jason Garrett almost immediately. The Cowboys’ decision to stay the course may help the Eagles as much or more, within the division, as any hire Snyder could have made in Washington.

Gruden doesn’t send shock waves through the NFC East. Hiring him may not be sexy, but recent history shows it could be a solid move.

Quick Takes: Jay Gruden

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
8:45
AM ET
  1. The Washington Redskins always had Jay Gruden at or near the top of their list of coaching candidates. General manager Bruce Allen already knew Gruden from working with him in Tampa Bay, as did some Redskins coaches, including secondary coach Raheem Morris and tight ends coach Sean McVay. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett worked one season with Gruden in the United Football League. So there is a familiarity, and he had an “impressive” interview, according to one source.
  2. Gruden
    Gruden was considered one of the hot candidates, maybe even the hot candidate, for the various head coach openings in the league. So once he started interviewing, it stood to reason that someone would sign him soon. In fact, his side expected a deal to be done with a team by Monday. One reason Mike McCoy landed in San Diego last year is because the Chargers had the first interview and wouldn’t let him leave without a deal. This apparently was the guy the Redskins wanted, and it clearly looks as if they went with the full-court press.
  3. Gruden met with Tennessee this week and had been scheduled to meet with Minnesota on Thursday, and Detroit this weekend.
  4. It would make sense for McVay to become Gruden's offensive coordinator. He’s highly thought of; they have worked together, and they share the same agent, Bob LaMonte. That doesn’t always mean anything, but McVay is a smart coach and also would have been a logical candidate to make this jump had the previous staff stayed and, say, Kyle Shanahan had left. It’s easy to see McVay climbing high on the coaching ladder. I don't know who would be the defensive coordinator yet, though I could see Morris being elevated to that role.
  5. I know Jay Gruden’s brother, Jon, is high on Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. During an interview I had with him before the Nov. 25 game against San Francisco, Jon Gruden brought up his name unprompted. Does that mean his brother is equally high on Cousins? Don’t know. I do know he preferred Andy Dalton over Colin Kaepernick when they both came out of college. But Gruden said that was more because Dalton was much closer to being ready to play immediately. A number of teams liked Kaepernick, but believed he was more of a project.


    What does it mean for Robert Griffin III? One person involved in the process said if Gruden could turn Dalton into a playoff quarterback, what could he do with Griffin? Also, Griffin was a consensus top-two pick, so we're not talking a direct comparison and that Gruden somehow does not like this style of quarterback. Most coaches like quarterbacks who have talent. Griffin remains the most talented one on the Redskins' roster.

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