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Thursday, March 27, 2014
Ten thoughts (plus 2) on Jay Gruden

By John Keim

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.

Jay Gruden
Coach 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.