Washington Redskins: Joe Gibbs

This wasn’t nominated for one of the Redskins’ most memorable plays. But it certainly has to be -- and was in fact -- in any discussion on plays that stand out in franchise history. It was gruesome and ended the career of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Lawrence Taylor sacking Joe Theismann, snapping his leg in a Monday Night Football game.

It was, however, nominated as one of the New York Giants’ most memorable plays as Dan Graziano wrote about here.

And here’s some of what Graziano wrote:
“It was early in the second quarter with the game tied, and the Redskins called a flea flicker. Theismann handed the ball to running back John Riggins, who ran up toward the line before turning and flipping the ball back to Theismann. The Giants were not fooled. Harry Carson got there first, but Theismann wriggled away from him only to find Taylor waiting. Taylor brought him down, Gary Reasons jumped on the pile, everyone nearby heard a loud "crack" and, suddenly, Taylor was up and waving to the Redskins sideline for someone to come in and help Theismann.”

Theismann had struggled that season. Through 10 games he was the 13th-rated passer in the NFC (out of 14), but with inexperienced Jay Schroeder behind him, the Redskins had few options. But after Theismann’s injury, coach Joe Gibbs had no choice but to insert Schroeder. And Schroeder led a 23-21 victory.

Theismann once told me for a book I co-authored (Hail to RFK!) that he had started to take the game for granted that season, admitting he did not work as hard as he had in the past.

He also recalled this exchange with Carson after the injury. If Theismann sounded calm it’s partly because his body had gone into shock and the full extent, and pain, of the injury was temporarily masked. Anyway, here’s the exchange:

“Harry, I understand you’re thinking about retiring. He said, ‘Yes I am.’ I said, ‘Well don’t you go retiring because I’m coming back.' He said, 'That may be the case, pal. But it ain’t going to be tonight.'”
John RigginsManny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports
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This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. We've already featured Darryl Grant's interception return for a touchdown in the 1983 NFC Championship Game and Darrell Green's punt return to beat the Chicago Bears in a 1988 playoff game. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins’ most memorable play.

Score: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Date: Jan. 30, 1983 Site: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

To understand the moment, why it carried the weight that it did, it’s important to first look back. Like to the 1950s, when the Redskins posted two winning seasons. Or the 1960s, when they could score but not win. They managed a winning record once, in the final year of the decade. This despite several Hall of Famers on offense.


Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?


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The Redskins had not won a title of any kind since 1942. They had only reached the postseason seven times since that year (and five since 1945). Yet the fans showed up time and again, knowing what always awaited them in the end. Even when Washington had reached Super Bowl VII, it lost to undefeated Miami.

There was hope, though, with new coach Joe Gibbs, who led the team to an 8-1 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 regular season (his second in charge). Then three double-digit playoff victories put Washington into Super Bowl XVII.

But no titles ever come easy, and the Redskins trailed Miami 17-13 when they took over the ball at their own 18 early in the fourth quarter. They drove to the Dolphins’ 43, where they faced fourth-and-1 with 10 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.

John Riggins and the Redskins’ run game already had posted good numbers. So everyone had to know what would happen next: a handoff to Riggins. The Dolphins used a six-man front, which meant the play would either be stuffed or a huge one. The Redskins got the latter as tackle Joe Jacoby buried linebacker Kim Bokamper and fullback Otis Wonsley helped seal the end.

That left Riggins one-on-one with corner Don McNeal. Mismatch. Riggins swatted him away and the man nicknamed The Diesel chugged toward the end zone, running for the lead and a place in history. Diesel horns blared in the stands, a signature sound that season. And it became a run that is mentioned seemingly every Super Bowl week. It was the first of three Super Bowl victories under Gibbs, giving Redskins fans a taste of success that had eluded them forever.

For Riggins, it enabled him to post a Super Bowl record 166 yards rushing and then to make this statement after a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan: “At least for tonight, Ron’s the president, but I’m the king.” Decades of frustration had ended for Redskins fans. They, too, finally felt like football royalty.
Darryl GrantAP Photo
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This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days, we’ll feature Darrell Green’s punt return to beat the Chicago Bears in a 1988 playoff game and John Riggins’ fourth-down, game-winning touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII against Miami. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins’ most memorable play.

Score: Redskins 31, Cowboys 17
Date: Jan. 22, 1983 Site: RFK Stadium

The day, and the game, were big enough already. Fans inside RFK Stadium started the chant long before kickoff, energizing the players and creating a lifelong memory. The chant, which started earlier that postseason in wins over Detroit and Minnesota, is brought out on occasion -- “We want Dallas!” -- but never was it said with more gusto than on Jan. 22, 1983, in the NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys.

There was a sense of excitement, a sense that perhaps the franchise was in the early stages of a good run under second-year coach Joe Gibbs.


Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?


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What did it mean to the players, hearing the chant in the locker room?

“It sent a chill down your spine,” Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm said in "America’s Rivalry" (a book I helped write).

Redskins fans who lived through the 1950s and '60s were used to disappointment. More accurately: They were used to bad football. From 1950 to '70, the Redskins managed three winning seasons. But a strong run in the 1970s under coach George Allen elevated expectations.

However, although they got close -- a Super Bowl loss that capped Miami’s perfect 1972 season -- they never pushed through. And they had not been to the postseason since 1976.

So, with 7 minutes, 12 seconds left against Dallas, the Redskins clung to a 24-17 lead, but the Cowboys had hope. With backup quarterback Gary Hogeboom having earlier entered for a concussed Danny White, they had moved the ball and, after all, they had won six straight over their hated rivals. Fans were understandably nervous, still stung by the memory of another Cowboys backup passer: Clint Longley and his 50-yard bomb to beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day 1974.

But in this game, from their own 20, the Cowboys called for a screen that Washington had correctly anticipated. That led defensive tackle Darryl Grant to run to the area he knew the ball would be thrown. And when rushing defensive end Dexter Manley tipped the ball, Grant plucked it out of the air and high-stepped 10 yards into Redskins history. It's easily one of the most memorable plays in franchise history for what it represented and when it occurred. It clinched a victory and sent Washington to its second Super Bowl. Grant’s spike landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And the city, and franchise, started a party that lasted a decade.

What the Redskins' O must produce

June, 30, 2014
This was going to be an answer in the mailbag section. Then it started getting too long. So, now, it’s a separate item.

Here’s a little backdrop: One of my twitter followers, @mcredskins, asked me last week about Joe Gibbs’ offense and how many points he wanted to average, if the Redskins were to be a playoff team. It wasn’t a high number (21) and he wanted to know if the NFL had changed that much or if defenses were that bad. So I did some research. Then came more research after @mcredskins asked about this for the mailbag, wondering what the Redskins under Jay Gruden needed to average to make the postseason.

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassWhat do Jay Gruden and the Redskins' offense need to accomplish to get to the postseason? A look at recent playoff teams could provide the answer.
First, the Gibbs era. During Gibbs 1.0, the Redskins averaged at least 21 points per game every season except 1985, when they averaged 18.6 and missed the postseason. Under Gibbs 1.0, the Redskins reached the playoffs in six of the eight years they finished in the top 10 offensively. Overall, since 1981, the Redskins have made the postseason eight of 12 times in which they finished among the top 10 in scoring.

The Redskins averaged at least 25 points per game four times under Gibbs; they reached the Super Bowl each season. They averaged between 21.1 and 24.1 seven times and reached the postseason twice. (The Redskins once averaged 24.1 points en route to 10 wins and failed to make the postseason. Another time they averaged 18.6, won 10 and missed the cut.)

Now for Gruden and the current group. A lot of this, of course, is dependent on the defense. A bad one, as you’ve seen, means they’ll obviously have to score more (the Redskins have finished 21st or worse in points allowed per game defensively each of the past four years and 30th last season). This is just a guideline of what playoff teams in the past three years have done.

So here goes:
  • It’s clear that you must be in or near the top 10 in points scored per game. Last season, for example, of the top 12 teams in offensive points per game, 10 made the postseason. The only two playoff teams that weren’t? Kansas City (15th) and Carolina (19th).
  • Last year’s playoff participants averaged 25.1 points per game offensively during the regular season. But eight of those teams averaged between 21.1 and 24.4 points.
  • In 2012, 10 of the top 12 teams in offensive points per game made the postseason. The only two not in that group were Minnesota (16th) and Indianapolis (19th).
  • Seven playoff teams in 2012 averaged 23.7 points per game or less, while the average for the playoff teams was 24.1.
  • In 2011, eight of the top 12 in offensive points per game made the postseason. Eight of the 12 averaged between 17.1 and 23.9 points per game.
  • In the past three seasons, a combined 28 of the 36 teams that made the postseason finished in the top 12 in offensive points per game. In the last three years, the No. 12 team has averaged 22.3, 22.7 and 23.1 points per game, respectively. There’s your target.
  • Of the last four Super Bowl winners, all have averaged at least 24.2 points per game or more. The Redskins, of course, have some work to do before they dare dream about being in this category.
SPARTA, Ky. -- In the eyes of many, Joe Gibbs was long the face of the Washington Redskins. He coached the team twice, for a total of 16 seasons, leading them to three Super Bowl wins in four appearances.

While many would like to see the team’s name changed, Gibbs isn’t among them. To him, the name is not used in a racially insensitive way.

“I hope not,” he said Saturday at the Kentucky Speedway when asked if he thought the name would be changed. “We’ll see (what happens).”

Gibbs, now the owner of a NASCAR organization that fields Sprint Cup Series cars for drivers Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, followed the team as a child, so the name was a part of his life long before he ever worked for the team.

“I grew up in the hills of North Carolina, and my uncle had the first TV set in our whole little area and about a 110-foot antenna,” Gibbs said. “The only pro football team we could get was the Redskins with Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and all of them. We used to sit on the bank outside of his home and he’d turn the TV around and we’d watch the game.

“I always loved the Redskins and never thought I’d have the chance to coach them. In the (16) years I coached them ... we never heard anybody say anything negative about the Redskins’ name; it was always prideful, courageous. We have a song; we sing, ‘Hail to the Redskins.’"
A little this and that and some comments on stories being written about the Redskins:
  • Former Redskins safety Brad Edwards is the new athletic director at George Mason University. He certainly hasn’t forgotten his football playing past, starting with the guy he says he tries to emulate: Joe Gibbs.
  • “He's the guy I try to get up every day and model," Edwards said. "Every single day. We all know he had an insane work ethic, and no one will ever question my work ethic. ... You always felt like he wanted you to succeed, but he wasn't going to let you off the hook without doing it exactly the right way.”
  • Edwards also had a funny anecdote involving former defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon. It shows you even smart coordinators sometimes have questionable ideas. But it also shows you when you have a smart player back deep with the gumption to challenge his coach’s call.
  • "He kept calling a seven-man blitz when we were playing the Falcons, and they keep putting Deion Sanders in the slot, which means I'm having to cover Deion Sanders," Edwards said. "So I keep waving off the call, and he's cussing at me, like, 'Make the call!' And I go to the sidelines and I said, 'What do I have to explain to you? The NFL's fastest man. Slow safety. Do you want to ruin my career?'"
  • Former NFL head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips visited his son at Redskins Park Monday. His son, Wes Phillips, is the tight ends coach. One thing I loved about Phillips when he was with Buffalo years ago: He had a listed phone number. Came in handy when he was up for a job with the Redskins (that he obviously didn’t get).
  • One thing I didn’t understand last week: The pushback by some financial people over whether or not players should be paid throughout the year and not just during the season. From what I was told, the players pushed for this and I don’t see how it’s a bad development. Much easier to make a budget when your payments are spread throughout the year.
  • I also remember something Antwaan Randle El told me a few years ago. He got his big check as a rookie, spent some money and got to April when the tax man came calling. He had to borrow money to pay his taxes; he never took this into account. That speaks to a few issues, but if all your money is coming in a 17-week span it makes it easier to spend more than what you have – and leave yourself short later. There have been a number of players over the years who seek loans in the offseason for this reason.
  • My guy Eric Edholm (one of my former editors when I freelanced for Pro Football Weekly) calls the Redskins’ signing of receiver DeSean Jackson the most overrated one of the offseason. Edholm wrote, “Oh, they’ll make use of Jackson, and chances are, Robert Griffin III will profess his undying love for the guy early on when he’s catching bombs and making him look good. But here’s my prediction: After two years in D.C., Jackson will have worn out his welcome with a third head coach.”
  • I agree that after two years the Redskins might tire of him. Is it an overrated signing? I’d use another word: risky. That’s how most view it anyway. Safe to say based on his on-field history, Jackson will produce and threaten defenses. I always thought he’d be best served going to a team with a strong (and proven) organizational hierarchy. But the Redskins helped themselves in this signing by making it possible to release him after two years and save money on the cap.
  • Here’s an interesting story by NFL.com’s Albert Breer, talking to coach Jay Gruden about Griffin and his early impressions on him. A lot of what Gruden says is what the Shanahans used to say: He wants a guy who can run and throw the way he does; he doesn’t want to restrict him in the pocket (would be silly); he wants him to get out of bounds more (Griffin improved in this area after his concussion vs. Atlanta, though in certain circumstances he will cut upfield – like against Baltimore).
  • The telling quote is this one when Gruden talks about how smart Griffin is. “He picked up everything effortlessly. He works hard at it, he studies it, he understands the position and he's willing to learn and willing to take coaching. A guy with as much success as he's had, as early as he is in this young stage of his life, some guys are like, 'Eh, I don't need your coaching, I don't need this, I wanna do it my way.' He's not that way at all. He wants to be coached, he wants to learn the game, he wants to study. He wants to be the greatest. And he knows he has a long way to go, which is refreshing from a guy that's had a Heisman Trophy and as much publicity as he's had. He knows he has work to do, and he's willing to put in the work. That's strikes me as ... I just wasn't expecting that."
  • Griffin, though, never had his work ethic or motivation questioned. There were some coaches who said Griffin needed to buy in more to what he was being taught, that it would make him more confident in what was being done. It appears Griffin has bought in, but he’s also the sort of guy who must buy into all of a person. My guess is he’ll be helped even more if he and Gruden do forge something strong. When will we know that’s the case? When things get dicey during the season and we don’t hear rumors about friction.

Notes: Name debate, Moses' impact

June, 3, 2014
Another day of leftover notes:

Strong column: Jason Reid of the Washington Post had a strong take on the #Redskinspride movement initiated last week, when the Redskins asked fans to tweet to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (do I need to say there's no relation?) regarding their thoughts on the team name. If the Redskins want to win the name debate, occurrences like this won't help. Rather, it will just enflame the opposition and keep them mobilized and desirous to fight back. There have been too many missteps along the way. But for those of you who want the issue to go away -- yet also want them to win -- it'll be tough to separate those desires. Just imagine how big it will become if they somehow made the Super Bowl again?

Both sides claim victory: Redskins president and general manager Bruce Allen told Jason Reid that, "our fans have spoken very loudly in support of what we've been doing. We got a very good response from our fans. Thousands of fans responded, including hundreds of Native Americans, saying we are their favorite team. I do think that's the message we've been hearing." Last week, Harry Reid's digital director Faiz Shakir told multiple outlets they were thrilled by the response. Here's the thing: The majority of people are against changing the name, at least according to polls in the past. So the Redskins will always enjoy a certain level of support. But my hunch is the more this stays in the news, and the more people perceive that the Redskins are handling it poorly, the more who will be swayed the other way. I'm not smart enough to know if/when it will change, but we all know some grow so weary of a topic they just want it to go away at any cost.

Moses' impact: For rookie right tackle Morgan Moses to play, or at least start, he'll have to improve his fundamentals. He has to learn to play more with his knees bent, and not his waist. And how to move his feet in addition to his arms. Then he has to combine that with learning the playbook and everything else. It takes time, which the Redskins are happy to give him. "There's a lot to learn as far as offensive line play," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, "picking up line stunts, all the run schemes that we have -- inside zones, outside zones and then the pass protections we have. We have nine or 10 already and maybe more. So it's a grind for them mentally ... . Lucky for us, we've got a solid line and he is going to contribute when he is ready. There is no exact date on that either."

Gruden's philosophy: Jay Gruden is much more like Joe Gibbs when it comes to delegating responsibility than he is to Mike Shanahan, his predecessor. Gruden won't just stick with the offense; sounds like he's been watching the defense more this week. But offense is his baby and he does not plan to interfere with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett or special teams coach Ben Kotwica. Of course, it is his right; he's the one who bears the ultimate responsibility. Still, it won't be his focus. Going from an offensive coordinator to head coach is enough to handle right now. "I'm letting Coach Haslett coach the defense, Coach Kotwica to coach the special teams and I'm really hands-on with the offense right now," Gruden said. "Part of the reason I hired the guys that I hired is I could count on them to run their specific groups. It's been a very smooth process so far."
Jason Hatcher didn’t provide details; he didn’t want to come across as ripping his former team. But in going from Dallas to Washington, Hatcher went from a coach who had one way of running things to a coach who has a different style.

Hatcher played eight seasons in Dallas (Jason Garrett was his head coach for three-and-a-half seasons) and has only been around Jay Gruden for a couple of weeks -- and on the field with him for only three days during a minicamp that ended Thursday.

But that was enough time for him to formulate an initial opinion on the differences between the coaches and teams during an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas via the Dallas Morning News.

“They really take care of the veteran guys,” said the Redskins defensive end. “They give us more say-so over the team. This is our team. The head coach don’t want to be policing the team. This is our team, so when we set the foundation for this football team, the way it’s supposed to go, that’s the way it’s supposed to go, through the players and not the coaches. It’s a players’ team, so whatever we say goes, pretty much, if it’s going in the right direction.”

What this means exactly, I’m not sure. Could be more about the players taking responsibility for what goes on, both in the locker room and on the field. If that’s the case, that’s a good thing especially if you have the right leaders.

Gruden does not come across as someone who wants to control all aspects of the team, which is why, for example, he’s giving defensive coordinator Jim Haslett more freedom than his predecessor did. Which way works better? We’ll find out this fall and over the next few seasons. But every coach needs to let it be known they’re in charge, otherwise the ship will go astray at some point. Gruden knows this well, I'm sure. But when Hue Jackson took over for Gruden in Cincinnati, he vowed to be more of the disciplinarian he felt the team needed -- and to coach certain players harder on offense than they'd been coached in the past. And no coach can take a completely hands-off approach. You need to trust the players, you need to give them freedom but you also need to be in charge. Joe Gibbs did not hover over his players, but, especially during his first tenure, they were afraid of what might happen if they did not produce.

Still, it’ll be something to ask about when we finally get a chance to be around the players during workouts later this month. Mike Shanahan had a reputation for taking care of his players, too, mostly through how they practiced and the time off they received. And, this spring, the Redskins already had one week off (after starting workouts two weeks earlier than all but six other teams because they have a first-year coach).

Ultimately it will be the players who decide fates around here. Too often in the past, they haven’t gotten it done.

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.

Byner could be returning to Washington

January, 14, 2014
Earnest Byner might be returning to the Redskins. Again.

SportsTalkFlorida.com reported that Byner is headed back to Washington to join Jay Gruden's coaching staff. But that has not yet been confirmed and the Washington Post reported that they spoke with Byner and he would only say that he'd like to return. But he did not tell the newspaper that he has indeed landed a job on Gruden's staff. It's uncertain yet if or when Byner will be interviewed.

It's likely he'd coach the running backs if he did return, considering that's the position he played and also coached at each of his four coaching stops. He was the Redskins' running backs coach from 2004-07, coaxing a 1,516-yard season from Clinton Portis in 2005. Portis had three seasons of at least 1,200 rushing yards under Byner and Ladell Betts ran for 1,154 yards when Portis was hurt in 2006.

But Byner was let go after Joe Gibbs retired and Jim Zorn brought in Sherman Smith. Byner then spent two years with Tennessee, two more with Jacksonville and the last two with Tampa Bay. Byner was considered tough but fair when he coached in Washington the first time.

Byner played for Washington from 1989-93. He would replace Bobby Turner, who was told Monday that he would not be retained. Meanwhile, former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams told ESPN980 that he has spoken to general manager Bruce Allen about a potential role here, but said he was not sure what was going to happen.

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.

Joe Gibbs sold on Ken Whisenhunt

January, 8, 2014
Joe Gibbs wouldn't hesitate to hire one coach -- and it's one he knows well.

The former Washington Redskins coach told the Detroit News that he's sold on Ken Whisenhunt, who played for Gibbs from 1989-90 (along with Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew).

Gibbs, of course, was talking about Whisenhunt in relation to the Lions job. But the Redskins have interest in the San Diego offensive coordinator as well. Whisenhunt took Arizona to the Super Bowl as a head coach. He should be an intriguing coach for the Redskins as well, just because of his work with quarterbacks in the past. But Whisenhunt's familiarity with Mayhew could make Detroit a good landing spot for him. The Lions would like to keep their defensive staff intact and if they hire Whisenhunt, he'd likely trust Mayhew that is indeed the right decision.

"Ken is very smart and he's a people person. As a player, he was one of those guys that worked extremely hard and made the most out of his talent and ability," Gibbs said.

What the Hall of Fame coach liked is that Whisenhunt played H-back for him, a position that required him to be smarter than most players.

"The H-back in our system had to do a lot of thinking on the move," Gibbs said. "Very honestly, Ken was very bright when it came to football. He understood everything we were trying to do and he understood what the defenses were trying to do.

"You get that with Ken. And the added thing you get with him, he was a leader. He was somebody the players respected and I think that's very important."

Here's what else Gibbs liked about Whisenhunt:

"The advantage you have with Ken is he's got experience; he's been to Super Bowls. And I want to emphasize this -- you've got somebody here that solves one-third of the problem. When you go to hire a coach in the NFL, you want to hire somebody who solves either the offense, defense or special-teams problem. With Ken, you have someone who solves the offensive part of things."

"The most important thing for a coach in a new situation is to be able to hire good people. That was one of the most important things for me. I made sure I surrounded myself with great assistant coaches. Ken has that experience; he's done that. He's hired a lot of people and he knows a lot of people."

Quick Takes: Coaching under Snyder

January, 8, 2014
  1. Whoever the new coach is must know how to deal with owner Dan Snyder. I don’t mean that in a negative way, either. But there is an art to dealing with any owner. Marty Schottenheimer, for example, did not like to clue Snyder in on all that he wanted to know. He wanted to just worry about coaching. That’s fine, except that you need to understand your boss. This one likes to be informed. It’s his team; inform him.
  2. Joe Gibbs was a master at this. You could see it during his four seasons, how he massaged Snyder and Vinny Cerrato’s egos during news conferences, etc. Made them feel like they were giving invaluable input all the time. Gibbs also knew when to let Snyder “win;” in other words, he knew when to pick his battles. Gibbs also knew Snyder idolized him. Who didn't?
  3. As one person from that staff once said, “That way, when it came time to pick his fights with Dan, he’d get what he wanted. He managed Dan well.”
  4. Mike Shanahan got a lot of what he wanted in terms of the facility – the bubble, moving training camp to Richmond. But, according to reports like this in The Washington Post from Rick Maese -- a good compilation of life under Snyder over 15 years -- he did not always get what he wanted when it came to, say, quarterbacks. None of this is breaking news because it’s slipped out over the years. The point is, however, if this is what’s being said from a certain side then it’s clear when there were other battles to fight, Snyder won.
  5. Having general manager Bruce Allen in the building helps because he can serve better as a go-between to the coach and the owner than Cerrato ever could. I haven’t heard this said, but it just makes sense to me that Snyder has more respect for Allen than he did for Cerrato.
  6. But the point is, any new coach must do a good job massaging this relationship with the owner. It just helps. I don’t care what line of work you do, ultimately you have to please your boss. Winning matters, but Schottenheimer had that team headed in the right direction and still got fired.
  7. The lessons: Keep the owner informed. But the lessons for Snyder should be: let the football people make the football decisions. If there’s a tie and they ask for your input, then provide it. There’s been too much micromanaging at Redskins Park over the years, whether it’s from the owner or from a coach who dabbles in everything. Again, it’s their right. But when you don’t win? You change. It’s not enough to say someone wants to win. Learn how to win.
  8. I go back to Gibbs. The Redskins had a chance under him because he knew how to deal with Snyder and he hired a terrific defensive staff and let them do their jobs. Also, you did not have coaches worried about players going to the owner during this regime, either. That will be an issue for some, especially if they feel Robert Griffin III's relationship with Snyder is too cozy.
  9. By the way, if the guy Shanahan really wanted instead of Donovan McNabb was Marc Bulger -- as has been reported before -- then it's not as if either one was a great choice. Bulger did not attempt a pass after the 2009 season. Maybe Shanahan wasn't as sold on Robert Griffin III and was cajoled by the owner into trading up for him (though I don't recall hearing that until late in this season), but it's not as if other reported options have fared better. It was a lot to give up, yes, but it's highly possible they'd still be in need of a quarterback.
  10. It’s why you have to have a certain personality to make it work (not just here, but many places). If you just look at a coach’s scheme and his X's and O's and make a judgment based off that -- good or bad -- you’re missing a huge part of what this job is about. A huge part. It's important to be creative and flexible, but this job is about managing people as much as any. Does the guy have a command and presence? Is he a leader? That's what matters.
  11. I wrote off Jim Caldwell as a candidate, only because I had heard questions about how strong he was in certain areas. But I have since heard that the more people dig on him, the more they hear good things about his leadership and how he holds people accountable. He's also been ultra prepared in his interviews. So we'll see. It could make him a strong candidate for one of the four openings.
  12. It’ll be interesting what happens here with Jay Gruden, who is interviewing Wednesday. Clearly there’s a familiarity with him – not just with Allen but with several people on the staff who remained (Sean McVay, Raheem Morris, Jim Haslett). Yes, some people have connected the dots and think that’s why Gruden ultimately will be hired. Again, we’ll see. I'll have more on him later. I also know the Redskins kept enough coaches around in case whomever they hired did not have a good pick of candidates (if they are hired later in the process, that is). Tampa and Houston both have an advantage when it comes to filling out a staff with their coaches hired so soon.

Allen: Personnel role is not new

January, 7, 2014
Just a short Q&A with Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen from last week. There's nothing revelatory (how's that for getting you to keep reading?), but hopefully he provided a little insight into their coaching search, what they're looking for and the new setup.

You say you want someone with fire in their belly; what does that mean to you?

Allen: Someone who is prepared and wants to prepare the team to compete. There’s a passion that isn’t vocal sometimes. It’s the dedication to the job. You can see it in different ways. Mike Ditka has it and so does Tony Dungy. You’ve seen it in different coaches and it’s not just the fiery people.

Everyone says Dan Snyder wants to win. I’ve heard that for 15 years. Do you think he’s learned how to win?

Allen: Experience is great for everyone. Hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes that I did when I was 20 or 30 or 40 or 50. Experience is valuable. The commitment to winning and the support of it, he’s all in 100 percent.

Obviously you have to learn how to put together an organization. Do you feel he has a good idea of what he wants from a head coach and from the organization that maybe he didn’t have when you first met him?

Allen: It’s hard for me to say about him from before, but I do know I thought it was a great move when he hired Joe Gibbs. There were plenty of people who wanted to hire Coach [Steve] Spurrier and he’s doing great again and just won another bowl game. The commitment we made to Mike [Shanahan] and trying to work with Mike’s vision, he was completely supportive.

In terms of personnel and you being in charge of this area, the assumption is this is a new role for you. Is it?

Allen: No, it’s not new. It will be a Redskins decision. We’ll use the experts from the area scouts to the director of scouting and incorporate the coaching staff, the position coach, the coordinator and the head coach.

Is that how you did it in Tampa?

Allen: And in Oakland.

Is that new for here?

Allen: It’s going to be new because we have new people and we have a new head coach and some new position coaches, but we’re going to dig in a little deeper into the talent pool based on what we’re running, based on the characteristics necessary for the schemes we choose.

How many people will you interview?

Allen: I don’t know. The reason I say that is right now it’s 10 to 12, but if we fall in love [this] week or the week after it might get cut off.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

January, 4, 2014
In Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, more questions about the organizational setup and the timetable for hiring a new coach. Also, how this search differs from some in the past (they have experience) and a free-agent question.