Washington Redskins: Jon Gruden
John Keim: Well, he's better than BenJarvus Green-Ellis so I would expect Alfred Morris to get a lot more carries. Plus I'm not sold that the Redskins have their Giovani Bernard type to take away that many carries from Morris. Roy Helu will get some and perhaps Lache Seastrunk, especially in the spread. But I would expect Morris to still be a factor. But how much of one? Honestly don't know yet. I know the Redskins will keep the same run game, but I also know Jay Gruden's reputation is that he likes to throw the ball (it was also Kyle Shanahan's, too, until he landed Morris and Robert Griffin III). Morris "only" had 276 carries last season compared to 335 as a rookie (losing so often last year didn't help). I could see his totals being closer to last year than his rookie year, just because of the added weapons in the pass game. Green-Ellis, by the way, carried 278 times two years ago but only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Morris averaged 4.6 yards last year and 4.8 as a rookie. Big difference.
Keim: If I had to guess right now I'd say yes, but there's so much more that needs to be seen -- and not just with Jackson. There's no way to fully know where his game is at based off the spring. Heck, he admitted he wasn't able to stay in the best shape during his suspension because he also had to work. Understandable. But now you have someone who needs to get back into NFL shape and then prove he can still play after missing two years. Maybe he'll get there; too early to know. Then it also depends on how others are doing as well. Has Bacarri Rambo improved at all? How does Akeem Davis look? Davis could sneak his way onto the roster. Jackson was a talented player once upon a time. He just needs to prove he still is one this summer. If so, he'll be fine.
Keim: Not a whole lot. Maybe others do, especially if they're trying to paint a certain picture, but I don't. Then again, had he been a losing coach there ... Steve Spurrier had a winning pedigree in college, as did many others who tried to make that leap. It does help that Gruden has been in charge, but it's such a different game and level. I'm sure certain aspects translate, but I'm not about to go overboard with that experience. What helps is that he's been immersed in the pro culture since he was a kid because of his father and brother. What also helps is that he's been exposed to good coaches throughout his career, from Howard Schnellenberger to his brother Jon to Marvin Lewis.
#redskinsmailbag How do you feel special teams and the secondary has improved this off season?— Aeh Vee (@AehVee) June 22, 2014
Keim: I really like what they've done on special teams this offseason and it's sort of gotten lost at times with all the other storylines. But they bolstered the unit by adding linebackers who can help here -- not just the veterans in Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward, but also drafting Trent Murphy. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland will help, too. The Redskins kept too many players last year who were low on their position totem pole, yet provided poor help on special teams. Those days must be over if they want to build anything right. Not sure yet about the kicker Zach Hocker and if he's an improvement. Still concerned about punter. As for the secondary, they improved the leadership by adding Ryan Clark and they need David Amerson to play well. The biggest way they can help this group is by applying more pressure with their front seven. If that happens, then the secondary will benefit.
Keim: Easier to just link to the story I wrote on that earlier this week. It's how the starting lineup looks entering training camp. The only position I can see changing is right guard. Otherwise, things are pretty well set.
Keim: Well, the one thing I liked that Gruden did with Dalton is played to his strength as a passer, which is why he incorporated Giovani Bernard into the game plan. Dalton was not a strong-armed passer so he gave him a good option underneath. Obviously Griffin has a stronger arm so he can do different things. But the point is that it seems like he'll focus more on what his quarterbacks can do and then build his offense. At least I think that's the case. Until we see him with a different quarterback we really won't know how much he'll adapt. Gruden also had a strong relationship with Dalton, which if he builds the same with Griffin will help. But one knock against him in Cincinnati is that perhaps he got too close. So it's the opposite of what happened in Washington.
But Jon Gruden said he learned a lot about his brother when both worked in Tampa. The younger Gruden served as an offensive assistant, sitting in the press box with a headset on during games.
“In a lot of ways he was like a coordinator with the Buccaneers,” said Jon Gruden, 50, and three years older than Jay. “A lot of the plays that I called went through him. He’s been able to see the game from a quarterback’s perspective for a long time. I like the way he develops young players.
“I like the way he did that for me in Tampa and the way he did that in the Arena League. If you look at the Bengals skill players, people can say all they want, but a lot of the young players played and played well fast.”
“It’s awful early to make a bunch of predictions,” Jon Gruden said. “He obviously had his eyes open to the NFL, and I know I had my eyes opened quickly as well. It will make him better in the long run. Mentally tougher. I think he’s obviously way ahead of the game physically. Last year he was hurt at this time. It’ll be an interesting thing to see how he likes this new offense and how he performs. I have a lot of confidence in him.
“I don’t know what happened here the last couple years. He was the rookie of the year. I just know the offense will be different. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
He also liked how the Redskins practiced, but said what stood out was something else.
"I like the way they incorporated speed with their offense," Jon Gruden said. "You see DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and you see [Andre] Roberts and [Jordan] Reed look good, and they still stayed with their zone stretch running game. That combination is really good."
Jon Gruden will get his first chance to call a game with his brother as head coach in an Aug. 18 preseason game vs. Cleveland. He’s already worked games when his brother was the offensive coordinator with Cincinnati.
“I’m just trying to take care of my job,” Jon Gruden said. “I’ve already been fired. I’m just trying to hang onto the job I can and he’s trying to do the same.”
Jay Gruden said he likes when his brother visits. And, yes, certain memories are triggered.
“Coaching points he’s made throughout the history of some of the plays we’ve run,” Jay Gruden said. “They’re good, solid, valid points that you’d like to bring up to your team ... He’s a great presence. Hopefully I’ll get him to talk to the team a little bit [Thursday] and pick his brain some more, maybe a little golf.”
OK, so here it is:
Aug. 7 vs. New England Patriots, 7:30 p.m.
What it means: It's a Thursday night, so leave early. Teams can't report to training camp more than 15 days prior to their first preseason game. So count back 15 and you'll likely have their reporting date (July 23). Nothing is official as of yet. It's Jay Gruden's first home game, but that pales compared to how Robert Griffin III looks.
Aug. 18 vs. Cleveland Browns, 8 p.m.
What it means: Well, not a whole lot other than Jon Gruden gets to call a game coached by his brother. It's a Monday night game so it's comparable to last season's preseason schedule, which means the Redskins likely will spend a couple extra days in Richmond before breaking camp.
Aug. 23 at Baltimore, 7:30 p.m.
What it means: It's a Saturday night so ... not as much traffic driving to the game as if it had been on a weeknight. But this will be a big game as the first big batch of cuts are made after this weekend. Yeah, dress rehearsal and all that. But teams still don't put a ton into the preseason games in terms of game planning, or at least in what they show. The starters just play a little more. But it also comes after a short week so I wonder how much the starters will actually play.
Aug. 28 at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m.
What it means: It's the end of four meaningless games. It also means both teams get to see one another's backups considering how little starters will play, if at all. Final cuts follow two days later.
That doesn’t mean the Redskins' 2014 preseason schedule isn’t intriguing. Here’s a look at their four-game schedule (exact dates and times for all the games should be announced next week):
Week 1 (Aug. 7-10)
Home vs. New England.
It’s the first game for coach Jay Gruden and the new-look Redskins. It’s also quarterback Robert Griffin III's first chance to show how far he’s come since the season ended. The Redskins get a chance to face a well-coached team, which is always good. And a top quarterback in Tom Brady, though it’s hard to imagine him playing more than a series or two. Despite the talk about the Redskins' new defensive wrinkles, it's really hard to believe they will show a whole lot until the season begins. But perhaps we'll start to get a taste of how the Jason Hatcher-Ryan Kerrigan-Brian Orakpo pass-rush will work. Just for kicks, how about a Griffin to DeSean Jackson deep ball on the opening play?
Week 2 (Aug. 18)
Home vs. Cleveland
Yes, this will be interesting for a game between teams that rarely play one another. The Browns have three coaches who were with Washington last season: offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, receivers coach Mike McDaniel and offensive quality control coach Richard Hightower, all of whom joined first-year coach Mike Pettine’s staff. Shanahan is a highly competitive person who no doubt would love to stick it to the Redskins, though he’ll have to balance not showing a whole lot. So in the end his desire really won’t matter. But it will provide a little summer intrigue. One thing to remember: most of the players in Washington liked Shanahan's offense. Also, Redskins guard Shawn Lauvao will face his old team. And there is nothing more exciting than a guard playing his former squad.
The Browns should have a solid defense, so it will be another good test for the offense. And yet another storyline: It’s a nationally televised game on ESPN, so Jon Gruden -- Jay's brother, of course -- will be calling the game.
Week 3 (Aug. 21-24)
Nothing like a preseason game on the road where you really don’t have to travel far. But it’s another well-coached team and a second straight game against a 3-4 front (New England is more multi-dimensional, but uses both). Traditionally, the starters play longer in this game. But it’s still not as if teams are showing a whole lot and game plan as they would during the season. But this is a third straight game against a potentially strong defense, and that should help the Redskins' offense prepare well for the season.
Week 4 (Aug. 28)
At Tampa Bay
Gruden gets to face a team he broke into the NFL with as an offensive assistant; he was quite the Arena League star in central Florida, too. It’s also a second game against a team with a new coach, as Lovie Smith replaces Greg Schiano. The key in this game for the starters: exit healthy. That is, if they even play, which they did not do under former coach Mike Shanahan. Therefore, this one will be one last chance for a couple fringe players to win a job. It has happened often that a player with a big final game wins a spot.
"He knows what we did in Tampa and what I did in Cincinnati from a terminology standpoint," Gruden said. "No matter what people say two years ago Washington's offense was at the top. They were pretty damn good. I want to keep some of the same schematic plays in place; run the outside zone, some good naked [bootlegs] off of that. I want to have someone who knows what they did successfully in the past and who also knows what I do. He's the best of both worlds. He knows Robert [Griffin III] and tight ends and he knows what I like to do. I couldn't think of a better fit."
Here's a Q&A with McVay:
Does your age matter?
Sean McVay: At the professional level I think it helps because there’s a relatability you can have with these guys. You can relate to guys in a similar age bracket. These guys are pros. As long as there’s mutual repsect for each other and you can give them the info they need and they execute and listen to what you’re saying. It works hand in hand. As they succeed, we succeed.
How about when it comes to being an offensive coordinator? You’re young for that position.
McVay: It does seem weird because you’re able to achieve things a lot faster than the typical path. But what’s given me a chance to do this is being surrounded by great people that have invested in me. That’s one thing that made me feel confident with each step I take. Jon Gruden taught me to look at the game from an 11-man standpoint. You want to make sure you understand what goes on in the big picture as opposed to locking in on one position. Then you go work in the UFL under a good coach like [Jim] Haslett and you get to learn from Jay Gruden and come here and work under Kyle and Mike Shanahan. They were excellent to me. They’re both great coaches and anytime you’re around great people willing to share and help you get better. It gives you that confidence if you’re absorbing that material. I was really fortunate as far as the timing is concerned. I do feel confident to take the challenge because of the coaches who invested in me.
It must feel like you’ve been training for this for a while?
McVay: It goes back to what I was saying, the way you look at the game and I got that from Coach Gruden. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be a head coach at some point. When you’re a position coach your next goal is to be a coordinator. While trying to be the best tight ends coach you can be, I always wanted to be an offensive coordinator at some point. When the opportunity presents itself you want to make sure you capitalize on that.
What will your role be throughout the week?
McVay: It’ll be one of those deals where I help Jay wherever I need to fill in. I’ll coach quarterbacks this year too. Jay will be the offensive coordinator and call the plays. But my job is to help as much as I can to implement the game plan. How involved I’ll be as far as install, we haven’t decided that yet. I want to give a bunch of ideas as if I’m putting the game plan together.
What were you responsible for before?
McVay: My areas of expertise were 12 or Tiger personnel (two tight ends, one back set) or U personnel (two backs, two tight ends), trey personnel (one back, three tight ends) and I did the red zone.
How much does it help that you can ease into being a coordinator rather than have all the responsibility right away?
McVay: I don’t think it could be a better situation for me. It allows me to ease into the situation. It is a big jump. I’m excited about coaching the quarterback position. I have a lot of familiarity with it and you always study and try to prepare yourself. I understand the drill work and the details. I’m excited about that and with Jay calling the plays it will be a very smooth transition where I’m not totally immersed in it. If you’re calling plays it’s 100 percent your show. But you do have the head coach’s confidence to put you in this situation.
Did you realize the education you were receiving being around the game when you were growing up?
McVay: A lot of stuff you subconsciously pick up. One thing that helps me is being around the game my whole life, with my grandpa being around. You have a certain comfort level in that environment relating to players. The No. 1 job is to help a player reach their highest potential and that’s not possible without being able to relate with them. That’s been helpful and as far as my knowledge base is concerned, that stems from being around great coaches willing to share. I always had an interest in it. Anytime you enjoy something you subconsciously pick things up without trying to or studying it. Then when you’re involved as an adult it makes it easier to work at it. The main thing is being around great coaches willing to share. I’ve been around great veteran coaches and they want to help you grow as a coach if you’re willing to learn.
“He better give me some information,” Jon Gruden said on ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on Wednesday. “No, I’m going to treat it as professionally as I can. But I’m sure, being that he is my brother, he will trust me with some inside information, like who’s going to be starting in a game. Maybe he’ll give me something like that.”
Gruden was asked what he thought of his brother taking over as coach of the Redskins.
“Well, I’m really proud obviously,” he said. “Here’s a guy that not only is my brother, but he did it the right way. He played in Arena football, he played for Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville -- that’s some tough two-a-day practices -- was my assistant for seven years in Tampa, and really did double days. He coached for the Orlando Predators in the spring and coached for us in the fall. I remember one year he coached in 40 games. So he’s done it the hard way. He gets the keys to one of the NFL’s most global franchises. It’s recognized, I think, around the world. This has got a great tradition, a world-championship tradition. It’s a tremendous responsibility, and I’m happy for him. I expect him to make the most of it.”
That's all he had to say about his brother taking over. He did discuss this weekend's playoff games in case you care. Gruden didn't say who he liked in the AFC matchup between Denver and New England. But he does expect a lot of running.
"Both of these defenses are depleted from a personnel standpoint," he said. "Both of these secondaries have tremendous respect for these quarterbacks, so they do play more coverage so it's easier to run the ball, and finally the elements might have something to do with running the ball in Denver where it does get cold and both teams have very good backs."
In the NFC, he likes Seattle over San Francisco.
"Mike Tirico and I agreed at the end of the year these are the two best teams that we saw," Gruden said. "You'll get a physical game. I do think the 49ers are playing better than Seattle. Going up to Seattle, there's something about that place. It's a tough place on a visiting team. It will be a physical, ugly, vicious game. I pick Seattle to win in a tight one."
- He’s not his brother. OK, I’d already known some of this, but there were some examples as to how they’re different. For starters, Jay Gruden does not wake up at 3:17 a.m. as his brother did when he coached.
- Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who played for Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay and Jay Gruden in Cincinnati, told CBSSports.com last year that, “They’re both intense, they both love the game and they’re both very knowledgeable. But Jay is a little more easygoing, a little more laid back and will let some things go. The guys here love him. Andy [Dalton] and A.J. [Green] can just play free. He’s a great communicator with the guys. And then when you see him get mad, you know you’d better correct that. He’s intense and loves the game of football, but he also jokes around.”
- Jay Gruden told The New York Times in 2003 that his brother is “a different cat. If he’s home for more than an hour, he goes crazy. ... I’m more laid-back.”
- He also said this to the St. Petersburg Times in the early 1990s: “Everything Jon does, he does at 100 miles an hour. Me, I like my free time. I like to go out at night. It was the same way when we were growing up. Jon would go to practice with my father all the time, hang around the players and coaches, watch them work out. I liked to watch cartoons.”
- That could explain why Jon Gruden exited coaching at age 46 and hasn’t returned and why Jay Gruden is still thriving.
- Jay Gruden passed up opportunities to interview for NFL coaching jobs for several years. He told The New York Times that he liked working in the Arena League because, “you can spend time doing the things that you love, like playing golf and being with your kids.”
- Last one on the Jay-Jon Gruden angle. I’d read this before but it was funny to see it again. Jon Gruden worked out harder than his younger brother. After bugging his younger brother for weeks to run with him, Jay Gruden finally did. He sped up down the stretch and beat his older brother and said he did the “Rocky dance” in the driveway. That could be what prompted a half-hour fight.
- OK, I knew this as well, but Dalton’s quote was new to me. But Gruden takes a different approach than, say, Mike Shanahan when it comes to the coach-quarterback relationship. In that same CBS Sports article, Dalton said, “It’s special to be at a place where we have not only a great coach and player relationship, but it’s also like a friendship.” Whether or not that happens here – and if it’s even a positive or negative – remains to be seen.
- Apparently the Orlando-Tampa Bay Arena League rivalry is rather intense. Gruden once recalled Orlando fans tossing batteries at him. They dumped beer and soda on his wife. Who knew?
- He lasted two days in Miami’s training camp in 1989 and never made it to another NFL camp. He had been hoping to be a mid-round pick out of Louisville, but went undrafted.
- When Gruden played for Orlando, he played against Chicago in a regionally televised game on NBC. What he considered special: getting interviewed afterward by Michael Irvin.
- As a quarterback, he had a knack for bouncing back up after big hits. He was once described by Don Banks, then with the St. Petersburg Times and now with Sports Illustrated, as having a "steady, unflappable presence that calms his teammates."
- 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.
- 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.Gruden
- Gruden met with Tennessee this week and had been scheduled to meet with Minnesota on Thursday, and Detroit this weekend.
- 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.
- 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.
Yes, it seems like a lot. Yes, it's hard to imagine all of these coaches being serious candidates. It can be viewed as a good thing: The Redskins are doing due diligence, talking to as many as possible to make sure nothing is missed. It can also look like they're talking to too many coaches and throwing names at a dart board. In the end, what matters is what the search yields. So it's hard to say whether or not their method is the correct one just yet.
But former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said he knows what Allen is doing.
"This is the Al Davis approach to coaching hires," Polian said on ESPN's NFL Insiders. "Spread the net as far as you can, pick the brain of as many people as you can. Ultimately make the decision but you’ve gained intelligence on how all the other good organizations in the league work."
Allen, of course, worked for Davis in Oakland from 1995-2003 and was there for three different coach searches that yielded Joe Bugel, Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan. Only Gruden finished his tenure there with a winning record; Bugel and Callahan combined to coach three seasons for the Raiders. The Redskins need that approach to provide better results than it did for the Raiders.
Position: Dallas special teams coach
Recent background: This past season was his first with the Dallas Cowboys. Their special teams improved under Bisaccia, going from 29th in kick returns in 2012, for example, to fourth this season. Dallas ranked 18th defending punts and seventh against kickoffs. They improved in numerous areas statistically under Bisaccia.
What I've heard about him: After talking to an NFL coach, a Dallas insider and a former NFC executive about him, heard from one coach who said he knows him well and that he's a "great guy." Bisaccia was described as a no-nonsense guy; was respected by his players, with one apparently calling him the best coach he's ever had. Also heard him described as "not a head coach type," -- even by the coach who likes him and knows him well -- and there was no "wow" factor with him. He presents himself well and has a good resume, but it's not considered dynamic enough to command the entire room. But people do like him.
Potential fit: I don't mind a special teams coach being elevated to this job, but I'd want him to be more dynamic than it sounds Bisaccia is; I'd feel better if others around the NFL saw him as a head coach. The hard part is I did not know a lot about him until his name surfaced Friday morning. I wonder if this is a favor to him from general manager Bruce Allen, who was with him for five years in Tampa Bay, a way to get his name out there (possibly even for college head coaching jobs). Bisaccia also worked under A.J. Smith, a senior executive here. It helps that he has familiarity with people in the building; that's a plus. It helps that it sounds like he can get the most out of players' talent. That's all good. At this point he'd have to be considered a longshot. But Allen did say he'd be willing to look at special teams coaches as candidates as well.
Suggested reading: Some past players endorse him ... He could have been in the national championship game Monday night ... ."He holds people accountable."... A few years ago he was up for the head coaching job at the University of South Florida. Former Bucs stumped for him, including his old head coach, Jon Gruden.
- I’ve been told several times that Bill Cowher is not returning to coaching. But to think that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder hasn’t at least reached out to him is insane. Snyder has lured Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan to his organization. You don’t think he’s at attempted to get Cowher -- one of two big names still on the sidelines (Jon Gruden being the other)? Don’t forget, Snyder heard “no” from Gibbs a couple times over several years before snagging him. Of course, Snyder has hired three of the all-time winningest coaches -- and in their nine combined seasons they produced three winning records and one NFC East title in Washington. Not a great track record. Cowher is smart and would have to know the issues involved, and past obstacles, in coaching here.
- The CBSThisMorning twitter feed sent this out this morning: Bill Cowher (@CowherCBS) says there is “nothing to” the rumor he’ll return to coaching, but the “door is never closed."Cowher
- That’s why, when I hear that they haven’t talked, I laugh. Any team that doesn’t reach out to Cowher to gauge his interest is not doing its job. And no owner is more attracted to star power than Snyder. Cowher exudes the power and confidence any owner would love, especially Snyder. If he thinks that door is "never closed" of course he'd pursue him.
- Having said that, even if that door is closed here, if I’m Snyder and Bruce Allen I’m tapping into all my resources to find the right coach. Snyder has a relationship with Cowher, so there’s just as strong a chance that if they have talked, it’s also to run names by him and pick the brain of a Super Bowl coach. Just like Allen would be doing with Gruden. They might not be interested in coming to Washington -- at all -- but they can still help in the search. It’s what I’d do as well. It’s smart. My guess is they'll pick the brain of many others about the job.
- I also remember when Gibbs was hired, there was a spotting of Snyder’s plane in Charlotte several days earlier. A reporter, Len Pasquarelli, asked Snyder about it -- and about Gibbs -- and was pretty much told nothing was going on. He was hired a few days later. Snyder’s plane was in Denver early in the 2009 season, and again we were told it had nothing to do with a meeting between the owner and Mike Shanahan; instead the plane was there for someone else's use on business. That was the line. Later we found out differently. Point is, believe nothing and consider everything until it’s over.
- And I’m not saying I think Cowher is coming. At this point I have zero evidence to the contrary, and people I respect and trust say it's not happening, so that’s what I stick with. But I’ve learned not to fully believe certain denials by the organization.Gruden
- The Redskins face an uphill battle in some ways with their search. Yes, there are attractive parts to the job -- young offensive nucleus, cap space -- but the reality is a 15-year record of mostly losing and chaos every few years. That will scare some candidates off and make others leery. So find out from experts such as Gruden and Cowher what they need to do -- and who they need to interview.
- And just because they interview someone, it does not mean they have a strong interest in them. It’s good to interview coaches with various backgrounds to see how they assess your team and organization. If you limited your search to just, say, offensive-minded coaches, you would not learn all you need to know. It would be quite dumb to operate that way.
- From what I’ve been told, they have not yet reached out to Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
- San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, an intriguing candidate for any opening, was teammates with Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew from 1989-90 in Washington. I heard that they’ve maintained a friendship, which could help lure him to the Lions. But if the Chargers win this weekend, would the Lions wait just for him? Not sure about that. One potential drawback to the Lions job: I’ve heard they want to maintain the defensive staff. If another coach wants to hire all of his coaches, that could be an issue.
“I want to hear what their dreams are, what they can do, the fire in their belly to coach the Washington Redskins, to inspire the kids on this football team,” Allen said.
Among the names that likely will be on their list, as well as other teams: ex-Chicago coach Lovie Smith, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman, currently the offensive coordinator in Miami, was a possibility, but a bad finish with the Dolphins might have changed that as his job is reportedly in jeopardy. The Redskins would be interested in Jon Gruden, too, though it does not sound as if he shares that interest. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is another name who will surface for most vacancies.
One note: Being on a list and being a strong candidate are two different things. They likely will have 10 to 12 names on the list before it gets pared down.
Other names that could surface: Baylor’s Art Briles, for the obvious connection to quarterback Robert Griffin III – which could keep him off the list as well --and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. They’ve also talked to Bill Cowher, but, that too does not appear to be of mutual interest.
Allen said he has no blueprint for what systems he wants the coach to run. Defensively that could mean a return to the 4-3. Offensively it could mean going to a different blocking scheme.
“It’s the person who has the understanding and the knowledge of what he wants to teach the players,” Allen said. “As I said at the beginning, we’re going to look for someone who is a leader first and it could be on the offensive side of the ball, defense or special teams. There have been a couple special teams coaches who have made great head coaches. We’re going to keep an open mind.”
This will be the sixth head coach hired under owner Dan Snyder. None have lasted more than four years and none have finished better than .500. Allen tried to play down the lack of success in Snyder’s ownership.
“I can’t speak for the prior years. I can speak for Mike’s years, and Dan was very supportive of all of Mike’s wishes and ideas,” Allen said. “This is the Washington Redskins. This is a very high-profile team. When the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins are in first place it’s a lot of news, and when they’re in last place it’s a lot of news. I think coming into this environment, knowing that there is a nucleus, I think it will be a very attractive position to coaches.”
2. I don’t know who the next coach will be, but it would be good for the organization to have a young guy with energy as a head coach, someone who wants to prove how good he is -- not how good he used to be. And someone who isn’t just giving jobs to some of his buddies. That’s not to say Mike Shanahan’s staff was only filled by coaches like that. Nor is it always a bad thing. But there are definitely coaches you bring with you when you’ve coached that long. Even Joe Gibbs had coaches on his staff who were only in the NFL at that time because of their ties to him. Again: bring in some energy.
3. That is something the offensive staff had a little more of because they did have a younger group, from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to several of his assistants. Of that group, I could see tight ends coach Sean McVay returning with a new regime. That’s not a definite of course, but he is well regarded and, as WJFK’s Grant Paulsen tweeted earlier, he has closer ties to general manager Bruce Allen. If anyone from the Gruden family comes, McVay almost definitely would stay. Not only do they have a connection, they share the same agent.
5. The Redskins’ locker room was more noisy and filled with laughter than you would usually expect after a 14-point loss. But I can’t say I blame them. Even before the game I was told that the players were rather loose and clearly ready for the season to be over compared to the coaches who understood the gravity of their situation and reacted accordingly. It’s been a long season, but the locker room was a loose one. Was it too loose? At times I wondered, but it also was this loose last year and was one reason, perhaps, that they could overcome a 3-6 start. One note: Griffin sat in front of his locker with headphones on checking out his iPad.
6. Players will almost always publicly support a coach in the situation that Mike Shanahan is in. So you have to take that into account when you read players’ quotes. But I thought more players privately said good things about him as well, more so than for other about-to-be-fired coaches that I’ve covered like a Jim Zorn. Still, for some they know a coaching change also means they could be out of a job. And whether or not they like him doesn’t matter. The job is to build a winner, the Redskins didn’t and the veterans especially understand that notion.
7. Linebacker Brian Orakpo says he wants to return. He also looked and sounded like a guy who’s ready to test the free-agent market. If he re-signs, Orakpo would be playing for his third head coach since being drafted by Washington in 2009. Of course, if he goes elsewhere he’d also be playing for a new team, coach and, possibly, system. And money always plays a factor. So, too, will be whoever the next coach is in Washington and what defensive scheme they’ll implement. “I would love to finish my career as a Redskin,” Orakpo said. “We have unfinished business here. At the same time I want to have the best interests of myself as well. There aren’t too many times you can be an unrestricted free agent. You have to take advantage of that.”
8. A little housecleaning: Washington’s last 2014 opponent was finalized Sunday. Based on Tampa Bay’s last-place finish, the Bucs will play at Washington. The Redskins' other game based on a common finish already was determined; they will play at Minnesota.
9. Quarterback Kirk Cousins did not have a strong finish, playing against the best defense he’s faced in his four NFL starts. The weather conditions didn’t help and on too many shorter routes, receivers weren't winning. But if he had gone out and played well then it would have said a lot about him, that he could play well against a good defense in dreary conditions. But his throws were off target all day and he could have been intercepted several more times than he was -- and he was picked off twice. He was just inaccurate and forced some passes trying to make plays.
10. But the idea that he lowered his trade value assumes that he already had a certain value. I’m not sure that’s the case. I think people speculated based on what they thought Cousins would continue to do (and most teams would have wanted to see more anyway before unloading a high pick). Cousins still needs time to develop and perhaps in time he could fetch something of substance. For now though he’s looked like a fourth-round pick with upside. I wonder how many teams would have changed their opinion on him based on his four starts -- two good, two not so good. But he just didn’t make enough plays the past two games after having a strong outing against Atlanta. Nobody will work harder; nobody will study more. It would have been good for the franchise if Cousins had played well, but it also will remove a potential storyline next summer. Griffin remains the future. I’d rather keep Cousins anyway than trading him this spring (even for a second-rounder). You can trade him next year, but he still acts as insurance if Griffin doesn’t develop the way they’d like.
In general, how important is it for a coach and quarterback to get along -- and what does that really mean?
Jon Gruden: First of all, I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. There’s a lot of modern-day self-induced smoke. So I don’t know if there’s a rift or isn’t. But it’s important that you get along professionally. You don’t have to be best friends, you don’t have to have the same interests, but professionally you have to, I think, trust each other and have a great daily working relationship. There’s an awful lot at stake. They guy touching the ball every play and the man calling the plays, they have to unite and professionally work together.
You used the word trust and that’s a word we hear a lot when it comes to this relationship. How do you develop that?
Gruden: I just visited with the Redskins. I know Mike [Shanahan] and Kyle [Shanahan] worked for me in Tampa and here’s a young quarterback that’s not playing very good and it’s the first time he’s been faced with adversity and now people question his leadership and various reports of him not wanting to show bad plays. There’s a lot of things that I didn’t hear when I was over there.
From an X and O standpoint, what have you seen from Robert Griffin III?
Gruden: Second year in the league. It’s a hard business to sustain success, hard to be successful to start with. When you talk about the offense they ran last year, they caught a lot of people by surprise. They saw some vanilla defenses and they capitalized on that. Now the whole offseason, teams have gone to extreme measures to take away some things they had success with last year. He also is coming off a serious injury and missed time to develop other parts of his game. Those are harsh realities of why we are where we are. Don’t forget they’re averaging over 400 yards a game. They’re last in special teams and they’re not very good on defense. It’s not just Robert Griffin. That’s all I hear. I want to bang my head against the wall.
It always comes back to the quarterback no doubt. People talk about his mechanics; do you see things there that in the offseason you’d think can be fixed?
Gruden: He’s a young quarterback who was never in a pro-style offense. When you watch him play at Baylor, I don’t recognize any of those plays. I’m not recognizing a lot of plays they run in Washington. What he and Colin Kaepernick have to do is win a game in the fourth quarter. Both have had their hands on the ball with a chance to win in the last two weeks. Kaepernick didn’t get it done against Carolina and New Orleans and Robert didn’t get it done at Minnesota and Philadelphia. That’s why everyone is wondering, ‘Hey, what’s the deal? You guys are on the cover of all these magazines, we expected you to dominate in those situations.’ For both of these guys to take the next step they have to play better when the chips are on the table late in games.
You talked about the zone read before the season and longevity of quarterbacks. Do you still feel the same about this package?
Gruden: I see several teams run the zone read. It’s OK if it’s part of your system, but if you rely on it to be the primary component the quarterback will get beat up. Our quarterbacks didn’t wear the same shoulder pads as linebackers and running backs. They’re the only guy that can’t play with a sore right shoulder and they’re really the only guy on the team that can ill afford to miss practice. The rest of us can’t practice without our starting quarterback. That’s the only thing I worry about. A jammed finger, sore right shoulder puts them in the shop. That’s one reason I’m not a big fan of this style of offense in this league.
There’s a lot of talk about Griffin using half-field reads. Is it hard to go from that to becoming good at making full-field reads?
Gruden: I was in a West Coast offense and we were in a half-field read about 99 percent of the time. To me he might build something in on the back side. Griffin’s one of the few quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and run for 1,000 in his first two seasons. In history. So this is a unique style of offense. They’re having production. I won’t sit here and say he’s playing terribly but I won’t say he’s playing great. There’s a big reason why they’re 3-7 and part of it is him and part of it is the rest of the team. There are a lot of things going on. There’s a lot of pressure. People handle things differently and I just think it’s important that Griffin handles this time like he’s handled all the other times. I have confidence in him as a person. The core of Robert Griffin, I have confidence in that kid. I think he has to take this as an opportunity to get better. Adversity, whether you like it or not, will hit all of us and you deal with it. That’s what I want to see him do.
There’s a lot of talk about whether this staff should get a fifth year. What do you think?
Gruden: I know Mike’s as good as there is in football. Be careful what you ask for. ... You change coaches, that means you’re changing offense. A new coach might change quarterbacks too.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo's impact on the pass rush is noticeable, especially when comparing how the Redskins recorded sacks in 2011 with him and in 2012 when he missed the final 15 games. That's not to say Orakpo is on the level of a DeMarcus Ware; few are. But there is a difference when Orakpo plays for the Redskins: more pressure from their base defense, more sack opportunities for end Stephen Bowen. There's a trickle-down effect even if Orakpo doesn't get the sack.
To prepare for Philadelphia's offense, the Redskins watched a lot of Chip Kelly's former team, Oregon. I watched a couple, too, and then asked the players their thoughts on what to expect Monday.
One way to slow a fast-paced offense? Fake an injury. But Redskins coach Mike Shanahan called that tactic "unethical."
Here's some advice and thoughts from others -- Alfred Morris, Michael Vick, Jon Gruden -- on what Robert Griffin III needs to do. One sample from Alfred Morris: "He has to be a smarter runner. A lot of times on options I’m like, 'Give me the ball.' Not because I want the stats, but give me the ball to let me take the hit. I can take this hit. I’m built for this. So just not as many hits and being smarter sliding instead of making something big happen."
ESPN.com Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan and I go back and forth with questions and answers, and even predictions, prepping for Monday night.
Get to know your opponent: Some links to Eagles stories. Here's another on Michael Vick.