STEVE DeSHAZO: Can ’Skins’ latest hope ‘get it right’?
ASHBURN—After firing two-time champion coach Jimmy Johnson in 1994, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly told confidantes that “any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls.”
Jones later claimed that it was “the whiskey talking.” But after Barry Switzer claimed Dallas’ third title in four years with the players Johnson left him, a potential dynasty’s fortunes plummeted and haven’t rebounded since.
The 2014 Washington Redskins are light-years behind where those Cowboys were in terms of talent and momentum. Still, their choice of a new coach is every bit as critical as Jones’ ego-driven faux pas was two decades ago.
Jay Gruden’s introductory press conference Thursday was far more subdued than those for Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs 2.0, Mike Shanahan and even Jim Zorn. Unlike past coronations, the only former Redskin on hand was Rick “Doc” Walker, and he was there as a working media member.
Yes, the love-fest predictably featured all the usual optimistic clichés and platitudes about hard work and commitment to excellence. Gruden even pledged his devotion to the FedEx Field stadium workers. It was only after the camera lights dimmed that general manager Bruce Allen uttered the most truthful statement of the day.
“We have to get it right,” he said with a terse smile. “We have to get this franchise moving back in a winning direction.”
That all depends on whether Gruden is the next Gibbs (as Allen hopes) or the next Norv Turner. Both came to Washington with reputations as offensive innovators. One has a bust in the Hall of Fame; the other has a dog-eared Rolodex from constantly looking for new jobs.
It just proves (as Daniel Snyder knows) that there’s no foolproof formula for picking a coach.
Allen did get one thing right: He picked a quarterback-friendly coach whose résumé is as impressive as his surname. Gruden is in the Arena Football League hall of fame and groomed Andy Dalton into a Pro Bowler as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. His relationship with Robert Griffin III will be more important than any in D.C. outside Capitol Hill.
Nowhere is coaching more critical than in the NFL, and only starting pitchers and NHL goaltenders have as much input into their teams’ fates.
“The demands on a quarterback are unique,” Allen said. “To have someone in the room with him every day is important.”
After claiming that he neither knew nor cared about the dysfunction that permeated the Redskins in 2013, Gruden said: “When you’re 3–13, there’s not one particular player or one particular reason. There’s a lot of reasons, and there’s a lot to be fixed.”
That’s true. Washington’s defense was porous and its special teams shameful in 2013. Its ownership and front office have a history of arrogant incompetence.
The only category the Redskins led the NFL in was leaked stories.
But there’s no way the Redskins rebound anytime soon unless Griffin’s knee and psyche completely heal. He’s the face of the franchise, and its fate is intertwined with his.
Griffin doesn’t exchange Christmas cards with Shanahan and Son after a tumultuous 2013 season.
He gets a fresh start with Gruden, who hadn’t talked with RGIII as of Thursday afternoon but likes what he’s seen on tape.
“I see a ton of talent,” Gruden said. “I see a guy who can run, who can maneuver in the pocket, I see accuracy, I see long ball with accuracy. I see toughness, a guy who wants to win and be a leader. I see every trait a quarterback has to have. Why wouldn’t you want to coach a guy like that?”
Well, if he’s hurt and feuding with his coaches, you might reconsider. Gruden insisted that while he’ll have Griffin’s back, he won’t coddle him.
“I expect a lot from my starting quarterback,” Gruden said. “I expect him to come in and prepare and work hard, and I expect him to take the blame on some throws. He’s got to do the extra things to be great.”
Gruden was speaking about one specific player, but he might as well have been talking about the entire franchise (himself included).
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443