Only two men have coached the Redskins for more than four seasons during the last half century. Both had been offensive coordinators before coming to Washington.
One won back-to-back Super Bowls while working for a defensive-minded coach who gave him the freedom to operate the offense. The other never reached the title game while working for an offensive genius, making it unclear how much control the coordinator really had.
Which one would you hire?
Of course, the first one was Jack Kent Cooke’s 1994 hire, Norv Turner, who guided the Redskins to one playoff appearance and a 50-60-1 record in six-plus years before being fired by new owner Dan Snyder with three games left in 2000.
And the other was Joe Gibbs, whom general manager Bobby Beathard talked Cooke into hiring in 1981. All Gibbs did over the next 12 years was win three Super Bowls and four NFC titles while reaching postseason eight times and compiling a 140-65 record en route to election to the Hall of Fame.
Neither Gibbs nor Turner was an in-your-face type. But while Gibbs was a master motivator, making players believe he truly cared about them, Turner was more apt to coddle certain players while treating others, such as kickers, as expendable commodities. The joke in the Redskin Park media room was that in Turner’s mind, he was unbeaten and his players were winless. In contrast, Gibbs inevitably took the blame when things went wrong. He was a true leader of men.
All of this is a prelude to a column about Jay Gruden, the first coordinator to be hired to coach the Redskins since Snyder fired Turner.
Maybe because he was merely a coordinator for a Cincinnati team that didn’t win a playoff game during his three seasons, but the atmosphere for Gruden’s introduction yesterday as the Redskins’ sixth coaching hire in 13 years was much less hype-filled than were those of ballyhooed predecessors Gibbs (the second time around), Mike Shanahan, Steve Spurrier and Marty Schottenheimer. Even neophyte head coach Jim Zorn made news by mistakenly referring to the burgundy and gold as the “maroon and black.”
General manager Bruce Allen didn’t talk about championships or a long tenure for Gruden. Oddly, Allen introduced the 46-year-old coach as “someone who had the fire in his belly to come and lead the Washington Redskins this season.”
Gruden also didn’t issue any grandiose pronouncements about his plans.
“I will do my best to make sure that I put a competitive football team on the field each and every day,” he said.
Except for the seven-game closing spurt that won the franchise’s only division title of this millennium, in 2012, the Redskins haven’t been that competitive of late, even in the less-than-dynamic NFC East. Washington finished behind Dallas, the New York Giants and Philadelphia in the other five of the last six seasons.
Asked about a culture of dysfunction at Redskins Park which helped turn Gibbs, two-time Super Bowl winner Shanahan, and national champion Spurrier into losing coaches under the meddlesome Snyder, Gruden said, “I don’t know what happened last year and I don’t care what happened last year. All’s I care about is next year. When you’re 3-13, there’s not one particular player or reason. There’s a lot of reasons and a lot of things that need to be fixed.”
While Shanahan and his son/offensive coordinator Kyle would disagree, one of those players whom Gruden said doesn’t need much fixing is quarterback Robert Griffin III. The new coach, whose offense racked up 478 yards and 38 points in a shootout victory at Washington in Week 3 of 2012, plans to implement a diverse attack that includes the zone-read option in which dual threat Griffin excels.
“Robert’s a great quarterback,” Gruden said of the record-setting 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year who slumped last season following major knee surgery and finished 2013 watching from the sideline. “Any time you want to move forward as a franchise, that’s a very important position as we well know. I see a ton of talent. I see a guy that can run, a guy that can maneuver in the pocket. I see accuracy. I see long ball accuracy. I see toughness. I see a guy that wants to win. And I see a strong leader. I see every trait a quarterback has to have to be successful. Why wouldn’t you want to coach a guy like that?”
And to the thinking of general manager Bruce Allen, under whom Gruden worked in Tampa Bay from 2002-08, who wouldn’t want to hire a coach like this?
“We were looking for a new leader, somebody who can inspire our football team,” Allen said. “We knew it was more than just X’s and O’s. It was about finding the right person to build the team chemistry that we needed.”
Come September, we’ll start to learn whether Gruden is that right person, more of a Turner or a Gibbs. As always with the Redskins, it will be interesting.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.