WASHINGTON — Jay Gruden took decisive action Thursday by firing much of his defensive coaching staff, including coordinator Joe Barry, a finite response to an underperforming unit.
Barry is out after two seasons on the job. He took over for former defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the lone holdover from former head coach Mike Shanahan’s staff, ahead of the 2015 season.
Despite missing the playoffs by one game, defensively Washington ranked in the bottom echelon of the league in almost every discernible category: 28th in total yards allowed per game (377.9), 24th in yards per play (5.8), 25th in passing yards p/g (258.1), 24th in rushing yards p/g (119.8) and dead last in third-down percentage (47).
In 2015 they ranked 28th, 28th, 25th, 26th and 12th in those same respective categories — in other words, little progression and a major drop-off on third down efficiency.
Also relieved of their duties are defensive backs coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Robb Akey — in line with the defense’s two biggest weaknesses in 2016 — as well as head strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark.
The Redskins for now will retain outside and inside linebacker coaches Greg Manusky and Kirk Olivadotti. That would seem to leave the decision of their ultimate fate on Barry’s eventual successor.
Whoever the Redskins target as their next coordinator, supposing that target has not already been identified, Barry’s replacement will have ample salary cap space and the draft with which to upgrade a defensive personnel desperately in need of it.
The defensive line is the most glaring weakness and could stand to get worse if the Redskins are unable to re-sign free agent defensive end Chris Baker.
The Redskins also went through 2016 without a clear-cut answer at free safety, mostly rotating through a revolving cast of strong safeties and converted corners.
Barry’s firing comes at a time when there is a surplus of defensive minded talent available. Rex Ryan, who was fired as head coach of the Bills, is a former defensive coordinator. Wade Phillips, who practically begged for a job with the Redskins before ultimately coordinating the Super Bowl-winning Broncos, has hinted he may not be back in Denver after Gary Kubiak’s sudden retirement.
There are other options — both internal and external — with connections to Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan and/or Gruden.
Gus Bradley, who was fired as Jaguars head coach with two games remaining on their schedule, coordinated the Seahawks defense when McCloughan was still an executive in Seattle, and coached Tampa Bay linebackers for three seasons under Jon Gruden (Jay Gruden was an offensive assistant concurrently on that staff).
Manusky served as defensive coordinator for the 49ers under McCloughan.
Current Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who served on the same Bengals coaching staff as Jay Gruden, is another external option.