WASHINGTON — The Redskins fired defensive coordinator Joe Barry and two of his assistants on Thursday.
Barry just finished his second season with Washington. He was not retained along with defensive backs coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Robb Akey. The Redskins also parted ways with strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark.
Barry was hired before the 2015 season. Jim Haslett was the defensive coordinator in head coach Jay Gruden’s first season with Washington. But the defense struggled even with the addition of star cornerback Josh Norman this season.
The Redskins ranked last in the NFL on third downs (46.23 percent) in 2016. They were 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (377.9) and 25th in passing yards (258.1). They were 27th in the defensive efficiency rating (DVOA) used by the web site Football Outsiders.
That came on the heels of a 2015 team that also finished 28th in yards allowed (380.6). Even if using points allowed the Redskins were 19th this year (23.9) and 17th the year before (23.7). Barry often made the argument that points ultimately mattered the most, but it is one that eventually fell on deaf ears.
That spelled the end for Barry, who previously was the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 2007 and 2008 before that staff was fired following a winless season. Gruden said on Monday that a thorough review of the roster and the coaching staff would commence, but insisted he would have a major say in any changes made.
“How much say would I have? Hopefully a lot,” Gruden said. “I was the main reason we brought [Barry] in here so ultimately I would think it is my call – our call. [Team president] Bruce [Allen] will have some input, [owner] Dan [Snyder] will have some input, [general manager] Scot [McCloughan] will have some input, but from a staff standpoint, I like to think I have a lot of pull on that one.”
Barry inherited a defense that was among the NFL’s worst following Haslett’s departure. Washington didn’t improve much in the ensuing two seasons, however. There were communication issues early in the year, according to multiple defensive players. And even when those were solved, some players too often freelanced on their own. That’s why few players publicly blamed Barry for their failures. But management had already decided he had to go, too.
“I understand sometimes it looked like we was always out of position,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said on Monday. “I understand sometimes it looked like they was eating up our zone coverages, sometimes they was beating us deep, sometimes they was beating us across the middle because guys wasn’t in the places they needed to be. Guys wasn’t following the rules that he gave us for a full week. Or better yet a full OTA, a full camp.”
Added Francois: “And we didn’t follow in on the rules. At the end of the day I understand people be like ‘Well, Joe B did this.’ Joe B ain’t do nothing besides sit there with a piece of paper and make the call. He told us to go out there and execute it and we didn’t so he in the hot seat.”
The Redskins did retain Greg Manusky, who was hired to coach the outside linebackers last summer. He and Kirk Olivadotti were retained along with assistant defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
Manusky is a name to watch. He was added to the staff a year after Barry and was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco under general manager Scot McCloughan from 2007 to 2010. He then spent one year as the defensive coordinator in San Diego and from 2012 to 2015 was the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. Manusky also played three seasons for Washington during a 12-year NFL career.
Barry wasn’t given the strongest hand to play in terms of personnel. The Redskins did add Norman, but chose to use three converted cornerbacks at safety (DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett), lost outside linebacker Junior Galette to a torn Achilles tendon each of the last two summers and did little to upgrade the defensive line. Washington has added draft picks on defense the last three years in the second, third and fourth rounds (outside linebackers Trent Murphy and Preston Smith, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, inside linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens).
“Schematically, Joe gets it. He understands all the details of the game, the details the offense gives us,” middle linebacker Will Compton said. “Whether or not we have the mental capacity to retain it all the time and we have to simplify it more toward the back half of the year, that’s just the kind of personnel you have to work with sometimes, and I feel he’s very flexible with the personnel that we have.”
Most defensive players liked Barry personally. He brought energy and enthusiasm to the position – something Gruden noted two years ago as something he wanted in his new defensive coordinator. But he drew criticism for being inflexible, too. One example: Not using Norman to cover Pittsburgh star wide receiver Antonio Brown in the season opener. Brown torched Breeland for eight catches, 126 yards and two touchdowns that day.
“I think you have to assess both [talent and coaching] and that’s what we’re going to do here for the next couple of weeks,” Gruden said. “I think we got a lot out of the players that we had. The players played hard. We had some injuries to key players back there – guys fought and battled – but we still have to evaluate everybody, player and coach alike.”
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