Promoting two assistant coaches to coordinators says much about Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s future.
Linebackers coach Greg Manusky now runs the defense and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh heads the offense, though Gruden is expected to call plays once more. While both have needed credentials for the positions, it also signals ownership doesn’t want to risk paying off long-term deals to newcomers should Gruden not be retained after 2017.
Surely the Redskins were interested in some of the six other defense coordinator candidates interviewed. But, nobody takes a one-year deal, which is where Washington largely stands with Gruden.
Unfair? It seems that way for Gruden, who inherited a 3-13 team and within two years won the NFC East title and then went 8-7-1 last season. While 17-15-1 over two seasons barely qualifies as successful, it should be considered a success given the team was in shambles upon Gruden’s 2014 arrival.
But perhaps the worst thing for Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan was to win quickly. The latter wanted a long-term rebuild when arriving in 2015 and instead the team took the division by default at 9-7 before a quick playoff ouster. It fooled owner Dan Snyder into thinking the team was ready to join the elite when it’s still personnel-poor defensively. Now Snyder wants greater success or another coach change is coming.
Is Gruden the coach to lead Washington past mediocrity and deep into the playoffs? That is unsure. Certainly, this season was a success offensively despite no prime running back or red zone target. The play calling could have been better at times with too much reliance on passing, but overall Gruden’s system worked well.
But the defense is awful after little free agent or draft support. The second defensive coordinator in three years is gone. The line needs a makeover. Another safety is vital. The Redskins could start five new players this fall.
That’s a lot for many coaching candidates to accept. They may have seen it as a one-and-done job or at best several years of mediocrity that wouldn’t bolster their resumes to head coaching jobs. Better to sidestep any offer than take a bad one.
So the Redskins went with Manusky, a former Washington player from 1988-90 who was a defensive coordinator with Indianapolis, San Diego and San Francisco. Popular with players with the right energy to mix well with the media to promote the program, Manusky isn’t a bad choice. He’ll likely continue the 3-4 scheme with his own tweaks and minimal disruption to the program. Same goes for Cavanaugh. Certainly, Gruden needs that while also calling plays. Head coaches don’t want both sides rebooting simultaneously unless it’s their first season. It’s too much chaos.
But internal hires also signal Gruden is on the clock in his fourth season. Snyder isn’t afraid to pay off the final 2018 season if Gruden doesn’t reach the postseason this fall. At least Gruden will work with allies instead of strangers.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.