WASHINGTON — The Redskins have promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh to offensive coordinator as head coach Jay Gruden continues to revamp his staff.
Cavanaugh, 60, takes over for Sean McVay, who is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. He has coached in the NFL since 1994 and previously served as offensive coordinator in Baltimore (1999 to 2004), where he helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl. There were later stops as a quarterbacks coach with the New York Jets (2009 to 2012) and Chicago Bears (2013-14).
Washington also added Kevin O’Connell as its new quarterbacks coach. He was an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 and the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2014.
Cavanaugh has drawn rave reviews from his quarterbacks since arriving in 2015. Colt McCoy once famously called him “the MVP” of the 2015 team because of how he managed a fractured quarterback room with McCoy, starter Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III. Prior to his hiring, Washington didn’t have a quarterbacks coach in Gruden’s first year.
“Matt isn’t a player on the field, but the things that he brought to our [quarterbacks] room and the stability he brought in there and him having one voice in our meetings just went a really long ways,” McCoy said last January.
Told of McCoy’s comments in June, Cavanaugh laughed: “It makes you question his mentality,” he joked.
But the comment was sincere. Cousins and McCoy have insisted that Cavanaugh’s presence made a big difference for them over the past two years to have someone in the room dedicated simply to working with them on day-to-day fundamentals. They have both expressed a desire for continuity, which made Cavanaugh’s promotion a no-brainer.
“Personally it’s always good to get into the next year because — I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it, I’ve been doing it for a while — you come in and you feel a little behind,” Cavanaugh said in June. “You’re not quite sure of how everything’s supposed to sound and you’re trying to visualize a play when it’s called and in a split-second have an answer for the quarterback when he makes a decision. So I’m feeling more comfortable with that and I’ve got two great teachers in Jay and Sean, who know this system extremely well. I’m here to learn, too.”
Cavanaugh’s role will expand now, but it is expected Gruden will again take over play-calling duties he had ceded to McVay. Gruden has not been the primary play caller since his first season. Cavanaugh might not call plays on Sunday, but he will be responsible for putting together a game plan each week and working closely with offensive line coach Bill Callahan on the run game.
“I can’t say enough about him, what a great job he’s done as far as leading that room, giving those guys a plan, helping develop the fundamentals and the mechanics of what we’re trying to get done at that position,” McVay said in August. “They are all different, but they have very similar skills and abilities on what we’re trying to get done in terms of the base philosophy of how we want to operate offensively.”
O’Connell, 31, was once a third-round pick by the New England Patriots and for a time served as a backup to Tom Brady there. O’Connell is familiar with Cavanaugh and Callahan, which should help continuity there. He was with both men as a backup quarterback for the Jets in 2009 and 2010 and again in 2011.
O’Connell also had brief stints with the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers during training camp or the offseason. His first coaching job was in 2015 with the Browns under Mike Pettine, who interviewed this month for Washington’s defensive coordinator job that went to Greg Manusky.
Gruden mentioned Cavanaugh during an end-of-season press conference. He believes Cavanaugh has helped Cousins improve over the last two years as he’s become entrenched as the starter in Washington. Cousins has said the same.
“You have good coaches and mentors around you like I do with Jay [Gruden], Bill Callahan, Matt Cavanaugh, everybody,” Cousins said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by great coaches that are willing to help me continue to progress and learn.”
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