WASHINGTON — Almost exactly one year ago, on January 22, the Washington Redskins hired Greg Manusky to be the team’s next defensive coordinator.
The team was coming off of a season in which the Joe Barry-led squad ranked 28th in the NFL in total defense, including 25th in passing defense and 24th in rushing defense. Barry got the ax on January 6, and then the team waited for what seemed like an eternity to hire Manusky, an internal candidate who had coached linebackers in 2016.
It’s not that it was implausible for the front office to circle back around to Manusky, but it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t their first choice. In fact, it’s pretty common for teams to know who they’re going to hire before delivering the pink slip.
So, what happened? It turns out that Paul Guenther, new defensive coordinator for Jon Gruden in Oakland, was actually planning to become Jay Gruden’s defensive coordinator in Washington.
Jay Gruden and Guenther coached together for three years in Cincinnati and are BFFs. Clearly, Jon Gruden got a tip from his brother when assembling his staff this offseason.
“Jay and I are really close. Very close,” Guenther told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We do a lot of stuff in the offseason. (Jay Gruden’s wife) and my wife, they’re best friends. Jay and I have been best friends for a long time.
“Obviously, he tried to get me last year to come to Washington, but I had another year under my contract, and the Bengals didn’t allow me to do that.”
It’s a little unclear what the timeline was for that request, but if Guenther and Gruden are as close as he says, it may well have been immediately following the season.
In professional sports, anyone employed by a team needs permission before accepting an offer at another team. This plays out publicly for players, coaches and front office personnel, but it’s even true of members of the marketing team, public relations, equipment, etc. Anyone who could provide a competitive advantage to a team requires the permission of the team he or she currently works for.
The general rule of thumb is that teams will honor requests in situations where the job is a promotion. That’s why position coaches can usually interview for coordinator positions and coordinators can freely interview for head coaching positions. Teams don’t want to lose talented coaches, but it’s also a fraternity that could pay off down the road.
Where things get dicey is when it’s a lateral move. Guenther wanted the D.C. job because of his friendship with Gruden, not because it was anything different than what he had in Cincy.
In the end, it worked out for everyone. The Redskins cycled through a few other external candidates and settled on Manusky, who had the backing of his players even if it wasn’t a sexy move.
Guenther stayed in Cincy and coached the 18th overall defense, ranked eighth against the pass. He parlayed that into a four-year contract with the Raiders, or roughly double the commitment of what most coordinators usually get.
Manusky made good on his promotion, despite a plague of injuries, improving the defense to 21st overall, including ninth against the pass. So what if they were dead-last against the run–they can only improve in 2018.
As for the relationship between Guenther and Jay Gruden? They’re as tight as ever.
“Good friend. Good football coach. Great offensive mind,” Guenther said of Jay. “He’s going to get things turned around in Washington.”