New Redskins coach Jay Gruden has no NFL head coaching experience, but supporters will point to his head coaching experience in the Arena Football League, and, more recently, the United Football League, where he led the Florida Tuskers to the league title game — and lost to Jim Fassel.
Here is Jay Gruden, who can’t leave Redskins Park because he was the offensive coordinator of a Cincinnati Bengals team that has lost three straight playoff games, and Fassel, who won two NFC East titles as the coach of the New York Giants, reaching the postseason three times, and one NFC championship, sitting at home ignored.
Here is Jay Gruden, who is worshipped for developing Andy Dalton, the second-rounder from TCU, into a quarterback who loses three straight playoff games, throwing one touchdown and six interceptions, and Fassel, who took the Giants to the Super Bowl with a quarterback off the scrapheap — Kerry Collins — and he is on nobody’s list of coaching candidates.
When Jay Gruden was the offensive coordinator of the Nashville Kats of the Arena Football League in 1997, Fassel has taken over the New York Giants and turned them from a 6-10 team to a 10-6 team and the NFC East champions with Danny Kanell and Dave Brown at quarterback — sort of like Rex Grossman and John Beck — and was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1997
It doesn’t make sense.
“It is what it is,” Fassel said. “This is what happens when you are out of it for a while.”
Fassel, 64, was once in it — so much so that he was nearly hired as the Redskins‘ coach not once, but twice. The first time came when Steve Spurrier was on his way out near the end of his second season in Washington. Owner Daniel Snyder contacted Fassel to talk about the Redskins job, and the coach met with Snyder and his fellow owners.
But then Snyder pulled Joe Gibbs out of his hat, and that was the end of that.
Snyder must have liked something about Fassel, though, because when Gibbs announced he was retiring after the 2007 season, he was sought after again, and, the way the story goes, had the job. He was operating as if he was the Redskins‘ coach, even putting together his staff. But sources say that Snyder’s village idiot, Vinny Cerrato, sabotaged the hiring, and manipulated the process so that Fassel’s offensive coordinator — Jim Zorn, who was forced on Fassel — would get the job.
That would explain Snyder’s comments to Gary Myers in his book, “Coaching Confidential,” about the hiring of Zorn. “The general manager needs to prevent the owner from hiring someone who’s not qualified,” Snyder said in the book. “And that’s why Vinny is no longer here, to be truthful with you. He’s not here because his job was to prevent the owner from hiring a not-qualified coach.”
Fassel wouldn’t say what happened behind the scenes. “I was very confident I had been hired to coach the Washington Redskins,” he said. “We started having conversations about staffing, then suddenly Jim Zorn was there. Whatever changed, they ended up hiring Zorn.”