After five interviews in 10 days, and what Allen described as “dozens” of phone calls to other prospective candidates during that time frame, the Washington Redskins‘ general manager came to the realization that he was looking at the team’s next coach.
“We knew he was the right guy,” Allen said Thursday. “It was a unanimous decision.”
It was an expedited ending to a process that was expected to be much more drawn out. Gruden, 46, signed a five-year contract to become the Redskins‘ 27th full-time coach and the seventh since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999.
Despite the obvious connections to Gruden, who was a coaching assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004 through 2008 while Allen was the team’s general manager, Allen insisted that the interview process was thorough and that he did not enter it expecting to hire Gruden.
“I saw some growth since the last time we were together, [especially in] his leadership skills,” Allen said. “We talked to a lot of players around this league about the various coaches, and we talked to a lot of other coaches around the league. It came back very strong – very strong – for Jay.”
Gruden never played in the NFL, but was a successful quarterback at Louisville from 1985 through 1988. He played eight years in the Arena Football League and made a successful transition to coaching in the league, then coached for two years in the UFL before being hired as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator before the 2011 season.
With the Bengals, he helped Andy Dalton, a rookie during Gruden’s first year, develop into a reliable passer. Cincinnati, which qualified for the playoffs in all three of Gruden’s seasons, had the 10th-ranked offense and eighth-ranked passing offense this season, with Dalton finishing with 33 touchdown passes, third in the league. In Dalton’s three seasons, he has never thrown for fewer than 3,000 yards.
Gruden is also the younger brother of former Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is now an ESPN analyst.
“I’m really happy for my brother,” Jon Gruden said in a statement released by ESPN. “He’s worked extremely hard to get this opportunity. The Redskins are one of the great NFL franchises and I expect him to make the most of this opportunity.”
Snyder, who sat in the second row during the press conference, did not comment on Gruden’s hiring, and a team spokesman said Snyder was not available to speak after it ended.
Gruden made few promises during his press conference, partially because the drawn-out interview was quickly followed by the hiring process. He said he hadn’t yet settled on his coordinators, though a person familiar with his thought process expected Gruden would name current tight ends coach Sean McVay as his offensive coordinator and retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
As such, he also couldn’t speak on his schemes, maintaining only that he’d incorporate a variety of principles into his offensive attack – including the read option – and is expected to call his own plays. He also said he’d likely stick with the 3-4 because the team has the personnel in place to make the scheme work.
“This opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I will do my best to put a competitive football team on the field each and every day,” Gruden said. “I look forward to the chance to interview and talk to many of the coaches that have the players’ best interests at heart, that will motivate and teach and provide them with every opportunity to be great.”
The Redskins finished last season 3-13, their worst mark since 1994, which led to the firing of Mike Shanahan after four seasons on Dec. 30.
“Bruce Allen deserves a pat on the back for the due diligence he has done in talking to a lot of different people,” said former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who was once a part-owner of the Florida Tuskers, Gruden’s UFL team, and serves as an occasional radio analyst. “This wasn’t one of those, ‘OK, I have a relationship, I know the guy, I’ll hire him’ things.”
Gruden hasn’t been a head coach in the NFL, but has served in that role in the Arena Football League and in the United Football League. He readily admits the leagues aren’t all the same, but a successful coach has one requirement.
“Whatever level you’re coaching, whether it’s the arena league or the UFL, you still have to motivate and coach and teach players to compete and motivate different types of players,” Gruden said. “I think as a football player, they’ll appreciate that, and I think at the end of the day, that’s all they want. They want to be coached and they want to play well, and we’re going to provide them with every resource to do that.”