Ten days after firing Mike Shanahan, the Washington Redskins filled their coaching vacancy by hiring Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Gruden, who has not been a head coach in the NFL, appeared to be one of the front-runners for the opening since Shanahan was fired after four years with the team. He worked with current Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and tight ends coach Sean McVay while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004 through 2008, and he also has previously worked with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
“I’d like to thank Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen, obviously. This opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I’ll do my best to put a competitive football team on the field each and every day," Gruden said at his introductory press conference Thursday afternoon.
He interviewed for the job all day Wednesday, a day after he was in Nashville interviewing for the Tennessee Titans' coaching vacancy, and was scheduled to meet with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday. He had also been contacted by the Detroit Lions about setting up an interview.
A person familiar with Gruden's hiring said the coach signed a five-year contract but would not disclose the financial terms, saying only that Gruden and his family "will be able to live comfortably." That person said the length of the deal was important to Gruden because it demonstrates a long-term commitment by the team, though Shanahan also signed a five-year contract in 2010.
McVay will be hired as the Redskins' offensive coordinator and Haslett will remain the defensive coordinator, according to someone with knowledge of Gruden's plans for the coaching staff. The rest of Gruden's staff could be filled out by the end of next week. Running backs coach Bobby Turner, offensive line coach Chris Foerster and defensive line coach Jacob Burney were also kept after Shanahan's firing, but their status is uncertain.
Gruden, 46, never played in the NFL, but was a successful quarterback at Louisville from 1985-88. 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.
"He is one of my favorites because he's an overachiever, he's a driven person, he has tenacity," said Howard Schnellenberger, who coached Gruden at Louisville.
Gruden is 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."
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.
The Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers all interviewed Gruden for their coaching vacancies last season, but went in a different direction.
Washington fired Shanahan with one year remaining on his contract after he went 24-40 in four seasons with the team. A two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the Denver Broncos in the late 1990s, Shanahan's hiring in 2010 was seen as a way to end the constant instability at coach that has plagued the team since it last won the Super Bowl following the 1991 season.
The Redskins appeared to conduct a thorough search for Shanahan's replacement, and they interviewed five other candidates for the opening: Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
Ultimately, they chose Gruden, whose Bengals lost to the San Diego Chargers in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs on Sunday, making him available to interview for coaching jobs this week.
"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. "This wasn't one of those, 'OK, I have a relationship, I know the guy, I'll hire him' things.
Gruden will be the Redskins' 28th coach and the seventh full-time coach since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999.
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