- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hours after the Washington Redskins announced they had fired coach Mike Shanahan after four seasons, general manager Bruce Allen declared he would regain total control of football operations.

He reiterated that point 10 days later when, on Thursday, the Redskins introduced Jay Gruden as their new coach at a press conference. But, Allen hedged, decisions wouldn’t be made solely by him. Gruden, as the coach, would have input. Primarily, the team would rely upon its scouting department – which has remained virtually unchanged over the past six years – to shape the direction of the franchise.

“What’s great about where Jay came from, Cincinnati, is that the coaches were really involved with the personnel process,” Allen said Thursday. “We’re going to make our selections based on the Redskins‘ choices. The scouting department will give us the players and the lists, and we’re going to work through the coaches and analyze it. At the end of the day, every one of the players will be chosen by the Redskins as a group. Jay and I talked about how we want to do it, and it really is going to be a group effort.”

But, Allen noted, “At the end of the day, it will be my responsibility.”

Gruden, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator for the last three seasons, will be a head coach for the first time. His experience scouting and evaluating talent, then, is limited to the decisions he helped make for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown.

Redskins director of pro personnel Morocco Brown, who evaluates talent in the NFL, and director of player personnel Scott Campbell, who oversees the drafting and signing of college players, will help make many of the decisions for Allen, who does not have a strong scouting background.

When Shanahan was hired before the 2010 season, he became the head coach and handed the title of executive vice president of football operations, allowing him to assume full control over personnel decisions and talent acquisition. He had such an arrangement during his final 10 seasons in Denver, beginning the year after the Broncos won their second consecutive Super Bowl in 1998. The Broncos went 91-69 during that period – a .569 nondescript winning percentage – and made the playoffs only four times, which led to Shanahan’s firing following the 2008 season.

A similar agreement raised eyebrows when the Redskins extended it to Shanahan four years ago, and the skepticism proved just: Shanahan went 24-40 over his four seasons, a mere .375 winning percentage. He was asked about having authority over personnel matters during his introductory press conference in 2010, but at the time downplayed the significance of having such responsibilities.

“When I was in Denver, I had final say on everything, supposedly, and the press kind of took it and ran with it,” Shanahan said. “I never had to make that decision. We will work together. … Do I have the final say? Maybe you could say that, but you know what? Together, I would never use that, because we will work as a team.”

By all accounts, Shanahan worked well within the construction of the scouting department. When the team would sign a player to its active roster, especially late in the season, Shanahan was rarely able to elaborate on that player’s particular skill set, often noting only that he was someone Morocco Brown had recommended the Redskins sign. Of the 69 players on the Redskins‘ final roster, including the 16 on injured reserve, 40 of them got their first real opportunity because of Shanahan.

Such an arrangement isn’t unique in the NFL, now or in the past: Bill Belichick has had success running the New England Patriots, even after the departure of longtime right-hand man Scott Pioli following the 2008 season. Current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, as well as Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, have control over personnel, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will reportedly hand that power to Lovie Smith, who was hired as coach on Jan. 2.

Shanahan’s departure, though, can’t cover up all the blemishes. With practically the same scouting department in place since 2008, the Redskins have finished a mere 36-60 over those six seasons, offering no guarantee the future will be any different. Allen has said the Redskins could add a top-level executive to their personnel staff, but is confident it will adequately handle personnel matters entering Gruden’s first season.

“I see some people who have to be given an opportunity to succeed,” Allen said. “I think Scott Campbell running a college draft will be as capable as any personnel director in the NFL. I know what Morocco Brown can do in free agency. I’ve seen the grades of the players he’s given in free agency. To blame them, I think, would be unfair to not giving them an opportunity to succeed. Our front office will win and lose as the team does. We believe that we have the right people in place. You saw it last year. This year, you saw – not the complete opposite, because we lost eight versus winning seven in a row, but we’re very confident where we’re going to go with them.”

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