- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Robert Griffin III underwent his own culture change after last season, if only for two weeks.

The firing of coach Mike Shanahan was made official the Monday following the Redskins’ 13th and final loss. Players were clearing out their lockers the same day. They said goodbye to Shanahan and the rest of the departing staff. Griffin said goodbye to the mainland shortly after.

In Maui and Kauai with his wife, Rebecca, he detached himself from the change, negativity and drama.

“I was with my wife taking a vacation just to get away from everything that was going on here,” Griffin said. “Because I really had no part in that and I didn’t want anybody to think I had a part in that. I wanted to enjoy some time with my family. I went and did that.”

The first step in changing structure and vibe is swapping out leaders. So, the Redskins started there. Shanahan’s stern, veteran approach was replaced by Jay Gruden’s more open and self-deprecating style. The Redskins hope that modifies on-field results.

Gruden is entering his first season as an NFL head coach. Shanahan had worked in the NFL for 30 years. When Shanahan entered the NFL as the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator in 1984, Gruden was finishing his high school football career in Tampa, Florida.

SEE ALSO: DeSean Jackson can remake reputation with Redskins — if he wants to

A new season, coaching change and personal pride are at work as the Redskins try to spit out the ill flavor from last season’s 3-13 mess. It’s less a full culture change and more of a reboot.

“You have to separate year to year,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “Last year was rough. When you’re losing, it’s rough. I don’t care who your coach is, who your players are. When you’re losing, it’s miserable in the NFL. That’s just the way this business goes.”

Shanahan’s battles with Griffin and owner Daniel Snyder, folded into the losing, created one of the most dysfunctional environments in the league. The Redskins finished the season by losing eight consecutive games. Griffin was benched — to protect his health, according to Shanahan — the final three games. The Redskins spent half the season being sucked down with no response to stop the slide.

“Football is a game of momentum,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “To get the playoffs in 2012, we won, I think it was seven straight, to finish the season before going to the playoffs. Once you get on a roll like that, it becomes harder to lose and a little easier to win when you get that momentum.

“The same can be true of last year where you start to lose a few and it can become harder to find that win. The fact that football is a game of momentum made it tough last year to try and recover each and every week. I think we have the right pieces in place. We obviously have a fresh start now.”

To a degree. The organization is still led by Snyder and president and general manager Bruce Allen. Five coaches were retained from the prior staff, including defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, despite the Redskins being tied for 30th in points allowed.

Players are hesitant to contrast Gruden with Shanahan. There are small differences, such as morning training camp practices in Richmond and his tone of voice in team meetings. Gruden also jokes in his press conferences about his shortcomings, like paying too much attention to the offense during a preseason game or how he couldn’t scramble during his quarterback days and would get “killed” in the pocket.

Allen also sidestepped comparisons between the coaches.

“I don’t really like the comparisons,” Allen said. “Coach Gruden’s meetings are intense as [what] you see on the football field. [We’re] trying to get better in the meeting room. I think this is going to help the team.”

Griffin points out he’s been through a shift in culture before. At Baylor, the team was 4-8 his freshman and sophomore seasons (he missed most of his sophomore year with an injury). It moved to 7-6 his redshirt sophomore year before finishing 10-3 his final season.

He said the Bears began to lift weights more often in the offseason. Their foundation was sturdier when fall camp started.

“That’s what it was about at Baylor and we figured it out,” Griffin said. “We got it done. I think we’re in the process of doing that here. At least to me, it feels that way having gone through it before in college. It feels like that process of changing that culture. Making that culture of longtime winning. Now, if you look at Baylor, it’s a consistent winner.”

Core players like Griffin, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon have experienced two divergent seasons in Washington. Last year’s debacle followed a division-winning season.

Linebacker Brian Orakpo is entering his sixth season with the Redskins. He knows no other franchise and has a larger D.C. sample size to consider.

“We have to have a sense of identity,” Orakpo said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. Once we do that, I think we’ll be just fine. Just build and create that identity and who we’re going to be known as. Not a team just out there playing. We need to be out there being consistent, balling out, making plays, flying around the ball on both sides of the ball.”

And, where does he put the blame for last season?

“Once you lose like that, it’s on everybody.”

The possibility of a turnaround is not ludicrous. The NFL is structured to embrace parity. In 2011, the Indianapolis Colts were 2-14. They went 11-5 the next season. In 2007, the Miami Dolphins were 1-15. They finished 11-5 in 2008. The 1998 St. Louis Rams were 4-12 before going 13-3 in 1999 and winning the Super Bowl as the “Greatest Show on Turf.” The last two years for the Redskins are an example in reverse.

“You have vets that, you know, know what it looks like,” Cofield said. “Even though the season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, we know how it’s supposed to look. Guys have to feed off of us. We had a great start all through the spring. By the time training camp comes, you’re really sharpening the tools. Really coming together as a group off the field and I think that’s what we’ve done.”

They have 16 games to prove it.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide