Jay Gruden may owe a debt of thanks to those who have played the role as head coach of the Washington Redskins over the decades of dysfunction at Redskins Park.
Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan may have paved the way for Jay Gruden’s job security.
Like the great Bill Belichick said recently on a radio appearance, asked about the firing of Rex Ryan in Buffalo, “There is a lot of change. It’s frequent and it seems like it is coming earlier and earlier every year. I don’t think personally that’s the best way to manage a team.”
No, it’s not. Firing coaches or having them quit after a couple of seasons — like the Bills and the Redskins have done over their respective runs of failures — is not a recipe for success.
That is, unless you come to the realization that the coach you have may not be the guy.
But you can’t fire him, because, you’ve got to stop the constant change over and over.
Is Jay Gruden the guy?
That’s not an unreasonable question — not after the debacle defeat at the hands of the New York Giants Sunday, a devastating loss that eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs at the hands of a Giants team that had nothing to play for, save playoff preparation.
This is the end of year three of Gruden’s tenure, and we are still hearing from the head coach himself that he is being outcoached more often than you should hear from a man in his third year as a head coach.
After their 26-15 loss to Carolina on Monday Night Football several weeks ago, Gruden told reporters, “We’re disappointed, it’s no question. First of all, we were outcoached today. There’s no question about that, and they played better than us, so you’ve got to give credit to the Carolina Panthers. It’s my responsibility to get these guys ready to play, and we didn’t execute like I would’ve liked to have seen. That falls on my shoulders.”
It was a home game against a losing team with nothing to play for save pride, while the Redskins needed every win they could get in the final stretch of games. Yet Gruden recognized his team wasn’t ready to play.
Remarkably that repeated itself less than two weeks later Sunday afternoon against a Giants team that also had nothing to play for — not even pride — while the Redskins had everything at stake, playing before their home crowd yet again.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, no question about it,” Gruden told reporters in the post-game press conference. “Anytime you’re standing up here after 17 weeks of football and your season is over, it’s a disappointing season, whether it’s 17 weeks, 18 weeks or 19 weeks.
“We’re very disappointed at the outcome,” he said. “We feel like we have personnel good enough to win the game. I take responsibility for us having our season over. It’s on my shoulders. We’ve got to do a better job as coaches.”
What if Gruden can’t do a better job? What if he is an excellent offensive coordinator who is not capable of preparing a team, week after week, to win?
What if he is Norv Turner?
The question was posed to Gruden, more or less, after the game Sunday when he was asked if, on a gut level, he believes he had the team ready to play their biggest game of the season.
“On a gut level I like to think so,” he answered “But obviously the results say otherwise, so what can you say?”
Yes, what can you say?
You can’t fire him. After all how would it look to fire the most successful coach the Redskins have had, save for the second Joe Gibbs era, in more than two decades? A coach who led them to two winning, if not playoff, consecutive seasons? And like Belichick said, you can’t have a swinging door for head coaches and expect to build something.
But Gruden just may not have it in him — the ability to have a team, not just an offense, ready to play over the course of a 16-game season. He hasn’t yet.
“You know, we’re stuck,” Gruden said the day after the Giants loss. “We have been a little bit. We haven’t been able to get over the hump as far as winning those close games consistently, and it’s not easy but we’re going to keep working at it. I have a lot of room for improvement, as do the majority of the people in this building, so as long as we all realize that and understand that and recognize that, there is room and we can do it.”
Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.