The Washington Redskins have hired Jay Gruden as the 28th head coach in franchise history and the eighth of the tumultuous 15-year stretch in which Daniel Snyder has owned the team.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the hire Thursday.
Ideally, we'd make some sweeping conclusion that Gruden is either right or wrong for the job, but the reality is that nobody can predict how these things are going to turn out, especially when we're dealing with first-time head coaches. There are countless examples of "bad hires" panning out well and vice versa.
But we can take a stab at how this bodes for a young team's future.
In order to do that, let's start with the past.
In seven years in Tampa, Jay and brother Jon Gruden never had an offense ranked better than 18th in scoring and only once finished in the top 10 in yardage. They ranked in the top half of the league in terms of yards per rushing attempt only twice. Basically, they were mediocre.
But they didn't have a "franchise quarterback" then, and Jay certainly didn't have top-notch personnel to utilize in the latter years.
In Cincinnati, it's been a different story. The Bengals have been a playoff team all three years Gruden has been there, led by a very talented young quarterback, one of the best wide receivers in the game and an above-average offensive line.
That Bengals offense has gotten better each year in terms of points scored, and it moved into the top 10 this year in terms of scoring and yardage. But how much of that is due to Gruden? It's obviously tough to tell, but you'd have to think the evolution of the players themselves factored in. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have improved, and Giovani Bernard's presence helped the running game immensely in 2013.
What's interesting is that he's been coaching Dalton the last three years instead of Colin Kaepernick by choice. When the team had to make that decision in the 2011 draft, per Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Gruden reportedly pushed for Dalton, who better fit his system.
If that's the case, what does that say about Robert Griffin III, who is a lot more like Kaepernick than Dalton?
Now, Bruce Allen isn't an idiot. This is certainly something the Redskins general manager discussed with Gruden during the interview process. Gruden must feel as though he can work well with Griffin, or he wouldn't have taken the job (he appeared to be in high demand elsewhere). And the Redskins must feel as though that's the case as well; otherwise there's no way they would have hired him (they interviewed nearly a dozen candidates in total).
Of course, Gruden isn't a coordinator anymore. Sure, his philosophy will influence what the 'Skins do on offense, but a head-coaching role is completely different.
Schefter also reported Thursday that Sean McVay, who coached tight ends in Washington the last three years, is expected to ascend to the offensive coordinator role. McVay knows RGIII and this offense, but he also has a relationship with Gruden that stems from their time together in Tampa in 2008.
Regarding Gruden's preference for Dalton rather than Kaepernick: First, we don't know that he was wrong. Both quarterbacks are only three years in, and it's not as though Dalton's been bad. The guy is one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history to have 80 touchdown passes in the first three years of his career. The other two were Dan Marino and Peyton Manning.
Second, just because he prefers a pocket passer doesn't mean he can't coach a mobile one, especially with McVay's help. We've never seen Gruden with a quarterback who can run, unless a 37-year-old Jeff Garcia counts (and Garcia still took off 35 times while earning a Pro Bowl nod with the 2007 Bucs).
And frankly, if Gruden's influence forces Griffin to become more of a Dalton-like pocket passer, it could be the best thing that ever happened to the 23-year-old quarterback. RGIII is one bad turn away from another devastating injury, and his current style of play—which leads to him taking far too many hits—isn't sustainable on a long-term basis.
Hell, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport is even reporting that Griffin wants to run more of a pro-style offense with less read-option. If that's the case, the two are a great match.
His Arena Football League background probably explains why Gruden has a reputation for favoring the pass so much over the run. In the AFL, they throw it about 85 percent of the time. However, the Bengals were one of only 12 teams to run the ball on more than 43 percent of their offensive plays in 2013, and they've ranked in the top half of the league in that category for three years running.
Only seven teams ran the ball more than the Bengals did this past season, and they've thrown the ball 40 or more times on 13 occasions the last three years, which is exactly the league average. They've run the ball 30 or more times on 24 occasions, which is well above the NFL average of 18.
In other words, don't expect Alfred Morris and Roy Helu to get the silent treatment.
|Most rushing attempts in the AFC, 2013|
|Team||Runs||Run play % (NFL rank)|
|1. Buffalo Bills||546||48.9 (3rd)|
|2. New York Jets||493||48.3 (5th)|
|3. San Diego Chargers||486||47.1 (6th)|
|4. Cincinnati Bengals||481||43.0 (12th)|
|5. New England Patriots||470||40.9 (17th)|
|Pro Football Reference/TeamRankings.com|
Do you know what this could mean for Griffin's health? Dalton had the fourth-lowest sack percentage in the NFL last season. He was pressured on only 25.2 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which was the second-lowest qualifying rate in the league.
|Least-pressured quarterbacks, 2013|
|1. Peyton Manning||22.7|
|2. Andy Dalton||25.2|
|3. Matthew Stafford||28.9|
|4. Drew Brees||29.8|
|19. Robert Griffin III||38.0|
|Min. 50% of team's snaps (Pro Football Focus)|
This will be a West Coast offense that stresses quick passes and is more balanced than most expect, which could be a career-saving development for the biggest investment in the history of the franchise.
Most importantly, it appears Gruden has head-coaching chops. AFL or not, a head coach is a head coach, and it's relevant that Gruden won two championships in a three-year span while coaching the Orlando Predators over a decade ago.
There will likely be growing pains, or at least an adjustment period, but this is an intriguing gamble. Gruden will have to learn to work with Snyder and Allen, which isn't easy. The Washington Post dug up a couple old quotes in which Gruden spoke about his need to have control and be in charge.
An example from 2006:
"...I don’t take orders very well. I like being in charge and calling all the plays and bringing in who I want to bring in and cutting who I want to cut, signing who I want to sign. Leaving when I want to leave."
He can't be that stubborn in this job, but you'd have to hope he and the team established that in the last 48 hours.
It seems likely the team consulted Griffin, who did his own research and gave a nod of approval. If that isn't the case, this could be a disaster. But if it is, this is the fresh start the 'Skins needed—a first-time head coach with a great offensive pedigree, along with a young, well-liked coordinator who knows the personnel.
Gruden has won virtually everywhere he's been, and he has the right ingredients in Washington. There's reason to be optimistic here, which should be refreshing for those still recovering from the Mike Shanahan era.
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