What Are the Odds Jay Gruden Succeeds in His First Season with the Redskins?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

Jan 9, 2014; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen pose for a photo after a press conferences at Redskins Park Team Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Being a first-time NFL head coach is never easy, but Jay Gruden has everything except that in his favor as he prepares for his first season with the Washington Redskins

Not only did Chip Kelly have success by winning the NFC East with the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles last year, but Kelly defied the odds in a big way by becoming only the second coach in the last 30 years to do so despite having not been an NFL coach in any capacity prior to being hired. 

Gruden hasn't just been an NFL coach in multiple capacities, but he also has head coaching experience at other levels. He ran the sidelines for the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League for 11 years and was head coach and general manager of the UFL's Florida Tuskers in 2010.

Plus, he inherits a team with a clear-cut starting quarterback and a reliable core featuring Robert Griffin III, Pierre Garcon, Alfred Morris, Trent Williams, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Barry Cofield and DeAngelo Hall. That core, minus an injured Orakpo, led the franchise to a division title only 13 months ago.

The majority of the pieces are in place for that to happen again, right down to the unique array of experience Gruden brings to the table. 

There's a lot of work to be done, which we discussed in depth last week. But now let's look at what history says about Gruden's chances of experiencing success in year one.


First, define success

So pushy, jeez. OK, let's just conclude that if the Redskins don't make it back to the playoffs in 2014, Gruden's first season will likely be considered a failure. High expectations are still lingering from 2012, and Griffin's knee will no longer be an excuse. Many brand new head coaches are given some extra rope, but that shouldn't be the case here.

That said, I don't think this will even remotely be a "Super Bowl or bust" season. The 'Skins have won only a single playoff game this century, and the defense gave up more points than all but one other team in football last season. 

If the Redskins win a playoff game, it's a tremendous success. If they make the playoffs, it's simply a success. If they fall short of the postseason, barring extenuating circumstances in the health department, it's a failure. 


What history says

Going back to 1983, 130 new head coaches have been hired. That doesn't include Gruden, Mike Zimmer or Bill O'Brien, since we still don't know how they'll fare in their first head coaching gigs. 

Here's what we know about what those 130 head coaches have been able to do in year one.

Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report

5 percent were fired after year one: Seven real anomalies, I guess. That's a list, though, that includes two coaches from the last three years (Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland this year and Hue Jackson in Oakland after the 2011 campaign). 

However, it should be noted that in 2002, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder fired Marty Schottenheimer after one 8-8 season in order to bring in Steve Spurrier. That wasn't Schottenheimer's first head-coaching gig, so it doesn't count toward the study, but it's worth mentioning. 

All in all, 12 head coaches have been fired after their first year with a new team (five had already served as head coaches elsewhere). 

So I'd say that, based on that, the chances of Gruden being canned after one year are higher than 5 percent. But it would probably take another season with fewer than five wins in order for Snyder to make such a rash decision. The Schottenheimer move was early in his tenure as owner, but he's chilled out a bit since then. 

Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report

30 percent had winning records in year one: But only 26 percent of head coaches with no experience as NFL coordinators could finish above .500. For guys with coordinator experience, like Gruden, that number is 31 percent. It doesn't rise much because that group with coordinator experience makes up 76 percent of the total sample.

But that doesn't mean that 70 percent had losing records. In fact, 15 percent (19 of the 130 new head coaches) finished exactly 8-8, leaving 55 percent with more losses than wins. 

Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report

25 percent made the playoffs in year one: From that total, 24 percent had coordinator experience and 26 percent did not. Keep in mind that only 38 percent of teams make the playoffs each year. That number has fluctuated a bit since 1983 (like, for example, when 10 teams made the playoffs in a 28-team league), but the overall average is still 38 percent. 

Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report

21 percent won 10 or more games in year one: And that number was only 20 percent for new head coaches with coordinator experience, which is a bit odd. Keep in mind that the 'Skins won exactly 10 games in their awesome 2012 campaign.

39 percent lost 10 or more games in year one: Again, that number was surprisingly lower for coaches with no coordinator experience (35 percent) and higher for those with it (40 percent). 

Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report

3 percent made the Super Bowl in year one, and 1 percent won the whole thing: The four brand new head coaches who made the Super Bowl all come with caveats. Jim Caldwell, Bill Callahan and George Seifert all inherited Super Bowl-caliber teams after their bosses either retired or left on their own accord. Seifert won, the other two lost. The fourth coach we're including is Raymond Berry, who technically took over for Ron Meyer midway through the previous season. 

Since 1983, no coach has joined an organization completely fresh and gone to the Super Bowl in his first season. Going back to the the first Super Bowl, only Red Miller accomplished that feat when he and the Denver Broncos lost to the Dallas Cowboys in his first season in 1977. The other 95 head coaches to go to the Super Bowl had previous history with the team they ran.

In other words, no head coach has ever won the Super Bowl in Jay Gruden's situation. 

Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report


What my gut says

I think we can agree that history isn't on Gruden's side in terms of making a run at the Lombardi Trophy in year one, but when you consider the team he has in place, I think it's fair to expect him to join that group of 30 percent with winning records in their first season as well as the group of 25 percent who have made the playoffs under those circumstances. 

A lot of it is tied to Griffin and that right knee of his, as well as luck with injuries, who they sign in free agency and who they draft. If the defense can't bounce back under Jim Haslett, it'll be tough to blame Gruden for becoming part of that group of 55 percent who posted losing records in their first season. But I have a feeling RGIII we get back on track and the two will forge a strong relationship in order to defy at least some of the early odds.