Today marked the end of Jay Gruden’s tenure at the Washington Redskins. The writing was very much on the wall, with Gruden himself saying in his press conference after their 33-7 loss to the New England Patriots “If the key works Monday, I’ll keep working”.
Gruden’s tenure with the Washington Redskins began after a very successful period as the Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator. He led the Bengals to three straight Wild Card playoff appearances, including winning the AFC North Title in 2013. During this time, he turned down the Head Coach job at the Indianapolis Colts. However, in 2014, Dan Snyder came calling and Gruden was announced as the successor to Mike Shanahan on January 9th.
After a 4-12 season in 2014, Gruden lead the Redskins to the NFC East title in 2015 with a 9-7 record. They were eliminated by the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round. This turned out to be the one and only playoff appearance of Gruden’s tenure.
In 2016, he led the Redskins to back to back winning seasons, with an 8-7-1 record. This was the first time they finished with back to back winning seasons since 1996-1997. However, this record was only good enough for 3rd in the NFC East and they missed the Playoffs.
After these two winning seasons, times got leaner for the Redskins. The first issue was the long term future of Franchise Quarterback Kurt Cousins. After twice being Franchise Tagged, and after a 7-9 record in 2017, Cousins departed for Free Agency, before signing a $120 million, fully guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Vikings. This led to the Redskins requiring to find the next Franchise Quarterback. It’s with that need, that the Redskins traded for Alex Smith, who had just been disposed as starting Quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Gruden believed Smith would bring the franchise back to glory and end a two year Playoff drought. In addition to the trade, the Redskins drafted dynamic Running Back Darius Guice and also signed future Running Back Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. Gruden was given the opportunity to invest in the team, to plug holes. Guice ended up missing his entire Rookie season due to a torn ACL before the season began, but Peterson would step up in a big way.
2018 started very well. After a narrow 16-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Redskins were 6-3 and looking to be on course for the Playoffs. However in Week 11, Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a compound and spiral fracture to his tibia and fibula in his right leg, when he was sacked by Kareem Jackson and J.J. Watt. As of today, almost 12 months later, Smith is still recovering and will not return in 2019. At one point, they didn’t think he would walk again. There still remains doubt whether he will play again.
This injury was the sliding doors moment of Gruden’s tenure. The Redskins lost 6 of the remaining 7 games and the Redskins missed the playoffs, again. They finish 7-9.
After losing Smith to injury, the Redskins decided to draft Dwayne Haskins with their first round pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. They were drafting 15th and Haskins was the 3rd Quarterback taken in this class. He has been seen as the future of the franchise.
The Redskins also acquired Case Keenum in a trade with the Denver Broncos, after the Broncos acquired Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens. The view from ownership was Keenum would be the short term starter and get Haskins ready to takeover at some point. However, Gruden was not involved in this plan.
Gruden is reported to have disagreed with ownership and the Front Office with the drafting of Dwayne Haskins. Due to Haskins 14 games as a starter in college, Gruden did not believe Haskins was ready for the NFL and therefore not ready to contribute in 2019. Les Carpenter of the Washington Post reported that Gruden “did not want” Haskins selected with the first round draft pick. He also reports that Haskins “sensed” his coach didn’t want him.
This rift seemed to be spilling over in the press. Gruden, after a Week Three loss to the Bears, when Keenum had five turnovers said “I can’t be changing people every five minutes.” However, in Week Four, Keenum, appearing to struggle with the game and it later transpired he was dealing with a foot injury, was benched for Haskins.
The debut of Haskins couldn’t have gone worse. Haskins went 9-17 for 107 Yards and 3 Interceptions. This led to Gruden being non committal to his young Rookie Quarterback. Instead, for the visit of the defending SuperBowl Champions, the New England Patriots, Quarterback Colt McCoy was named the starter.
Despite taking an early lead, the Redskins were trounced 33-7 by the Patriots. This led to the Redskins starting the season 0-5 and having lost 11 of their last 12 games. Despite a positive performance in Week One against the Philadelphia Eagles, the performances got worse and worse. Guice, once again, is injured, after suffering a torn meniscus in that Week One loss to the Eagles. Gruden had also fallen out with Peterson, who he left as a healthy scratch in Week One, preferring Chris Thompson as an option to backup Guice.
The Redskins have just look like a team that is lost. They lack any identity and are losing games in all three phases. The only standout performer this season is Rookie sensation Terry McLaurin, who was drafted in the 3rd Round out of Ohio State. There seems to have been more public squabbles between players and either coaching staff or Front Office staff. Besides the comments around Peterson and Haskins, the Redskins are also dealing with the holdout of Pro Bowl Left Tackle Trent Williams. That’s because Williams has severe concerns and issues around the medical staff and the way he has been treated over the diagnosis and treatment of a growth on his scalp. Surgery was required to remove the growth.
On Monday 7th October, Gruden, with speculation and rumour rife, was dismissed as Head Coach of the Washington Redskins. Gruden finished with a final record of 35-49-1 over his almost six years in charge. He took charge of one playoff game and won one division title.
So what will be legacy be? Well, it is very much a tenure of two halves. First thing to mention is he is the longest serving Head Coach of this current ownership for the Washington Redskins. In addition to his, he did lead the Redskins to back to back winning seasons for the first time in almost twenty years. However, two losing season and a 0-5 start meant he had to leave.
The biggest criticism of any Gruden team is that it lacked an identity. You couldn’t point to the team and say “Oh, they are a great defensive team”, or “they are a deep ball, take the top off the defense team”. They have seemed to be rudderless for a while, even when starting 6-3 in 2018. They seem to never be a team in contention in their division. And they also seem to have just lacked a real connection to the fanbase.
The biggest disappointment of this current Redskins group is that it looks so far removed from what made Gruden a successful Offensive Coordinator and a success in the first couple of years of his Redskins tenure. Gruden, over recent weeks, looked deflated and defeated. This is translated into the performances on the turf also.
The overall legacy for Gruden is one of promise, like a newly lit candle, that was extinguished under the weight of ownership challenges and a lack of injection from new, talented rookies and exciting Free Agent signings. Whilst the rest of the NFC East were building for playoff challenges and winning SuperBowl titles, the Redskins just seemed to tread water. They just, over the last two or three seasons, been seen as a team making up the numbers. Not progressing or moving forward, but also not becoming so bad they would get the top talent in the draft.
In the end, Gruden will be seen as the caretaker of mediocrity. The man without a real say, or a real plan. Was it ownership that stopped him taking full control of the personnel? Or was Gruden not a big enough personality to demand full control?
I would say it looks unlikely we will see Jay Gruden appear as a Head Coach in the NFL anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, anything is possible. However, with the current trend being to hire new, young offensive minds, Gruden doesn’t fit the mould. Maybe for him to have another chance, he needs to rekindle his love of scheming offenses again and take an OC job if one happens to come up. However, one thing is for sure. He won’t be overly missed as Redskins Head Coach by many.