Scott Brooks and Jay Gruden are both disciples of the "practice patience" philosophy. The current situations with the Wizards and Redskins put the approach for both head coaches to the test.
Win or lose, joy or stress, Gruden tries “to be as even-keeled as I can be.” That mindset helped the Redskins coach guide his team to a surprising 5-2 start this season. Now injuries may upend the NFC East leaders’ but Gruden maintained calm at Monday's press conference despite the reveal of three more season-ending surgeries and a what-went-wrong talk after Sunday’s 24-point loss.
Brooks’ new season began far more stressful. The Wizards opened losing seven of eight games. Sunday’s 108-95 home win over the New York Knicks stopped a five-game slide and provided a (brief) exhale moment.
Washington remains last in scoring defense and rebound differential among other statistical eyesores. The backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal have yet to play at a consistent All-Star level. Otto Porter’s injured and before that his production wasn’t quite the level the team needed. Integrating Dwight Howard shows promise, but recent history with the center suggests everyone should hang on tight. The win over the Knicks included warning signs like being tied in the fourth quarter with the Knicks.
But like Gruden, he hasn’t often appeared - at least publicly - rattled.
Brooks did show rare frustration just two games into the season. He was ejected during the fourth quarter of an eventual loss to the Raptors, and then called out Porter postgame for what seemed like minor hustle infractions if they occurred at all. These actions stood out because Brooks rarely loses his cool or openly criticizes players.
“It was a combination of a lot of things that I saw and then the frustration built up,” Brooks said of the ejection. He continued. “Quite honestly, I set a poor example. I’m disappointed in myself.”
The explanation didn’t come across as a standard mea culpa after an unwanted public display. That poor example was outside the norm usual behavior for him. Brooks quickly returned to regularly scheduled programming of preaching team unity and staying calm even as concerns mounted.
“I think you have to stay pretty level,” he said after the Wizards returned home following a 1-4 road trip. “I know early in my career I was up and down. I play one night, play well and feel good. The next night I play bad and I feel bad. My wife didn’t want to be around me. So, early in my career, I decided, ‘You know what, I’m going to give everything I have to the team, everything I have to the court, and live with the results, and stay the same off the court.’ I think that helped me as a player and helped me as a coach. Do your best, and everything else takes care of it.”
Gruden has experienced his share of irritating moments on the field. Growing up around the sport as the son of a former assistant coach helped Gruden grasp the competitive and business nature of the professional world. Over his life and career, he said he discovered existing in a constant state of agitation wouldn’t work for him.
“There are times when I’ve gotten a little hot-headed. I think [remaining level] carries more weight,” Gruden told The Sports Capitol [editor’s note: where the author wrote before coming to NBC Sports Washington] before the 2018 season kicked off. “If you get hot-headed every day I think people start yawning at you. Oh, [now] he's serious. I try to weather the storm, try to be as positive as I can be and understand that in pro football you’re going to have your ups and downs. That’s just the way it’s going to be. You have to overcome adversity.”
Adversity struck the Redskins Monday, one day after a 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Washington learned both starting guards, including Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff, and wide receiver Paul Richardson would undergo season-ending surgery. Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams remains sidelined with a thumb injury. The running backs and wide receivers spend more time with the training staff than the coaches this season. These ailments come after a laundry list of injuries wrecked the 2017 season.
Gruden didn’t let the past or new worries alter his approach.
“I think the best teams in pro football over time are those that overcome adversity,” he said in September. “Whether it’s losing a game, losing a quarter, turnovers, people to injury. The teams that are the most resilient are the best. I think you have to keep a calm head and a cool demeanor in those situations in order for the guys to overcome it.”
Brooks dealt with a 2-8 start to the 2016-17 season, his first with Washington. The similarities between then and now are mainly in the record only. That earlier squad played with a spark from the jump. It took time to find a rhythm under the new coach and overcome inadequate play from the second unit. These Wizards appeared disinterested during some blowout losses and disjointed defensively. The Knicks were the first opponent Washington held under 100 points in nine games.
Brooks didn’t cave to the losing or outside noise even after a disheartening 135-111 home setback Friday against the Thunder on national television immediately following the rough road trip. “We just have to stick together, we have to keep playing for one another,” Brooks said
One day prior he explained his mental approach.
“It’s a long season. ... It’s mental toughness that you have to have in order to fight through it," he said. "When you have a tough start like we had, it also tests you. … We have a lot of new faces we’re trying to integrate to be one team. It’s going to take some time, but I’m still comfortable, and still excited with what we have. We started like this a couple of years ago. … We took 32 games before we got to .500, and we won 49 games that year.”
There are chemistry concerns with the Wizards that lead some to discount a 2016—17 repeat, though many would agree it fair to withhold judgment until Howard plays a dozen games or the team reaches the 25-game mark.
The Redskins turned some doubters into believers during a defense-led three-game winning streak. Sunday’s one-sided game against the Falcons slowed momentum. We may discover in the coming weeks that offensive line injuries derailed another season.
Whatever happens, don’t expect significant mood swings from the patient head coaches. When it comes to acting like loons, Brooks and Gruden are out of practice.