The Redskins fired head coach Jay Gruden on Monday morning after the team limped to an 0-5 start and all hope for a playoff season in 2019 was virtually eliminated.
That’s why the team fired Gruden now, but that’s not the entire reason they fired him.
In six seasons in Washington, Gruden finished with a 35-49-1 record and just one playoff appearance. While he deserves accolades for keeping some bad Redskins teams out of the NFL gutters, he also deserves criticism for his teams often not being ready to play in big spots.
Ultimately, Gruden’s undoing in 2019 might have been his handling, or lack thereof, of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. And it’s quite ironic that Gruden would lose his job in D.C. for failing to work with a gifted, young passer because way back in 2014, that’s exactly what he was hired to do.
The Redskins brought Gruden in to work with Robert Griffin III back in 2014, after RG3 and Mike Shanahan had a rather infamous falling out. Gruden and Griffin never really worked either, but the coach did develop Kirk Cousins. Despite a few successful statistical seasons and one NFC East title, Redskins management did not keep Cousins around. Instead, the team traded for Alex Smith before the 2018 season. For 10 games, it looked like a wise move, but then Smith broke his leg on the FedEx Field turf, and all of a sudden, Washington was again back in the QB abyss.
That brings things back to Haskins. And Gruden.
The belief around Redskins Park was that the team had enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in 2019; probably not a division title but a Wild Card. Gruden explained during the summer that he needed to make the playoffs, otherwise he’d be fired.
“If we don't make the playoffs, I probably won't be here anyways,” the coach joked in March.
So to him and other members of the coaching staff, it didn’t make sense to use the 15th overall pick on a developmental passer. In Gruden’s mind, Haskins would not help win a single game in 2019.
The real problem, among many, is that Gruden was never the right coach to develop Haskins, but the front office didn’t seem to care.
Fast forward five games into the year, Gruden has been increasingly reluctant to play the rookie QB, opting instead for veterans Case Keenum and Colt McCoy. That’s what’s best to win games this year, but after an 0-5 start where each game was uglier than the last and all of the quarterbacks struggled, winning games in 2019 no longer mattered.
The decision to move on from Gruden isn’t wrong, it’s just late.
Washington owner Dan Snyder has a reputation for being impatient and impetuous, but in reality, that hasn’t been the case for probably a decade. He’s kept team president Bruce Allen around despite a terrible 59-99-1 record, and in turn, Allen kept Gruden around the last six years.
If the Redskins planned to draft a quarterback and build for the future, they should have brought in a new coaching staff with that design in mind. Or they could have given Gruden an extension with the explicit instructions of finding and developing a new rookie passer.
Instead, neither happened.
The Redskins drafted Haskins but let Gruden hang on as coach, despite working into a lame duck year.
It was a bad recipe from the start of the season. In many ways, Gruden was set up to fail. Once the injuries started piling up, again, and Trent Williams held out, the situation worsened in a hurry.
Gruden didn’t help himself either, particularly with a bizarre decision to bench Adrian Peterson in Week 1 and inconsistencies throughout his tenure. His offensive scheme had strengths, but the team generally struggled to run the ball and his clock management was often shaky.
There were also a pair of videos that emerged on social media last week that appeared to show Gruden in an intoxicated state. While the videos were certainly embarrassing, they weren’t cause for dismissal. It was just one more thing in a lost year, and frankly, a year that never should have started.
Given the totality of events and sideshows during the Gruden era - Kirk Cousins’ contract, Scot McCloughan’s ouster, the end of RG3 and a string of incredibly bad injury luck - at times the coach performed admirably well. By October 7th, 2019, however, that run was over.
In the end, firing Gruden makes sense, but it doesn’t really change much.
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