Two years ago, Jay Gruden hired Joe Barry as his defensive coordinator over several other better-known names. Barry was fired today along with multiple defensive assistants on Thursday.
Now that Barry is gone after two seasons of heading up defenses that were in the bottom third of the league in virtually every important statistical category the spotlight turns from him to Gruden.
Hiring Barry wasn’t the first debatable move at defensive coordinator that Gruden has made in his three years on the job.
When he came on board he kept Jim Haslett on board. In his four years as Mike Shanahan’s defensive coordinator, Haslett’s defenses weren’t significantly better than the ones Barry has run here the last two years. But Gruden opted for continuity.
A year later, Haslett was out.
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The search for Haslett’s replacement included interviews with some accomplished, well-known defensive coordinators such as Wade Phillips and Vic Fangio. But Gruden opted for Barry, reportedly because he liked his energy and enthusiasm. But the poor results on that side of the ball remained.
But let’s be clear here. The Redskins’ defensive woes are not all the fault of the coordinator.
The defense suffered from major holes, particularly on the line and at safety. A good share of the blame for the problems has to fall in the lap of GM Scot McCloughan. But there is little evidence that Barry was able to maximize the talent he did have available or that he could put together an effective unit even if he did have better players at his disposal.
So now Gruden has gone against the conventional wisdom twice and he turned out to be wrong twice. The question becomes what now?
Phillips wanted the job two years ago.
After it was apparent that the Redskins were going in another direction, Phillips had to “settle” for coordinating the Denver Broncos’ defense. You may remember that they won the Super Bowl after the 2015 season. They were pretty good defensively last season, too, ranking in the top 10 in most defensive categories.
Phillips is now a free agent, his contract with the Broncos having expired.
Head coach Gary Kubiak retired a few days ago and his replacement may or may not want Phillips to return. Even if the new head man does want Phillips he may want to join his son, tight ends coach Wes Phillips, on the Redskins coaching staff.
Could Gruden turn down Phillips again after things didn’t work out so well with his choice two years ago? Or if former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley is interested would Gruden have to seriously consider him? I’m not sure if Rex Ryan is a good fit in a lot of ways but if he expresses interest in the job can Gruden afford to not at least listen?
Some have said that Gruden has preferred to go with lower profile defensive coordinators because he did not want to be overshadowed by the likes of Phillips, who has decades of experience in the league including stints as a head coach. Whether that’s true or not. the end product on defense has not been good. He had better cast a wide net and strongly consider hiring a coordinator who has a track record of success. If that means he might be overshadowed, so be it.
When you dig down to the core of it, Jay Gruden has two strikes against him in the defensive coordinator department. If the defense continues to struggle, the next coach to go might be him.