HOFFMAN: Gruden failed, but Redskins' woes aren't only on him

Craig Hoffman
October 07, 2019 - 8:43 am

After an 0-5 start, Jay Gruden has been fired as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Gruden is the first coach owner Daniel Snyder hired that he has moved on from mid-season. He was also the first coach Snyder ever gave a contract extension.

It is both easy and difficult to blame Gruden for the current state of the franchise. Defending a coach of a winless team, has had just one playoff appearance in five full seasons, no playoff wins, and has never won 10 games in a season seems silly, but Gruden was put in a near-impossible position over the last two seasons. But Gruden didn’t do the best he could with what he was given.

The position was one that saw five starting quarterbacks after team president Bruce Allen trade for a 33-year-old Alex Smith without Gruden’s true blessing and then Smith suffered a devastating leg injury.

The Redskins coach was sabotaged by injury over the past three years in an almost unbelievable way. His offense is designed to run through tight end Jordan Reed, who has played zero games at peak form through that stretch. After battling two years of leg injuries in which he played six and thirteen games respectively, Reed looked like himself again in training camp before suffering a concussion in his only preseason action. He has played zero games this season. Combine that with injuries to 2018 second-round pick Derrius Guice, Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Case Keenum as well as rookie standout Terry McLaurin and it seems no wonder that Gruden hasn’t won a single game this year.

The injuries are compounded by a number of other front office botches. Number one on that list is the ongoing handling of All-Pro tackle Trent Williams, who would be playing under almost any other regime with any other franchise. Instead, he is locked in a bitter holdout, essentially with Allen, as the Redskins offensive line continues to struggle and could desperately use his presence.

However, what ultimately got Gruden fired was his inability to fix consistent problems over the last two seasons in spite of the injuries. The Redskins are second in the NFL in penalties in 2019 after finishing seventh last season. They seem to come at the most inopportune time and they come in bunches. The inability to teach his team how to play clean football is a major factor in why Gruden’s final twelve games have a 1-11 record and thus why he no longer has a job.


Gruden’s biggest demise was his defense. He has remained loyal to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky despite internal and external criticism. The Redskins 3rd down defense was one of the five worst in the league last year and was on a historically bad pace entering Sunday's game against New England. The organization, including Gruden, is adamant that they have talent on defense, yet there is constant miscommunication, all-out coverage busts and an overall inability to execute. If it’s not the talent, it would seem that the problem is whoever is coaching the talent. Gruden was never willing to make a change and the problems never subsided. As of this writing, Manusky is still employed and it remains to be seen what a new head coaching voice can inspire in that unit.

While the football problems seem obvious, there were occasionally other issues with Gruden that had larger effects on the organization. Gruden liked to allow the players to police themselves. This largely was a positive, but knowing when to step in is an important characteristic for a head coach to have. Gruden’s unwillingness last season to crack down on safety D.J. Swearinger escalated a situation that many felt could have been squashed and ultimately Swearinger was cut on Christmas Eve.

Gruden’s willingness to give up information was also problematic to some in the organization. “Nobody gives up more injury information at the podium than our head coach,” one Redskins staffer told me this off-season. Clearly that message got through to Gruden as he was vague to the point of being stand-offish about injuries. Generally speaking, Gruden’s fun-loving and joking demeanor was seen less at the podium in 2019. Perhaps it was deliberate. Perhaps it was the pressure of the job, but it was noticeable. Yet that change alone was never going to be enough to save his job.

Firing Gruden does not solve any of the fundamental issues with the franchise. The quarterback of the future, Dwayne Haskins, is still the same quarterback he was yesterday. That is a quarterback who has not yet shown himself ready to operate an NFL offense. The Redskins are still talent deprived. They are still 0-5 with next to no hope for the playoffs.

They turn to Bill Callahan, a seasoned coach who can steer the ship while offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell takes over play-calling duties and auditions for a head coaching job himself. Per ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Callahan wondered aloud last week why the team didn’t run the ball more. He has been in charge of the running game since his arrival in 2015. The Redskins are averaging 3.9 yards per carry this year, a number that drops to 3.2 without Steven Sims 65-yard touchdown last night. It remains to be seen how the offense will change and who will be under center.

Ultimately the Gruden era concludes feeling unfulfilled. He was hired to reboot the career of Robert Griffin III. He was unable to do so, but instead found success with Kirk Cousins. The division title in 2015 felt like the start of something that just never came to be. 2016 saw a disappointing end and the departure of more talent in Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The 2017 season ended again in disappointment and the departure of Cousins, 2018 started 6-3 before spiraling after Smith’s injury and twelve games later Gruden’s tenure is over.

We now enter the Dwayne Haskins era with no idea who will guide it. Allen will address the media en masse in Ashburn for the first time since 2015 this afternoon. He is unlikely to give fans any satisfactory answers on the team’s future because nearly the entire fanbase would like him to quit. He won’t, and it is up to Snyder to determine if Allen gets to hire the next coach this winter. 

Between now and then, Haskins' development is the most important thing in this franchise. He is not ready to play, but he should anyway. Losses no longer matter. This season is about evaluation. 

The evaluation of Jay Gruden is now over. His time in Washington is complete.

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