In Jay Gruden, Redskins get an up-and-comer who’ll adapt to get best out of Robert Griffin III

The Washington Redskins tried something different Thursday when they hired Jay Gruden as their coach. This is the team’s eighth coach since Daniel Snyder purchased the franchise in 1999. But it is the first time during Snyder’s tenure that the Redskins have hired a coordinator from another NFL team regarded as an up-and-coming talent in the coaching ranks.

In Gruden, they are getting a 46-year-old coach coming off a stint as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. He was pursued by the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, as well as the Redskins, for their head coaching vacancies. He had both head coaching and front-office experience in the Arena Football League and the United Football League, and Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said Gruden is ready for the job he’s been given.

“Jay has already done it,” Lewis said by telephone Thursday. “He’s been a head coach. He’s been a general manager. It was a different league, I know. But he’s run the whole thing. He knows how to put it together. He’s a football junkie. He knows what he wants and how to bring it about. He’s excited. I can hear it in his voice.”

Gruden’s hiring seemed to generally receive high marks from people throughout the league.

“I think it was a good hire,” a front office executive from another NFL team said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be viewed as prying into the Redskins’ business. “He’s well regarded. Other teams wanted him. He’ll do a good job with the quarterback. He got the most out of [quarterback Andy] Dalton in Cincinnati. There were some limitations there. Now he has a quarterback with a higher ceiling if he gets the most out of him.”

Keith McMillan explains what the creative play-caller will bring to Washington. (Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

Lewis, too, said that Gruden’s arrival in Washington will be a positive development for Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.

“He sees offensive football through the eyes of the quarterback,” Lewis said. “That’s very beneficial. He’s basically playing the game with them, through them. I think that’s helped Andy so much. Jay really understands offensive football from the quarterback’s standpoint.”

Gruden said Thursday that he looks forward to working with Griffin. But he also said he will be demanding of Griffin and will expect the young quarterback to accept blame, for instance, when circumstances dictate that.

“He should be adaptable,” former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said by phone Thursday. “I mean, he coached in the Arena League. He has to be. But I don’t think you’ll really know what they’ll do on offense. It will be interesting to see how different it is.”

Hasselbeck pointed out that both Gruden, who worked for his brother, Jon, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the coach just fired by the Redskins, Mike Shanahan, are regarded as members of the Bill Walsh coaching tree. He also cited reports that holdover assistants Jim Haslett, Raheem Morris and Sean McVay could be retained on Jay Gruden’s coaching staff after working for Shanahan. Gruden did not commit to that during his introductory news conference Thursday.

“Jay Gruden was going to get offered a job and it was probably going to be this year,” said Hasselbeck, now an NFL analyst for ESPN. “I’m not surprised he has an opportunity to be a head coach. What’s a little surprising is if you think what his background is, they all sort of fall off the same coaching tree that Mike Shanahan fell off of. It sounds like some of the coaches there are gonna be promoted. In some ways, it doesn’t really feel like a lot of things have changed.”

Snyder’s Redskins previously had hired established NFL coaches in Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Shanahan. They’d hired a hot-shot college coach in Steve Spurrier. They’d even made the outside-the-box move of hiring a 54-year-old quarterbacks coach in Jim Zorn.

The list of coaches who have worked for Snyder also includes the coach he inherited, Norv Turner, and Terry Robiskie, an interim coach for three games in the 2000 season. The Redskins have not experienced long-term success with any of Snyder’s coaches. Shanahan was fired with one season left on a five-year contract, on the heels of a 3-13 season. He led the Redskins to an NFC East title in the 2012 season but had an overall regular season record of 24-40.

Gruden oversaw the league’s 10th-rated offense this season in Cincinnati. But he, Dalton and the Bengals were criticized after they lost a first-round AFC playoff game, 27-10, to the San Diego Chargers last weekend. Eyebrows also were raised about a Cincinnati Enquirer report that Gruden wanted the Bengals to select Dalton in the 2011 NFL draft ahead of owner Mike Brown’s preferred choice, Colin Kaepernick, the dual-threat quarterback who took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl last season.

Gruden said Thursday that he’ll call his own offensive plays. He also said the offense that the team will run won’t be easily categorized.

“I like them all, man,” Gruden said. “I’ve never found a play I haven’t liked that works. The one thing you really want to do is during my process here the next few days, I want to really study the offensive personnel that we have in place. They’ve done some good things here offensively in years past. . . . I like the power plays. I like the gap-blocking plays. So there is a little bit of everything. I don’t think any offense in the NFL any more is just, ‘We are this.’

“I think we have to adhere to what we have offensively talent-wise. We can do the read-option. We can do naked bootlegs. We can run outside zone. We can run bubble screens. We can run deep [passes]. We can do play-action. . . . I think the whole idea to be a successful offense is to be diverse and be good at a lot of different things and not just one.”

Gruden expressed an affinity for the three-lineman, four-linebacker defensive alignment that the Redskins used in recent seasons, but said a final decision about whether to stick with a 3-4 setup or switch to a 4-3 defense will be made later.

The Redskins signed Gruden to a five-year contract, a rarity for a first-time NFL head coach. That was a key to the Redskins getting the deal done. Gruden’s agent, Bob LaMonte, said Gruden’s ties to members of the organization and his desire to work with Griffin also were major factors.

“He had an existing relationship with Bruce [Allen],” LaMonte said in a phone interview of the team’s general manager. “He had an existing relationship with Haslett. He had an existing relationship with [tight ends coach Sean] McVay. That certainly played into it. He was intrigued by the talent of the quarterback.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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