RICHMOND — Robert Griffin III isn’t the only person who feels liberated since Mike Shanahan left the Washington Redskins. Privately, some assistant coaches complained about being micromanaged by Shanahan. New Coach Jay Gruden operates differently.
He empowers coaches to do their jobs, offering minimal advice and encouraging them to make decisions. Gruden believes he hired capable people, so he lets them work. In a league in which most head coaches are my-way-is-the-right-way autocrats, Gruden’s approach is refreshing. It also may be difficult to maintain.
It’s easy to have a laid-back style at the outset of training camp. During the regular season, situations occur that require a head coach’s hands-on involvement. Gruden realizes that, he says, and he’ll step in if needed. But Gruden doesn’t envision being a dictator. After already having been ruled by one, the Redskins don’t want another.
Shanahan was involved in everything. Although his expertise was on offense, Shanahan often took charge of the defense, people within the organization say. His fingerprints were all over defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s work.
Haslett was loyal to Shanahan. He’d rather not revisit the past.
Gruden, with whom Haslett previously worked, has given the longtime NFL coach room to maneuver. Haslett isn’t worried about Gruden taking over defensive meetings or calling all-out blitzes. When your boss shows he trusts you, it’s easier to do your job.
“Jay and I have a good relationship,” Haslett said. “We’ve worked together before [with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League], so he’s seen us run a defense. He knows what we do and he understands it.”
Gruden also knows that a coach as experienced as Haslett doesn’t need his hand held. A head coach with the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams, Haslett is familiar with the challenges the person in charge faces, and, “obviously, a head coach can oversee whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants. He can tell you what you can do, tell you what to run.
“Or he can delegate as much as he wants. He’s the head coach. I used to do it [delegate] when I was a head coach. From that standpoint, I would say [his relationship with Gruden] is probably a . . . good thing. You know what you’re working with. You know how they do things.”
Shanahan trusted Haslett. During our conversations, he often praised Haslett. But Shanahan believed no one coached as well as he could. When you’re a two-time Super Bowl winner, you should be confident, and it’s not like Shanahan suddenly became a control freak once he joined the Redskins.
While guiding the Denver Broncos, Shanahan had a well-deserved reputation for being second to none at managing every detail of his program. When he hired Shanahan, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder knew what he was getting.
If Shanahan had won consistently, his way would have been fine. He didn’t.
Washington’s lack of success, Shanahan’s feud with Griffin and his management style were bad for team morale. The holdovers from Shanahan’s staff — Haslett, offensive coordinator Sean McVay, defensive line coach Jacob Burney and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris — are in a much better working environment.
“One of the things you look at when you talk about great leaders is their ability to empower others. That’s one of the things that does make Jay such a great leader — he empowers his assistants,” said McVay, who, like Haslett, prefers to focus on the present. “He gives us a bunch of responsibilities. “You want to make sure you’re doing a good job by him.”
Players like the new vibe. Some veterans were aware of tension on the coaching staff. Gruden has eliminated it.
“He’s letting Haslett handle the deal,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “We brought in some great coaches. We’ve got some great defensive minds.
“I don’t think [Gruden] needs to micromanage everything. The great head coaches let their assistants, let their coordinators and let their players police themselves. That’s what I’ve seen so far. I’m excited about it.”
It’s worth noting that Shanahan was hired under a different mandate. He demanded full control and had the final word on the roster.
President and General Manager Bruce Allen, who handpicked Gruden, now wields the most power behind Snyder. Gruden merely has to coach, which is fine with him. “Let the coaches that I’ve hired coach, the [player-personnel] work with personnel and the GMs work with the contracts,” Gruden said. “Right now, I just want to make sure that the guys that I hired are allowed to do their jobs — and that’s coaching.
“Sometimes they don’t feel like they can do their jobs when the head coach is always looking over their shoulder saying, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do this.’ I want to let them coach; give them the freedom to do what they like to do. There might come a point where I have to stick my head in . . . [a] meeting room or what have you. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
There’s no need to rush. On Gruden’s staff, some assistants have experienced enough meddling by a head coach to last a lifetime.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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