Sean McVay: Redskins’ coaching wonder must connect with Robert Griffin III

The Post Sports Live crew discusses whether former Redskins tight ends coach Sean McVay will be promoted to be Jay Gruden's offensive coordinator. The new Redskins head coach had worked with McVay in the United Football League. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist January 20

There’s a lot to like about new Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay.

He’s hard-working, straightforward and as sharp as any rising young coach in the game. And for quarterback Robert Griffin III, one thing is especially appealing about working with McVay: He’s not related to Mike and Kyle Shanahan.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

After clashing with the Redskins’ former father-son coaching tandem, Griffin is eager to start anew under McVay and Coach Jay Gruden. Gruden and McVay share a friendship but not a family, which is good news for the Redskins.

Griffin’s distrust of the Shanahans — he thought they conspired against him — helped torpedo the team before the 2013 season kicked off. To rebound from his sophomore slump, Griffin faces a heavy offseason workload; he must lean on the guys in charge of the offense. People familiar with Griffin’s thinking say he plans to do just that this time around, in part because he believes he can trust McVay.

During the past three seasons as Washington’s tight ends coach, McVay earned high marks from players for his honesty and preparation. Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has raved to me about McVay’s ability to relate well to players individually while also commanding respect from the group. Those are essential skills for coaches. McVay, who turns 28 on Friday and is believed to be the youngest offensive coordinator in NFL history, also is darn good with X’s and O’s.

Following a disappointing 3-13 season for the Redskins, the Post Sports Live crew debates what are reasonable expectations for Jay Gruden's first year as head coach. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Kyle Shanahan had so much confidence in McVay, he permitted him to pick the third-down plays in Washington’s weekly game plans. In doing so, McVay displayed knowledge beyond his years about strategy and a keen understanding of the strengths of Washington’s personnel. He’ll have to rely on everything he has learned to help Griffin rediscover his form from 2012, when he was the NFL offensive rookie of the year. Griffin was such a mess at times last season, it seemed as if he needed to retake Quarterback 101 to learn the basics of playing professional sport’s most important position.

McVay knows Griffin has limitations as a pocket passer, people in the organization say. He gets that Griffin must become much more proficient at reading defenses and should have shouldered more blame for breakdowns on offense. No matter how much Washington improves its so-so offensive line and mediocre wide receiver corps in the draft and free agency, McVay realizes the Redskins won’t take a step forward next season unless Griffin does. McVay has reasons to be hopeful.

Generally speaking, athletes in team sports need a full season after major surgical procedures to regain their footing, both literally and figuratively. The 2014 season will be Griffin’s second following reconstructive knee surgery.

Is it guaranteed Griffin ever will be as good as he was as a rookie? No. He’s still a great athlete, however, and any improvement in his physical condition figures to help his overall performance.

Griffin also is highly motivated. He’s determined to prove he’s not a one-trick quarterback who must rely on his legs to succeed. And make no mistake about it: Griffin is out to show that Mike Shanahan misled people about him.

You don’t have to be an FBI special agent to figure out that some of last season’s whispers about Griffin being uncoachable emanated from the Shanahan camp. Count on Griffin to be all-in on whatever Gruden and McVay ask of him. And McVay will expect a lot.

Knowing McVay, I wouldn’t be surprised if he already has reviewed every Redskins offensive play of the season. He’s probably well on his way to completing a detailed report for Gruden on what works best for Griffin and how they may want to address his weaknesses. McVay and Gruden became good friends during their time together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in the United Football League, and they’re accustomed to working through problems.

Convincing Griffin he has some will be part of McVay’s challenge. Although Kyle Shanahan could have chosen his words better in critiquing Griffin, Kyle was correct in determining Griffin has a long way to go to become a consistent pocket passer, let alone an elite one. McVay figures to get his message across in a good way.

During the Redskins’ magical run to the 2012 NFC East title (it seems so long ago now), I asked Mike Shanahan which of his young assistants, other than Kyle, have the coaching chops to run a team someday. Without hesitation, Shanahan answered, “McVay.”

Now in charge of the Redskins’ offense, McVay made a big move toward becoming a head coach. And if McVay helps get Griffin and the Redskins turned around, don’t be surprised if he eventually makes the final one.

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