Robert Griffin III is the most important concern for the next Washington Redskins head coach

Washington Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan has been fired after four seasons with the team. The seventh head coach under owner Daniel Snyder departs with one division title and one playoff appearance, a loss. The Post's Redskins and NFL editor Keith McMillan offers the five best and worst moments of Shanahan's tenure. (Tom LeGro and Keith McMillan/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist December 29, 2013

Once again Redskins owner Daniel Snyderwill be seeking a head coach — the eighth since he purchased the team in 1999. Mike Shanahan’s successor will face many challenges — including a roster that must be overhauled — but quarterback Robert Griffin III will be his most important project.

Benched for the final three games, Griffin must improve as a pocket passer. After butting heads with Shanahan and his play-caller son, Kyle, Griffin has to learn to trust coaches again. The 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year, whose confidence was shaken in the Redskins’ drama-filled workplace, needs a boss who believes in him.

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

Griffin’s importance to the franchise provides a clear blueprint for Snyder to fill the upcoming coaching vacancy: Promote General Manager Bruce Allen to team president, hire a true general manager with a strong player-personnel background and task him to pick a coach who would put Griffin’s development foremost on his to-do list. Considering how much the Redskins have invested in Griffin, it’s the only move that makes sense.

What Griffin wants most, people close to him say, is to partner with a coach who will make the game fun for him again. Griffin’s awful experience this season — which ended fittingly amid a downpour in Sunday’s 20-6 loss to the New York Giants— has left him longing to work in a nurturing environment. And the Redskins should strive to put him in one — within limitations.

As the Redskins collapsed in the second half of their schedule, reports emerged that Baylor Coach Art Briles would be interested in coming to Washington. Briles recruited Griffin out of high school, together they turned around a woeful Bears program and Griffin won the school’s first Heisman Trophy. Their pairing produced wonderful results and an enduring bond.

A potential Briles-Griffin reunion would be good for the Redskins, some in the organization believe, because Briles understands Griffin. The team gave up four high-round picks for the one to select Griffin, and the Redskins need someone who can get the most out of him. From their perspective, a Redskins official recently told me, nothing else should matter. That, however, is wrongheaded thinking.

Briles, 58, has no NFL experience. Although he has earned high marks for his fine work at Baylor and, previously, the University of Houston, the Redskins can’t afford to take a chance on a coach hasn’t proved himself in some capacity at the game’s highest level.

The Redskins went 3-13 in finishing last in the NFC East for the fifth time in six seasons. In Snyder’s 15 seasons as owner, the Redskins have had only four winning records and four playoff appearances. They went 24-40 the past four years under Shanahan.

Even if Briles is a quick study, there’s an inevitable learning curve for coaches who make the jump from college to the NFL. Just ask former Redskins coach Steve Spurrier. Remember how well that worked?

Then there’s the Griffin problem.

The perception will be that the breakdown of Griffin’s relationship with Mike Shanahan — and Griffin’s coziness with Snyder — contributed to the two-time Super Bowl winner being ousted with a year remaining on his five-year, $35 million contract. Regardless of whether it’s fair, Griffin will be labeled as a “coach killer,” which is bad for a quarterback heading into his third season.

If the Redskins, after firing Shanahan, were to hire Griffin’s college coach, Griffin would be alone on an island in the locker room. He would appear to be running the team. With the long climb Griffin is facing, he doesn’t need an anvil on his back.

The Washington Post's Jason Reid says with the season over, the question facing the Redskins is, who will coach next? (The Washington Post)

No matter who moves into the head coach’s office at Redskins Park, Griffin must relearn how to play quarterback. Before the 2014 season, he’ll have to make major strides in reading defenses — identifying coverages and making correct decisions — and working in the pocket. He has only nine months to make significant progress in those key areas.

Help could come from coaches who are used to working with the NFL’s other top dual-threat quarterbacks. As mentioned in this space previously, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Seattle Seahawks play-caller Darrell Bevell have the right backgrounds to help Griffin rebound.

Roman has guided quarterback Colin Kaepernick in two successful seasons. Kaepernick shook off a rough stretch this fall and ranks 12th in the league with an 89.9 passer rating. Bevell’s success in tutoring Russell Wilson has been obvious from the season’s opening kickoff: Wilson’s 101.1 passer rating ranks seventh in the NFL. The Redskins have noticed.

Bevell and Roman should be on a short list to replace Shanahan because of the Griffin factor, a team official told me before Sunday’s season finale. The Redskins, he said, owe it to themselves to hire a coach who can help them determine what they have in Griffin. And after Kirk Cousins’s shaky performance in his three-game audition(forget about the Redskins getting a first-round pick for him), there’s no doubt Griffin still is the team’s best option at the game’s most important position.

The Redskins need a new general manager, a new coach and many new players. Soon they may need a new quarterback as well. But that’s what their next coach must help them figure out.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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