By Rick Maese
Tuesday, December 22, 2009;
With newly hired General Manager Bruce Allen watching from a heated suite high above the field, the ink on his business card not yet dried, the Redskins collectively struggled in what amounted to their first interview with the new boss.
"These last couple games is an audition. Bruce Allen pretty much got a head start on evaluating talent," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "If he looked at what he saw today, he'd scrap this whole thing."
The first game of the Allen era wasn't pretty, as his new team lost, 45-12, to the New York Giants on Monday night. Hired last Thursday to replace Vinny Cerrato in Washington's front office, Allen immediately began evaluating the organization, deciding which changes need to be made. Multiple sources say that secondary coach Jerry Gray has interviewed to be the Redskins' head coach, even though his boss, Jim Zorn, still has two more games remaining in the season and is under contract for 2010 as well.
Following Monday's loss, Gray refused to confirm or deny the reports, saying: "No questions about that. No head coach questions. None. Zero. You want to talk about the Cowboys?"
Gray did acknowledge that everyone on the team is being evaluated in this final stage of the season.
"To me, I think you've got to be professional about it. I think everybody's interviewing -- players and coaches -- everybody's interviewing for Bruce," he said. "We got to make sure if you're going to be here, you've got to do your best. It's up to him to evaluate you."
Gray's comments came on the same night that two other long-rumored potential candidates withdrew from the running. Mike Holmgren, the former coach in Seattle and Green Bay, accepted a front- office position with the Cleveland Browns, and Jon Gruden, formerly head coach in Oakland and Tampa Bay, said during ESPN's pregame coverage that he won't be coaching in the NFL next season.
That leaves former Denver coach Mike Shanahan, long considered to be the preference of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and now Gray, who has emerged as the only likely candidate from the current coaching staff.
Over the weekend, as news emerged that Gray had interviewed for the position, friction quickly arose within the team's coaching ranks, according to team officials with knowledge of the situation.
"I'm trying not to even deal with that, because it's right during the season," Zorn said following his team's loss Monday. "So I'm trying to stay really focused. I think I can do a pretty good job of taking a breath and then breathing out and moving on, and that's what I choose to do in those situations. I owe it to our team, our players, our fans, to keep concentrating on what's at hand.
"There's a lot of expectations in an NFL program, on an NFL team, and that's my first responsibility to try to meet those expectations," he continued. "We certainly didn't do it tonight, and that's what I'm most disappointed about. So I'm not thinking about all the other things that have been side issues."
Some players, however, say they're not having as much success ignoring all of the ancillary issues that swirl around their locker room.
"You can all sit here and say no it doesn't," said quarterback Jason Campbell, "but at the same time, truth is sometimes it can because you hear so much and then you start to focus on it a little bit. You try not to focus on it, you try to stay within the game, but all year we've been blocking out a lot of things and doing pretty good. The last couple weeks and tonight for whatever reason we don't even look the like the same team that played the last four to five weeks."
As the season winds to a close, those distractions aren't likely to lessen.
Even before this season began, speculation focused on a handful of successful veteran coaches to take over as Redskins head coach, and when Allen came on board last week, Gruden's name was mentioned more prominently. Gruden had coached under Allen with the Raiders and the Buccaneers.
But he removed himself from consideration Monday night, saying simply, "No, I'm not coaching."
"I'm going to stay with the team I'm on," said Gruden, who signed a contract extension with ESPN last month. "The only team I'm going to coach is my 13-year-old son's flag football team. I'm excited about it so get ready, guys."
In a separate pregame interview Monday on ESPN, Allen did not directly address the Redskins' coaching situation.
"We've gotten to know each other. . . . We've had three or four meetings a day finding out what his dreams are, his attitudes and his feelings about this team," Allen said.
Allen would not say whether he had spoken to Shanahan about the job.
"We don't really have those type of discussions. . . . You know, I've lived in the world of 'now' and Dan Snyder, who is really passionate about his team, has said, 'Get your hands into it. Feel it. Let's see what we have to do to make the Redskins a competitor.' "
Players know that Allen is taking notes these next couple of weeks. With only a handful of players carrying guaranteed contracts beyond this season, from Campbell to running back Clinton Portis, players have acknowledged that organizational change won't end with last week's front-office shakeup.
Playing in front of national television audience, for players and coaches alike, the most important viewer Monday night was at FedEx Field.
"His first game as a GM, he's probably just like, 'Wow,' " Campbell said of Allen.
Coming off their biggest win since Zorn took over as head coach in 2008, players struggled to explain Monday night's performance, their biggest loss at home since 2001. "Embarrassed" was a popular sentiment in the locker room.
"At this point we know we're not going to the playoffs. But we're playing for jobs, we're playing for pride, we're playing for each other," said safety Reed Doughty.
And the coaching staff knows the players' performance reflects on them as well.
"You're embarrassed for those guys because you're in the same bed," Gray said. "You coach those guys. You understand the pain that they're going through. Our guys understand that when you give up 45 points, that's a direct reflection of us on the back end."