By John Feinstein
Thursday, December 31, 2009;
It was certainly a relief, wasn't it, to learn that the Washington Redskins have complied with the NFL's Rooney Rule by interviewing secondary coach Jerry Gray for the job currently filled by his boss, head coach Jim Zorn.
John Wooten, the president of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which is charged with monitoring whether teams comply with the rule requiring that minority candidates be interviewed when an NFL head coaching job is open said his group is satisfied that the Redskins are seriously considering Gray to be the Redskins next head coach.
Really? Did Wooten also try to stay awake on Christmas Eve so he could meet Santa when he came down the chimney?
Gray has as much chance of being the next Redskins coach as Mike Krzyzewski has of being voted Man of the Decade on the campus at the University of Maryland.
To be honest, that's not really the issue here. At the very least, it's not the only issue. One issue is the flaunting of the rule and the NFL's willingness, along with the Pollard Alliance, to wink at it. The other is the Redskins remarkable ability to mishandle virtually any situation, whether it's by suing their own fans or taking away signs with messages for soldiers in Afghanistan or interviewing an assistant coach for a job that technically isn't even open yet and then having the assistant mishandle being asked about that interview.
If nothing else, the Redskins have been so comical in their mishandling of everything this year they have almost made people forget that they are 4-11 with a high payroll . That alone takes some hard work. It shouldn't even be surprising that the Redskins have managed to do the right thing and make a mess of that, too.
The last person in town to figure out that Vinny Cerrato had to go was Dan Snyder. Cerrato was simply overmatched in the job, and if you needed one last piece of evidence that he was never going to be an effective general manager it was the trip he and Snyder took to see Texas quarterback Colt McCoy play in person. Forget whether McCoy is someone the Redskins should be considering as a draft pick, there comes a time when a real GM has to say to his owner, "I'm the one making the decision, I make the scouting trip. You stay home and worry about people carrying mean signs."
That was never going to happen in the dysfunctional Snyder-Cerrato relationship. Cerrato had to go even though he had been little more than a fall guy for Snyder for 10 years. He took one last fall when he resigned, two weeks ago and was replaced by Bruce Allen.
Long before Allen was hired, the one name that had come up repeatedly as the next coach was Mike Shanahan. Zorn admitted this week that it first occurred to him that he was in trouble after a win on Sept. 20 over the god-awful St. Louis Rams. You can bet Snyder was talking to Shanahan by then, perhaps earlier, about taking over. If he'd been willing to do it, Shanahan probably would have been named coach during the bye week.
Shanahan is a shrewd operator. He wasn't going to take over a terrible team and have a bunch of losses tacked on to his résumé. He also knew that by waiting as the team sunk lower and lower, he could drive his price up. He and his agent made sure to let the world know the Buffalo Bills were interested in him and just last week, they managed to imply that both the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears might be interested in him but that he wouldn't go to either place because of his "relationships" with the coaches there.
Shanahan is going to be the coach in Washington next week. There's nothing wrong with that. He won two Super Bowls in Denver, is a proven winner and is the kind of big name that Snyder craves. What's more, it is pretty apparent that both he and Allen have been negotiating behind the scenes with Snyder on who will control the team. Whether Snyder can stick to his word -- he lasted one season letting Marty Schottenheimer have the final say -- is a question that can only be answered over time.
But then there's the Rooney Rule, which the NFL first invoked in 2003 when the lack of black coaches in a league dominated by black players began to become an embarrassment. Coincidence or not, there are now six African American head coaches (not counting Buffalo's interim coach Perry Fewell ) and two of the last three Super Bowl champions were coached by blacks.
Having a Rooney Rule doesn't mean that every team that has an opening must seriously consider an African American, especially if someone like Shanahan is available.
Having said that, the Redskins have made a mockery of the rule with Gray's "interview." To begin with, is there anything they won't do to humiliate Zorn, who has tried so hard to be a stand-up guy throughout this entire debacle? They couldn't wait until next week to go through the formality of interviewing Gray and then name Shanahan the coach on Wednesday or Thursday instead of Monday or Tuesday?
Then they forgot to brief Gray on how to handle the situation. When he was asked if he had interviewed for the job he initially said "no," forcing the team to put out a statement saying that Gray meant to say, "no comment." When in history has anyone had to put out a statement claiming someone was saying, "no comment" in answer to a yes-or-no question?
What's more remarkable is the willingness of both the NFL and the Fritz Pollard Alliance to play this silly game with the Redskins.
Shanahan is going to coach the Redskins. That's all well and good. But the Rooney Rule, even in an instance where it isn't going to produce a minority hire, should not be treated as a joke. There was no way Snyder was going to hire another coach who isn't even working at the coordinator level -- whether he be black, white, green or blue -- to follow Zorn. There are plenty of guys, minority and non-minority, who could have been interviewed next Monday and Tuesday before the surprise announcement that Shanahan was the new coach.
But the Redskins, as we know, always do things "the Redskins Way." The saddest part of that -- besides the on-field record and the off-field embarrassments -- is that the NFL won't do anything to stop the madness.
For more from the author, visit his blog at http://www.feinsteinonthebrink.com