“I’m quite disappointed, to be honest with you,” Gruden said on a conference call with reporters. “I think we made it pretty clear we keep our business within these walls, and we’ve had talks before about that, and unfortunately he chose to go to the media again and talk about some of his displeasure with some of the calls.”
Gruden was so disappointed, in fact, that he said he plans to meet with Swearinger on Monday at the team’s practice facility. When asked whether he will punish Swearinger, Gruden said he will wait until after the meeting. Because Sunday’s game with Philadelphia — which was flexed by the league to a 4:25 p.m. start time — is the team’s last of the season, any suspension would end Swearinger’s year. Swearinger has one season left on a three-year, $13.5 million contract he signed before last season.
“I think it’s important to actually talk to the player first before I come to any critical conclusions on a [Tuesday] after a tough, tough loss,” he said.
But Gruden’s anger was apparent. In the minutes before Swearinger went off on Manusky in a postgame interview following Saturday’s loss, Gruden’s voice cracked a couple of times as he praised his team team, decimated with injuries, for the way it battled. When he realized what Swearinger had done — publicly criticizing Manusky for not calling zone coverage on a critical third-and-six play on the drive that won the Titans the game — he was shocked. Players might get angry about certain situations, but blaming a coach for a call crossed a line he had always drawn with his teams.
What seemed to bother Gruden the most is the fact it is not the first time Swearinger has ripped coaches and teammates in his postgame news conferences. Several times after losses, Swearinger has complained about teammates being too carefree in practices, losing focus in games or tackling poorly. Gruden had not disciplined Swearinger for those rants but said the two had talked and he felt they wouldn’t happen again.
“We had a discussion about him before and I thought we squashed it, but I guess not,” Gruden said glumly.
At another point he also said this about Swearinger:
“It’s happened with the same guy a couple times now, so it’s become redundant to me.”
At times a few of the Redskins' defensive players have been critical of their coaches, especially as a stout defense early in the season gave up 400 yards in five of six games. In midseason, linebacker Zach Brown posted and then deleted an angry tweet in which he lashed out at coaches for blaming him for mistakes when “eye in sky don’t lie.” Two weeks ago, he hinted at more problems when he responded to a question about the defense’s collapse by saying, “The changed stuff, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
Gruden has never been one to discipline players for speaking out, understanding they might get agitated in a physical, emotional sport. Brown, for instance, was not benched for his remarks. Swearinger’s, though, were more direct in their criticism. At one point, he said: “If I’m the D-coordinator I’m calling a zone every time on third down because you’ve got a backup quarterback. Make him beat us.”
That is why Gruden and Swearinger will be talking on Monday.
“I think one guy’s voice is not necessarily the opinion of every other player on the football team,” Gruden said. “I don’t know why he feels that way, but I don’t think Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Mason Foster and the rest of the guys feel the same way. We’ll have to see. I just don’t want a torn locker room and people starting to point fingers. That’s the one thing we’ve really, really tried to preach against — no finger pointing after a loss. We just got to accept it and give credit to the other team and then move on and try and get better.”
Swearinger has had troubles with coaches throughout his career, most notably in Houston, where he bickered with several of the Texans coaches, including head coach Bill O’Brien. Earlier this year, he accused O’Brien of criticizing him to other teams. The O’Brien-Swearinger feud was a big story line in the days before the Redskins played the Texans in November.
Swearinger, who has four interceptions and a forced fumble this year, has talked about calming out-of-control emotions and said he has matured throughout his six-year career.
“He’s a talented guy,” Gruden said about Swearinger. “He’s played well this year. I think he’s an alternate for the Pro Bowl. He’s done some good things. I don’t know if he really understands what he’s doing is not helpful and it’s a distraction. Coach Manusky worked his tail off during the week to get the best game plan together, called man coverage on third down and six which is something 95 percent of coordinators do, and we got an unfortunate [pass interference] call.”
At first it seemed the Redskins had actually stopped the Titans on the play that Swearinger was most upset about. Tennessee was on Washington’s 37, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw a pass that appeared to be well over wide receiver Taywan Taylor’s head. With the Redskins holding a 16-12 lead, the Titans would have had to try a field goal of over 50 yards just to get within a point. But cornerback Fabian Moreau was called for an illegal contact penalty that gave Tennessee a first down. Four plays later, the Titans scored the go-ahead touchdown that essentially destroyed the Redskins' dim playoff hopes.