Coaches were falling all over the NFL, with eight head coach positions sitting open by the time Jay Gruden walked into the press room at the Redskins practice facility and stepped to a microphone late Monday afternoon. Only he had nothing to announce. He had yet to meet with team President Bruce Allen, or owner Daniel Snyder, or really anyone who holds authority over his job.
“I really don’t know why I’m up here, to be honest with you,” he said with a laugh.
There have been no indications that Gruden is about to be fired, despite only two winning seasons and no playoff wins in five years as Redskins coach. A second straight 7-9 season, culminated the day before in a dreary shutout loss inside a home stadium filled with a rival team’s fans, could be the kind of thing that would get a coach fired.
But when asked about the meeting with Snyder that most assumed would come Monday, he shook his head.
“I’m just waiting by the phone,” Gruden said. “And when I get the call, I’ll go.”
He said he knows the conversation is coming and once he has it — whether it is with Snyder or Allen or maybe even another executive who will be in charge of football operations — he said he will take the vision delivered by his bosses and begin preparing for the offseason.
If he is still the coach.
For even though Gruden conducted his season-ending press briefing as if he will coach the Redskins for the coming season, he balanced his assessments with phrases such as “if I’m still here” or “once I get the word.”
This made for an awkward look-ahead, as the person who speaks most about the team’s direction was left to speak about its direction without being officially told if he is going to be coaching the team beyond next week.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be here, I feel good about the nucleus of the players that we have,” Gruden said. “We have to adjust some things without a doubt; when you’re 7-9, with injuries or not, it’s not good enough for this franchise. I know Mr. Snyder demands greatness from his staff and his players, and we didn’t do enough this year, so we have to figure out ways to get better. From the coaching staff standpoint first and then from a players standpoint.”
It had been a melancholy day around the team’s headquarters as players dumped the contents of their lockers into plastic bags and headed out into the winter. They expressed regret about a season that once held great promise, back when they were 6-3, in first place in the NFC East and seemingly certain to make the playoffs. But that was before quarterback Alex Smith broke his leg and his backup, Colt McCoy, broke his leg, too, and the team played the last four weeks with Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson as their quarterbacks.
Several players said they still believe the team is close to being very good, and free agents such as running back Adrian Peterson, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and wide receiver Jamison Crowder said, over the past two days, they want to come back. Gruden said, too, that he wants Peterson, Clinton-Dix, Crowder and pass rusher Preston Smith to return.
Still, he said — as he has for much of the season’s final weeks — that it’s hard to judge the team’s talent because of the injuries that left an NFL-high 24 players on injured reserve at the end of the season. He expressed hope that Smith could someday return, even as the Redskins are moving forward with a belief he might not.
“In the meantime, we’ve still got Colt and Josh and Sanchez and got a good look at those two guys,” he said.
Perhaps the injury that broke Gruden the most was that of right guard Brandon Scherff, who tore a pectoral muscle after a loss to Atlanta in early November.
“What do you miss when you lose a Pro Bowl guard?” Gruden said. “You miss a lot. You miss a lot in the running game, for sure, pass protect. The screen game suffered drastically without him in, because he is one of the best out in space there is in the National Football League as a far as a guard is concerned.”
But soon Gruden’s season-ending news conference ended without a final answer to the biggest question that loomed: Will he be back? Given that there has been no indication from anyone in the organization that his job is in jeopardy, the lack of any official announcement seemed to bring a strange end to a strange season.
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