Without question, Gruden had to be fired. He was 0-5 this season and 35-49-1 overall. He went to the playoffs only once and failed to win a postseason game. He was just a role player in this failure, but he needed to go. It was inevitable, and this early-season exit is actually a merciful ending.
Some would say this day reached inevitability the moment Gruden came aboard in 2014. He was the eighth man to coach a game for Snyder. Somehow, he lasted through the fifth game of his sixth season. The owner never had been so patient with a coach, and his reward turned out to be this winless debacle.
So what now? More of the same. Unless Snyder is prepared to do some serious soul-searching, unless he is prepared to break the vicious cycle of catastrophe that he created, this latest firing will lead to nothing other than wasting more money on a new coach who cannot possibly succeed.
It doesn’t matter if Snyder hires a rock star with Super Bowl credentials. He lured Mike Shanahan. He brought back Joe Gibbs. It doesn’t matter if he hires an innovator on the collegiate level. He tried that with Steve Spurrier. It doesn’t matter if he hires a proven builder (Marty Schottenheimer) or ventures way out of the box (Jim Zorn). The new coach will fail.
In fact, the new coach already has failed. That’s because the Redskins are failing him with their current power structure. As long as Snyder continues to employ Bruce Allen as the team president, the new coach will have a boss who has turned the Peter Principle into a depressing kind of performance art.
Allen is now 59-89-1 since his first full season with the franchise, yet he will celebrate 10 years with the organization in December. Happy anniversary to you, too, Bruce. Snyder’s 20 years would be only half as miserable without you.
It’s remarkable. The more Allen messes up, the more untouchable he seems to become. He has this mystical ability to present himself not as a failure, but as a victim who was bamboozled by his own people.
You know Gruden was done when Allen started to distance himself from the coach. Then you started to hear character assassinations seep into the media, such as the recent suggestion from multiple outlets that Gruden was ineffective because he is lazy. The strategy to kick ’em on the way out has long been an evil part of the way Snyder has run the franchise. And for what? Justification? The approach predates Allen, but it has gotten only worse with him as the president. The Shanahan exit was messy. The ousting of former general manager Scot McCloughan was messier. When he left for Minnesota, Kirk Cousins was nothing but a selfish guy with a wandering eye. And now Gruden is the bum who didn’t work hard enough to keep his job.
This is the coach who, to his credit, stood behind a lectern and defended the franchise even when it didn’t deserve to be defended. This is the coach who was accountable to the public while Allen and Snyder ran from responsibility. This is the coach who smoothed over issues that could have turned into disasters and kept the Redskins competitive for a decent period of time.
As someone who covered the majority of Gruden’s tenure, I wouldn’t characterize him as lazy. His problem was that he had a disheveled style of coaching. He is not as organized as Sean McVay, his former offensive coordinator and the current Los Angeles Rams head coach. Gruden is a laid-back personality, and while the players liked him, they didn’t hang on his every word. It all contributed to a maddening inconsistency and sloppiness that Gruden never solved. Those were his macro issues. But Allen and the front office didn’t help him restock the offense with ideal weapons over the past three seasons. And when the franchise needed to throw big money at a defensive coordinator two years ago, it balked and settled for Greg Manusky.
There is much nuance to why Gruden fizzled after winning the NFC East and making the playoffs in his second season. But “Gruden is lazy” is a stronger message to relay, I suppose. It’s misleading and awful. But, sadly, it’s also typical.
And here’s another thing about the “lazy” coach who betrayed the organization: Allen was the one who signed Gruden to a guaranteed two-year extension in 2017 when the franchise’s conflict with McCloughan was dominating the news. Gruden, who was three years into his tenure and coming off back-to-back winning seasons, still had two years left on his original deal.
Allen negotiated the extension to manufacture organizational stability. But now it means that Gruden is under contract through next season. So assuming there is no separation agreement, Gruden will be paid handsomely (his annual salary was about $5 million) to sit out the next 1⅔ seasons. He was brought back for this terrible sixth season partly because of that extension.
In most organizations, the team president would be on the hot seat, at the very least, for making such a costly shortsighted decision. In Ashburn, Snyder is probably finalizing the design details for Allen’s statue.
Gruden had to be fired. Any competent franchise in Washington’s position would have done so. But there’s little reason for hope if this decision isn’t accompanied by introspection and further change.
Allen must go. If Snyder can’t bring himself to fire Allen, he can at least move him to a job away from daily football and business operations. That would free the franchise to restructure once again and hire a brain trust in which all the decision-makers are operating on the same timeline. It’s the best way to ensure a fresh start.
After 20 years, Snyder should be tired of this pattern. He loses. He complains about the losses. He complains about the criticism. He changes coaches. He loses again.
He is 54 years old. He could run the franchise into the ground for another 30 years. Or he could show that he has learned something over the past two decades.
There is no single savior the Redskins can hire. There is no head coach, no matter how great. No transcendent superstar. No extraordinary talent evaluator. Before such individuals even matter, the organization must save itself, or rather, the owner must fix it. But not even the naive are waiting for that to happen anymore.
Happy anniversary, hopelessness.
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