After standing atop the rubble of the Mike Shanahan era and declaring he’s in charge, Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen dipped into his past and hired former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as the team’s head coach. And now Allen is on the clock.
For the Redskins, the previous four years were on Shanahan. The upcoming ones are all about Allen.
The new head of Washington’s football operation must turn around a team that has finished last in the NFC East five of the past six years. He’s responsible for rebuilding a roster whose holes were exposed in an embarrassing 3-13 season. Most importantly, he must provide something that has eluded the franchise since Daniel Snyder purchased it in 1999: stability. He’ll definitely be busy.
Recently, Allen used the firing of Shanahan as a platform to announce he will have the final say in football matters. Allen plans to lean heavily on Scott Campbell, director of player personnel; Morocco Brown, director of pro personnel; and senior executive A.J. Smith. Allen’s message was as clear as the lack of talent in the Redskins’ secondary: Shanahan failed because he didn’t rely on the player-personnel staff. Although I don’t buy Shanahan refused to accept any counsel — even Campbell and Brown wouldn’t try to sell that — Redskins officials privately have expressed confidence that Allen’s regime will be run more like a democracy than a dictatorship.
Lacking a strong scouting background, Allen will need plenty of help from Campbell, Brown and Smith in an effort to bolster the offensive line at multiple positions, acquire help at wide receiver and strengthen one of the NFL’s worst defensive backfields. Allen’s first Redskins makeover will occur without a first-round pick (which is headed to the Rams to complete the Robert Griffin III deal), but with more than $20 million in cap space, his top advisers should be able to offer many suggestions on players who will fit into their budget. Undoubtedly, Gruden will have significant input, too.
Gruden, who worked under Allen with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, held head coaching and front-office positions in lower professional leagues. With the Cincinnati Bengals, Gruden became a top-notch offensive coordinator while also developing a good reputation for tutoring quarterbacks. Allen and Snyder were drawn to Gruden, in large part, because they believe he’s the correct person to get Griffin back on track. Allen’s familiarity with Gruden should help make for a smooth coaching transition, enabling the new staff to get a running start, which can only help a club that went 0-8 in the second half of its schedule.
“I know Bruce,” Gruden said. “It’s not about Bruce, and I know Bruce knows it’s not about Jay. We know it’s about us.”
Under Shanahan, Allen played a support role. He figures to have a true partnership with Gruden, which is what he wants. And now that he’s sitting at the head of the table, he needs as many allies as he can get.
“At the end of the day, every one of the players will be chosen by the Redskins as a group,” Allen said during Thursday’s news conference. “Jay and I talked about how we want to do it . . . it really is going to be a group effort.”
Consensus-building is among Allen’s strengths, past and former team officials say. He has a knack for taking the appropriate approach in different situations, which came in handy while he served as the buffer between Shanahan and Snyder for four years. Strong people skills, however, can only take you so far when you’re the guy in charge.
Previously, Shanahan, who demanded total control to join the Redskins, was judged on Washington’s win-loss record. Now, Allen steps in front of the bull’s-eye.
“We have to get it right,” Allen said. “We need to get the franchise back on track and in the winning direction.”
During Snyder’s tenure as owner, the Redskins have had just four winning seasons and four postseason appearances. Team officials, fans and many in the media (I was among the believers) thought the Redskins would experience a run of peace and prosperity after they won their first NFC East title in 13 years last season. But Snyder’s cozy relationship with Griffin became a major problem for Shanahan, who blew up every bridge in sight en route to being fired and collecting the final $7 million of his five-year, $35 million contract.
Allen wants to end the drama. He often stresses, I’ve been told, the importance of team unity and striving for common goals. Allen truly is all-in on the all-for-one stuff.
Unfortunately for Allen, there’s no one left at Redskins Park who can do for him what he did for Shanahan: keep Snyder at bay. Allen will spend his day overseeing a first-time NFL head coach, the player-personnel staff and an owner whose impatience and capriciousness has hurt the Redskins throughout his tenure.
Allen never wanted to play second fiddle to Shanahan, current and former team officials say, and he finally has the power he always wanted. But you have to be careful what you wish for — because you just may get it.