The jam-sticky little handprints of the owner are all over this. First Coach Jay Gruden said Robert Griffin III would have to fight for the job of starting quarterback in Washington next season, and just six weeks later Griffin was named the starter without so much as a snap. What, you wanted organization from the Redskins? You wanted them to plot points on a reasonably charted course as opposed to what looks like a toddler’s crazed zigzag toward another jelly-filled treat?
Two head coaches in succession have had major problems with Griffin — two good, proven offensive minds that know how to teach young quarterbacks and get them to the postseason. Neither has been allowed to do his job. The result is that Griffin is three-quarters of the way toward being ruined. The Redskins have a young quarterback whose ego is so eggshell that he apparently cracks at the mere idea of competing for his position. Exactly how successful can this team be?
Let’s examine the chain of events and see whether we can figure out what happened. At the end of a 4-12 season, Gruden announced about his quarterback, “Until that position is earned, you have to have a competition.” Griffin hadn’t earned it: He was still struggling to master the offense and make reads and needed a ton of work on his mechanics, which left the door open for Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy.
But just a few days later, Griffin gave an interview to ESPN 980 that showed he and his coach were not at all on the same page about that. During Super Bowl week, Griffin was asked what made Tom Brady and Russell Wilson great. Hit rewind and listen. He didn’t focus on their mechanics. Or the intelligence of their reads. Or their exhaustive film study. Here was his answer. “I think it just comes with the organizational support that they have as well to be the players they are, to understand that this is our guy no matter what,” he said.
He then cited Wilson throwing four interceptions in the NFC championship game yet coming back to beat the Packers. “I think that guy knows in the back of his head that the entire team has his back and the entire organization has his back. And I think that’s important. . . . I can take different pieces of their game, but I also understand the situations that they’re in and try to take that as well and know that this is how you build a winner. This is how you build a family-like atmosphere. And that’s what we’re trying to do with the Redskins, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
An oft-injured quarterback who just turned 25 — who has gone 5-15 as a starter over his past two seasons and has glaring weaknesses in both physical performance and temperament — believed the main thing separating him from Brady and Wilson was organizational support. And he wanted a similar unconditional commitment from his team.
Guess what? He got it.
He got it just two days after a report surfaced that Cousins was spending time studying with Jon Gruden, brother-analyst of the head coach, in order to grasp the system better and compete for the starting job.
This is how the franchise operates under owner Dan Snyder and why nothing ever gets any better. Behind every nonsensical, destructive decision, you find Snyder empowering exactly the wrong person because he is his pet. Hit rewind again and listen to the interview Snyder’s former general manager Vinny Cerrato gave to a Philadelphia radio station in January about the inner workings of the club. Remember how Snyder gave Marty Schottenheimer total control and he won eight of his last 11 games only to be fired? Turns out Schottenheimer tried to forbid Cerrato from going around him to Snyder. Cerrato went to Snyder and complained, and Snyder replied, “I screwed up. I gave him all the power.” As soon as the season was over, he fired Schottenheimer and brought back Cerrato.
Remember Snyder’s vow that Joe Gibbs would have total control over the franchise and personnel decisions and that he would be completely hands-off? Listen to Cerrato describe how Gibbs’s tenure really worked. “I ran all meetings for personnel and everything,” Cerrato said. “And then Joe and I and Dan would sit down and discuss the game plan for free agency, draft, the whole thing.” Which is how the Redskins came to draft Carlos Rogers while Aaron Rodgers was still available.
Then there was Jim Zorn’s tenure, with its labyrinthine toxic-filled dealings. “Zorn wouldn’t listen to me,” Cerrato said. “Owner didn’t get along with the head coach. I had to talk to the head coach through the owner. All those kind of things. It doesn’t work, because the players pick it up. And you can’t win.”
The players pick it up, and you can’t win. Now, what do you think the players have picked up from the events of the last three weeks? Or the last three years? Here is Mike Shanahan’s version of how his NFC East title team absolutely fell apart in the space of just two weeks after the 2012 season, which he gave to ESPN’s 980 this week. Griffin went on a magic red carpet tour with Snyder to a variety of festivities. According to Shanahan, Griffin then came home and demanded a meeting with the offensive coaches in which he stood before a board and began listing the read-option plays he refused to run, calling them “totally unacceptable” and employing other language Shanahan believed to be straight out of the owner’s mouth.
Shanahan confronted Snyder, which began the unraveling of the coach-owner relationship and the quarterback-coach relationship as well. Chunks of the playbook had to be torn up because Griffin wouldn’t run it. Griffin was absolutely convinced he was a finished drop-back quarterback, when in fact he was — and remains — years away from mastering the position. “That’s the reason we went in a different direction,” Shanahan told me by phone. “He said he wanted changes in protections; all these plays were unacceptable. He was convinced he was a drop-back quarterback. I said, ‘You can be, but it’s going to take time. You’ve never done it.’ ”
Similarly, it will take a couple of years and firings before it’s revealed what really happened between Gruden’s announcement there would be competition for the quarterback position and the preemptory awarding of it to Griffin. But based on the past, it’s pretty clear. Now Gruden has to try to make Griffin not just a finished quarterback but a team player amid all the double-dealings. Gruden’s desire to hold the quarterback position open was entirely reasonable, his way of trying to put pressure on Griffin to recognize his weaknesses and get to work on them. It was also a message to other players that this was Gruden’s team.
But it’s not. It’s Griffin’s team — and Snyder’s. Gruden’s fate — and that of the entire club — is now completely tied up with a player who has so little temperamental resilience that he can’t stand an open competition. And an owner who coddles him. Good luck with that.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.