Jay Gruden’s sullen expression revealed how bad things are for the Washington Redskins. Usually upbeat, Gruden appeared listless Monday while discussing the possibility of turning back to quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Although the coaching staff and some in the locker room have no confidence in Griffin, according to people in the organization, the benched quarterback could return to the starting lineup because of Colt McCoy’s neck injury. And owner Daniel Snyder and President and General Manager Bruce Allen still support Griffin, which is unfortunate for Gruden.
The Griffin saga has paralyzed the organization and provided a painful learning experience for the rookie head coach. In a moment of candor that brought to mind former coach Jim Zorn’s I-feel-like-the-worst-coach-in-America revelation, Gruden shared that the heat of the spotlight is “a little bit more than I expected.” It figures to get hotter.
Hired largely to fix Griffin, Gruden quickly determined the problems were too big to cure. And Gruden’s guidance hasn’t helped McCoy or Kirk Cousins much, either.
As the offseason draws near, it’s fair to question Gruden’s handling of a situation in which he has failed to develop three quarterbacks. That wasn’t how the script was supposed to go after Washington made a major investment in Gruden despite his relatively light NFL résumé, believing it had found a coach who could lead the struggling franchise back to prominence.
With four years remaining on his guaranteed five-year contract, Gruden might have time to prove he’s the right man for the job. But Gruden and his staff have appeared overmatched as the 3-10 team limps to the finish of another wasted season, and lack of stability in the coach’s office has been a major problem under Snyder.
Washington’s performance in its final three games could silence some of Gruden’s critics — or add to the growing list. Again, determining who starts at quarterback will be Gruden’s biggest decision.
In explaining that Griffin could make a comeback, Gruden didn’t seem overly enthusiastic. Asked whether Griffin had improved in practice since being demoted, Gruden sidestepped the question.
If Griffin does start, “hopefully he’ll play well,” Gruden said. “Hopefully, he’s taken a step back and taken everything in and just continuing to learn the position and learning about the concepts that we run.
“Hopefully, he’ll have more of a confident air about him when he jumps back in there, and less indecision is what we’re hoping for. . . . Just pull the trigger and make plays.”
Basically, Gruden has no reason to believe Griffin will be better than he was during his last two starts, in which he wasn’t nearly good enough. Problem is, even if McCoy is cleared medically, Gruden may not have the juice needed to push back against his bosses, who are hoping Griffin recaptures his offensive-rookie-of-the-year magic of 2012.
Washington appeared in disarray Sunday during another embarrassing blowout loss. Gruden’s staff often has been outcoached during this five-game losing streak. Now may not be the best time for Gruden to pick a fight with the guy who signs his big paychecks.
“We are all embarrassed right now,” Gruden said, looking every bit as physically and emotionally drained as many of his predecessors have late in other lost seasons.
Gruden, however, brightened up a little while answering questions about Cousins.
“I could see myself playing with Kirk. No doubt about it,” Gruden said, again signaling his preference for any quarterback other than Griffin.
“I like Kirk. He did some good things when he was in there. Obviously, the turnovers . . . plagued him pretty hard. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to get another opportunity this year. Does not mean that at all.”
It’s not that Gruden has renewed confidence in Cousins, who was demoted to third string as much for the awful body language he displayed after poor performances as his high rate of turnovers. Cousins, though, is not Griffin. That’s what matters most to Gruden.
That established, McCoy remains Gruden’s first choice. Gruden’s last hope to provide stability at the game’s most important position, McCoy had a two-interception stinker before getting hurt late in the last game and replaced by Griffin.
“He was put in some tough situations,” Gruden said of McCoy.
Gruden can relate. He now knows that nothing can prepare you for coaching the Redskins. And once you learn, it may be too late.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.