Coach Jay Gruden has kept an even keel when it comes to managing his team. That’s unusual among NFL coaches. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Columnist

The entire world of the Washington Redskins can take on all of the NFL’s most extreme tendencies, including its nastiest and tensest, and exaggerate them. For most of the past 25 seasons, the franchise has often been a nightmare of stress, internal team turmoil, back-stabbing, changing personnel and total rebuilds. For many coaches and players, reputations arrive in tact, then depart shredded.

And then there is Coach Jay Gruden, who is somehow entirely different.

Now, somehow, in his fifth year despite a sub-.500 record, Gruden seems to exist in a serious yet simultaneously playful NFL world of his own. He is concerned with losses, even disgusted with himself at times, as he was a week ago after being beaten at home by the Indianapolis Colts. But he never explodes in public and with the least provocation, such as Sunday’s 31-17 upset win over the Green Bay Packers, Gruden is so tickled that he can hardly keep the grin off his face and the laughs out of his voice.

“It’s an up-and-down league. Can you maintain focus?” Gruden said after watching his defense play its third straight solid game with only 44 total points allowed.

“How do you handle adversity, because adversity will strike? You will make turnovers. You won’t win every quarter. And you will have to handle some really tough losses like last week,” Gruden added after watching his new quarterback, Alex Smith, go 12 for 20 for 220 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and a 110.4 quarterback rating.

For many years, the Redskins have lived in a somewhat-below-.500 world with occasional runs at the playoffs. That makes for madness in a sport where losing has been likened, though not yet quite equated, with death. This franchise in particular has chosen to predict unlikely triumphs and then, in defeat, find scapegoats. Yet Gruden has ridden those waves and gotten a contract extension while largely ignoring, and being undamaged by, the long Kirk Cousins controversy.

“I grew up in a football family. My dad [Jim] was a coach. So that means he got fired every four years. My older brother [Oakland Raiders Coach Jon] reacted by running around looking for fans to punch,” Gruden said while standing in the midst of his team’s happy locker room. “I just wanted everybody to be happy.

“I’m not going to let the game eat away at me and beat me up,” he said, his smile turning serious.

Is it mostly those millions of NFL coaching dollars in the bank that make the bad times tolerable, while the good times, like Sunday at FedEx Field, are still as much fun as when he was becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback — but in the Arena Football League.

“No, it’s not money. I’m just not crazy,” Gruden said with his crooked sly look. “And I don’t read any of that stuff — message boards, Twitter — where they are saying all those bad things about you.”

What about all those fair-minded newspaper stories?

“My mom takes care of that. She said she’d send me all the good ones. So far, in five years, there have been two or three,” Gruden said. Rim shot.

What’s next, with a glorious breath-of-life 2-1 record that, in the NFL, is light years better than a you-are-a-horrible-human 1-2 record? Oh, and a beautiful bye ahead, too?

“How’s Tiger doin’?” Gruden asked. Ahead by a few shots, Gruden is told.

“Sweet! What hole?” Going to the back nine.

“I got to get to that,” Gruden said, heading for his office and a TV.

At times it seems that Gruden’s sane temperament doesn’t help his teams reach the pitch of intensity for important December games, or games in which they are favored, that a more-nearly-lunatic coach might. Yet his players’ coach manner, coupled with his lifelong addiction to studying the game, seem to have a balancing effect — his teams also seem to rebound from tough losses, and win when it’s not predicted, like the defeat of the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Last week, Jay took a lot of blame on himself for the game plan when he didn’t have to do that. We didn’t execute it,” said Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams, who helped lead Washington to 166 yards rushing, including 120 by Adrian Peterson in the 52nd 100-yard game of the future Hall of Fame running back’s career. “Jay’s a good dude. He’s so much in the players’ favor and cares about us so much that we want to play well for him.”

Is that different than many NFL coaches? “You know it,” Williams said with an eye roll.

“We have a chance to be pretty good,” Gruden said at his post-win news conference.

Later, he was asked what crucial factor would determine whether that happened.

“If we match effort with skill,” Gruden said.

Those words have a bit of edge.

“Everybody in this league has skill,” he said.

Can the Redskins, the Gruden Redskins especially, ever consistently defeat complacency in good times while continuing to play their best — at times — against their better foes?

This Redskins season seems likely to continue as a wild open-ocean ride with one unpredictable next roll of the waves after another. This is a team, 7-9 last year but far healthier now, with enough talent to hint at 8-8 or slightly better, but enough weaknesses, and players with injury history, that a plummet will always be threatening it. Perhaps Gruden’s equipoise — a virtue perhaps no other NFL coach has been accused of — suits the demanding ride his team will confront.

“Jay is like most of us,” defensive end Ryan Kerrigan said, ignoring the age difference, as most players do, with the youthful 51-year-old. “When we win, he gets pretty happy. When we lose, he gets pretty hot. He’s a hard-ass when he needs to be. But we know we get his all.”

If Gruden is lucky, he will someday have a season when his entire team provides that “all” as often as he does. For now, on to 2-1 and two whole weeks when Gruden can grin.