After watching the Washington Redskins yuck it up and hearing laughter rip through their locker room late Monday night, you couldn’t tell that, only minutes earlier, the Seattle Seahawks had completed a 27-17 victory at FedEx Field. Veteran wide receiver Pierre Garcon acted out something while sharing laughs with tackle and offensive team captain Trent Williams. Other players also clearly were amused while retelling stories. But few if any seemed bothered by the Redskins’ third consecutive loss.
For a 1-4 team that went 3-13 last season, Washington was much too upbeat, and that should scare Coach Jay Gruden. Although the Redskins have holes throughout their roster, their performance in the locker room revealed a problem even bigger than starting Brandon Meriweather at safety: Unless Gruden changes the team’s culture, he has no chance at succeeding.
In five of the past six seasons and seven of 10, the Redskins have finished last or tied for last in the NFC East. Their long run of failure has been marked by preposterous player-personnel decisions, poor management and coaching hires and too many on-field embarrassments to list. Along the way, the Redskins have become accustomed to losing. It’s as much a part of who they are as burgundy-and-gold uniforms.
That’s what Gruden, a smart first-year NFL head coach, must overcome to construct the type of consistent winner he wants. Judging from the party-like environment in the locker room following yet another double-digit defeat, it won’t be easy. You can’t build a winner on a foundation of clowns.
Over the past few weeks, the Redskins did just enough to wind up on the wrong end of the scoreboard in a shootout with the Philadelphia Eagles, were dominated by the New York Giants in a 31-point laugher and outclassed from the start against Seattle. At the end of that hard road, you’d expect to enter a somber locker room, not a nightclub. The Redskins lack leadership in the locker room. Garcon and Williams proved that.
For the past two seasons, Garcon was Washington’s No. 1 wide receiver. With the offseason arrival of game-changing wideout DeSean Jackson, Garcon’s hold on the position isn’t as strong, but he’s still a key member of the offense and a team leader.
Williams is at the head of the line. The Pro Bowler is arguably the Redskins’ most talented player. Twice, Williams has been voted a team captain. Gruden looks to Williams to set the tone. By laughing it up with Garcon after the Redskins suffered their 12th loss in 13 games dating from last season, Williams set the wrong one.
Garcon and Williams are hard workers. They’ve played through pain that would have sidelined many players. Based on how Garcon, who helped the Indianapolis Colts reach a Super Bowl, and Williams have sacrificed their bodies, I have no doubt they’re committed to winning. In all likelihood, they have been frustrated about yet another disappointing start.
Their locker room antics, however, sent a bad message to younger players who are learning what it takes to thrive in the NFL. For the players at the top of the roster, it’s not only what you do; it’s also how you do it.
Should Garcon and Williams appear morose after every setback to prove they care? No. They make their living playing a game, not fighting wars. It’s also true that people process disappointment differently. That established, their behavior was inappropriate, especially considering the Redskins’ long-standing position near the bottom of the league. Gruden definitely isn’t cool with it, people within the organization say.
Following the blowout loss to the Giants, Gruden privately expressed concerns about the Redskins’ this-kind-of-stuff-happens-all-the-time attitude. As the Giants easily pulled away, most players displayed little frustration or anger on the sideline. In the locker room afterward, no team leaders addressed the group about the need to make changes. It was just business as usual, which is how the Redskins got into this mess.
The Redskins have been mismanaged for so long, the people at the top have no idea what it takes to construct a roster with the right type of players. That’s why several of Gruden’s predecessors over the past 15 years have tried — without much success — to change the organizational culture. Gruden needs to take his swing quickly.
Ultimately, a head coach determines a team’s personality, and some Redskins observers would argue Gruden hasn’t been tough enough on players. Perhaps if he was more iron-fisted, they say, the Redskins wouldn’t be so loosey-goosey after losses.
Gruden treats players like professionals. Unfortunately for him, many Redskins players have no clue what it takes to be one. And in the NFL, rules prohibit coaches from being dictators as they once were. In effect, head coaches are in partnership with players. Both on and off the field, Gruden needs new partners.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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