On January 9th, 2014, the Washington Redskins hired Jay Gruden to succeed Mike Shanahan as head coach. Gruden, a sought-after coach, cut his teeth through the coaching ranks to finally step out of his brother’s shadow.
As the 29th head coach of the Redskins, Gruden inherited a team that went 3-13 the previous season and had numerous leaks. The locker room was divided, management was a wreck, and the quarterback was bigger than the team.
And that’s how our story begins.
The RGIII Saga
The head coach was hired with a specific purpose of fixing franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III. It took all of 11 weeks with RGIII for Jay to put his first stamp on Washington. After a 27-7 drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden had this to say about the quarterback he inherited to fix:
“He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up, and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times.”
Rarely, if ever, does an NFL head coach eviscerate a player, let alone the starting quarterback, in public. Gruden, however, grew tired of his pretty boy quarterback. According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Gruden said of RGIII:
“It’s his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position. It’s my job to worry about everybody else.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement from coach. Gruden’s message to his team was loud and clear. No one, no matter position, was bigger than the team. It was a small and obvious statement, but a position few had taken in Washington dating back to Joe. Gibbs 1.0
While most thought this would be his undoing, this was Jay’s first real win as head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Gruden’s Dog House
The following season, Gruden led the Redskins to an NFC East title behind Kirk Cousins and his stamp on the team was undeniable. With the help of (now former) General Manager Scot McCloughan, Washington had a sense of calm heading into the 2016 season.
Before the season, however, former first round draft pick Josh Doctson mysteriously could not shake tendinitis in both Achilles. Doctor after doctor gave the same puzzled prognosis. No one really knew what was wrong with the talented wide out from TCU.
After just two games and two catches, Doctson was shut down for the remainder of the season. A disappointing end, but Washington needed the receiver to get healthy knowing their core receivers were most likely walking in free agency.
Docston’s toughness has been called out routinely by fans and the media. Gruden, who grinded his way to the top, clearly agrees with the fan base. A pet peeve of Jay’s is players who do not practice and give there all. He wants tough players who are dependable. Just look about what he said about Robert Kelley after the win over the Rams:
He is a “tough guy” and “I think he will try to play with that thing”. So many times we heard how former GM McCloughan wanted football players. Well, so does the man stalking the side lines.
Doctson has found himself in Gruden’s dog house and drawn the ire of the coach. After the week 1 loss to the Eagles, Gruden spoke his mind about the soft WR:
Does that sound like a coach who is happy with a player’s effort? No. In fact, it sounds like a coach who has grown incredibly frustrated and impatient. Practice makes perfect and Doctson has yet to show he can stay on the field for more than one day.
The Redskins are a tough team. Linebacker Mason Foster embodies what the team looks for in players. After separating his shoulder early against the Rams, the linebacker knew there was only one things left to do.
Says Jerry Brewer of the Post, Foster wanted to “Get the shoulder popped back into place. Strap on a brace so it couldn’t escape again. Go win the game”.
He did just that. Say it with me…football player.
Now in his fourth season, Jay Gruden has a team that plays tough. It is not always pretty, but they are tough. Josh Docston is a long way from earning the trust of his head coach. Just ask Ryan Grant how to earn that respect.
Players routinely talk about their coach being hilarious and a ‘great guy to play for.’ From the one liners, the smart quips, to players giving their coach a purple nurble, Gruden is labeled as a player’s coach. Don’t believe me? Go and read how soft his training camps are for veterans.
Quietly, however, he has built a team that is incredibly resilient. The players love playing for him and for each other. According to Dan Steinberg, “Sunday was the 12th time the Redskins have won as true underdogs under Gruden and Cousins, two more than any other team in the NFL in that span”.
It is not always pretty, but Gruden gets the job done because the team sticks together. Kirk Cousins discussed this after their most recent win. Says the quarterback, “Hopefully that can be a stat that we continue to bring forth, because I think it’s something that says a lot about the resiliency and the character of our football team.”
The head coach deserves a ton of credit in building that culture. There are certainly aspects that have helped and there are still tons of questions. Mainly, can the head coach get this team over this hump and has he plateaued?
Jay is a passionate coach and still has the fire of an underdog. His teams respond to that. His locker room loves him because of it. This is his team and his chance to get over that hump.
Finally, this brings me to the news that the Redskins announcing they are not letting Su’a Cravens back into the fold this season.
As a brief recap, the safety abruptly showed up before week 1 and announced he was quitting the team. Despite being moved back to his natural position, Cravens said he needed to take a personal leave.
Just days after final cut down day, Cravens quit the team. Make no mistake about it either. In Jay’s eyes, the safety quit on his team. Washington said and did the right things, but the fire inside it’s young head coach was roaring.
Privately, players questioned if they could ever trust Craven’s again. Per Jerry Brewer, the safety told his teammates of his plans via text, “He announced he was retiring in a group text chain with some of his teammates and ended the message with, “Peace out.” Some players considered it disrespectful. Some wonder whether they ever will trust Cravens again”.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it was reported that Su’a Cravens was reporting back to camp on Tuesday. This is where Jay had enough. This is where we learned who really has the power in Washington.
Having been coddled for more than a year, switched positions upon request, and penciled in as a starter, Cravens thought he could do whatever he wanted. He was greatly mistaken.
Knowing he was set to return, it is my belief that Gruden pulled rank on puppet VP Doug Williams and slammed the door shut on a return for #30. With a locker room to protect and a toughness to uphold, Gruden simply was not going to allow someone to dictate being on his roster.
Su’a Cravens may indeed have personal issues to attend too. If so, I truly hope he gets the help needed. Lord knows these players go through a ton. But to quit on your team the day after cut down day was not something Gruden was going to forget.
In Jay’s world, you come to practice, get your reps, and do your job. It is not always pretty, but it is demanded from the man in charge. Can he be too soft on veterans? Yes. Does he have a long way to go as a coach? Yes.
But it won’t be because he didn’t build a culture. This is his team. Not Scot McCloughan’s. Not puppeteer Doug Williams. It is Gruden’s. Make no mistake about it – the power in Washington did indeed shift… just not to who we thought.