ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Redskins dismissed their coach. They haven’t solved their problems.
Washington fired Jay Gruden, 52, on Monday morning and it’s a hard decision to argue. The Redskins are 0-5 this season and haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. They reached the postseason once under Gruden — in 2015 — and his 35-49-1 record in Washington further backed up the need to move on. His firing became inevitable long before the news was announced.
Bill Callahan takes over as interim coach, but the big question remains: Can owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen, who was hired late during the 2009 season, figure out a way to win? The Redskins are 59-89-1 since Allen arrived.
The Redskins have now fired five coaches during Snyder’s tenure, which began in 1999. He will hire his eighth coach after the season. None of the first seven — including Marty Schottenheimer (one year), Joe Gibbs (four) and Mike Shanahan (four) — had winning records in Washington. That’s one Hall of Fame coach (Gibbs) and two who are debated as being worthy.
Whoever the Redskins hire will join an organization with two playoff wins since Snyder bought the team. Washington has finished last in the division eight times during his ownership.
This year the Redskins, and by extension Gruden, were in trouble before the 2019 season began.
Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams remains a holdout, a huge blow to the offense.
Top tight end Jordan Reed suffered a concussion in the third preseason game and hasn’t played.
All of this was a tough mix for Gruden, who had to win immediately. And once the season kicked off, more problems emerged.
Coordinator Greg Manusky’s defense — expected to be a team strength — has struggled badly. Cornerback Josh Norman has not played to his contract and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who counts $13.95 million against the cap, has been too quiet on the field. That’s too much money as a group for too little in return.
The Redskins also have been among the most-injured teams over the past three-plus seasons. In 2017 and 2018, for example, 52 players were placed on injured reserve. This season, the Redskins have dealt with numerous injuries again as 10 players are on injured reserve, including starting running back Derrius Guice.
There was clear frustration during the past year, with Gruden feeling a loss of power in key decisions. Some of that was overblown: He was involved in setting free-agency boards as well as draft boards and knew, for example, that Washington would pursue safety Landon Collins and possibly trade for Keenum.
But some of it was true: While the Redskins front office was enamored of Haskins, a local talent, the football people in the building knew it would take a while for him to develop into a starter. The Redskins still selected him 15th overall anyway because, well, they had their orders. You can’t ignore months of scouting and build a winning organization. Whether it was strictly Snyder’s decision or not — and it might be a terrific pick in the long run — it wasn’t one that would benefit a coaching staff in a must-win season. That’s why they wanted someone who could help now. They like Haskins and like working with him, but they placed him in a difficult spot.
There were reports Gruden did not want to part with certain players or keep others during final cuts, notably receiver Josh Doctson (cut) and running back Adrian Peterson (kept). And at the end of last season, Gruden said multiple times the Redskins’ front office and coaching staff needed to be “on the same page.”
That said, there is a feeling around the league the Redskins have underachieved — especially on defense, an area where Gruden hurt himself during his tenure. He was, for the most part, hands-off defensively and his defenses generally struggled. Gruden retained Jim Haslett as his defensive coordinator for his first season in 2014, but they parted ways after that season. Wade Phillips was a candidate, but Gruden opted to bring in Joe Barry. That didn’t work out and two years later, Barry was fired. Gruden then hired Manusky, a coach players respect. That move also has failed to produce the desired results.
Gruden is considered a strong offensive mind by executives and players, but under him the Redskins often hurt themselves with penalties and undisciplined play. Though players liked him, some pointed to issues with accountability — one former Redskin said some fines, for example, were not collected while those levied against players who coaches knew it wouldn’t affect, were collected. Other players wanted more transparency from the coaching staff about decisions that affected them. And Gruden’s blunt honesty during news conferences would occasionally get him in trouble.
The Redskins are at a precarious point in their franchise history. Here’s a team whose fan base has been mired in a mix of apathy and anger, causing attendance and TV ratings to drop. It has been a decade in the making and there’s a lot of work to be done to reverse that slide — work that goes beyond just firing the coach.
This isn’t about Snyder’s meddling; heck, he gave Gruden five-plus years, more time than any other head coach he has employed. This is all about knowing how to put together a winning organization. Based on one simple fact — the Redskins’ two-decade record of 139-185-1 under Snyder — they have failed to do so.
They fired Gruden; it’s a coaching move Snyder has done in the past. Now, once more, comes the hard part: Finding someone who can win in Washington.