Jay Gruden’s resume is pretty extensive. After achieving perennial success in the Arena Football League, Gruden has kept his last name unblemished as the younger brother of former head coach and current NFL analyst for ESPN Jon Gruden.
Despite his experience and accolades, Jay Gruden has entered uncharted territory as a first-time head coach with the Washington NFL team. The former offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals took a middling offense that ranked 20th in his inaugural year in 2011 to a top-10 unit this past season. The turnaround was enough to convince Washington owner Daniel Snyder to offer Gruden a shot at the top job. But is Gruden the guy to get Robert Griffin III and the rest of the Redskins back on track after a disastrous year? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Gruden’s walking into a firestorm with the fan base at wits end, controversy over a potential name change and a desire for immediate success among the owner and the players. But Gruden’s hiring will be somewhat simplified, because no matter what the defense does or which players come and go, Gruden’s main focus is going to be establishing RGIII. The sophomore quarterback was downright dreadful this season after becoming the darling of the District in 2012. This team only goes as far as RGIII goes, and Gruden will have to push Griffin, hopefully in turn pushing Washington out from the NFL’s basement. He might be a first-time head coach in the NFL but Gruden's resume is littered with success in the Arena Football League as a head coach and a general manager. If Gruden can work his magic with Griffin, then the sky is the limit for this team.
Green: If the development of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is a selling point on Gruden’s resume, then I’m not sold. Considering Dalton’s repetitive postseason failures and his reliance on super-talented receiver A.J. Green, how much credit can we give Gruden for the Bengals’ success? Also, considering how much of a wasteland Washington has become for coaches, it's hard to envision Gruden being given enough leverage and time to right the ship. Griffin was bad this year, but let's not blame all the struggles in 2013 on him. The defense was horrendous, the offensive line couldn’t sustain blocks in pass protection and the chemistry in the locker room was laughably bad. That’s a ton of work to be done, and I don’t know if Gruden is ready for that kind of workload. I’ll reserve judgment until I see who he hires as a coaching staff and what kind of strategy he has in store for this mess of a franchise.
Riley: Yes, Washington was a disaster on several levels but at the forefront of the problems was befuddling quarterback play from Griffin. He’ll be better this year simply from a health standpoint. Washington found themselves in a scenario in which they were forced to play Griffin under the pressure. With fans enduring a full year’s helping of humility, things won’t be so crazy around the District when September rolls around. Washington will have some money to spend to try to mend the edges around the center, but the crucial piece in this all is still Griffin. He’s a key reason why the season went the way it did, and he’s one of the main reasons why Gruden was selected. Gruden knows how tough Washington can be on head coaches, so the pressure won't be an issue. And yes, results will be expected immediately, but Griffin has already had success in this league and Washington spends heavily on free agents when the money is available. The tools will be in place for resurgence within the next two years.
Green:This franchise is in a precarious position. It’s been the same song and dance for the last few years under Snyder’s ownership and there will not be a quick fix until the team decides to pick a coach and sticks with him. We talk about Gruden but look at Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who stuck with the franchise for years after decades of disaster. The team made an investment to stand by him, and now they're back-to-back division winners and one of the most talented teams in the league. Will Washington afford its coach that same type of relief? I don’t know.
I also don’t know if Gruden will be a good fit for Griffin. Rumor has it that Gruden was the one who chose to draft Dalton in Cincinnati over 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, because he felt Dalton’s pocket style was a better fit for his offense over the more athletic, mobile style of Kaepernick. If that’s true, why would Gruden’s system be a good fit for RGIII, who has a style much more similar to Kaepernick’s than Dalton’s? I guess we’ll get an answer to that question in a few short months.