Who needs the lottery? If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked, “What do you think of Jay Gruden?” I would have enough to retire and move to Tahiti.
And I could do it before answering the question.
The simple answer is I really don’t know what to think about Gruden. I’ve learned a few things about him in the nearly a full week he’s been the coach of the Redskins, but you can still write down everything I know about him on the back of a postage stamp and probably have room left over for The Lord’s Prayer and maybe the preamble to the Constitution.
He’s a former quarterback, he’s been a head coach in arena football and he’s the brother of Jon Gruden, a Super Bowl-winning coach who is now a broadcaster.
How any of that, or anything else about Gruden, translates into success on the NFL level is impossible to guess. So many factors go into success that trying to guess is a chase-your-tail operation. It will make you dizzy. You can hire a veteran coach who has two Super Bowl championships on his resume and go 3-13 in his fourth season, like the Redskins did with Mike Shanahan. You can hire a long-time assistant and win at least one playoff game (and one Super Bowl) in his first five seasons, as the Ravens did with John Harbaugh.
You just never know. But that doesn’t mean you can’t chase your tail and try to figure it out anyway.
In the real estate business they call them comparables and there are two that stand out in the fairly recent history of the Redskins: Joe Gibbs (the first time) and Norv Turner.
If Gruden comes close to matching Gibbs 1, the fan base will be delirious.
Gibbs was 40 when he was hired back in 1981. He had a wide range of experience, though none as a head coach. He’d been an offensive coordinator for three seasons, one with Tampa Bay and two with San Diego.
Hailed as an offensive innovator, Gibbs’ teams only had one losing season and they made the playoffs eight times before he retired after the 1992 season. They went to the Super Bowl four times, and won it three times with three different quarterbacks. He didn’t ride one outstanding quarterback (cough — John Elway and Mike Shanahan — cough) to success.
Gibbs’ record was 137-50.
Turner? That wasn’t as impressive a period in Redskins history. He was 49-59-1 in six-plus seasons and only made the playoffs once. Like Gibbs, he had three years’ experience as an offensive coordinator (Dallas) before taking over the Redskins at age 41.
Sure, the lack of success likely wasn’t all his doing. Gibbs had better players. But Turner didn’t exactly tear it up in his other chances in Oakland and San Diego. When Gibbs returned to the Skins for four seasons from 2004-07, he wasn’t as successful but he did make the playoffs twice. Including those seasons, Washington has only made the postseason four times since Gibbs retired the first time.
We’re not breaking any new ground here by declaring that Joe Gibbs was very clearly a far superior coach to Norv Turner.
Where will Jay Gruden fall on the Turner-Gibbs sliding scale?
The best guess is he’ll be much closer to Gibbs than Turner. Asking anybody to match what Gibbs did the first time is unfair. But there’s a small reason to believe he may be pretty good, a somewhat crazy reason but, hey, it is my crazy and I’ll stick to it.
Gruden is 46, a bit older than Gibbs and Turner when they got their first chances. He also has three years’ experience as an offensive coordinator, piling them up the past three seasons in Cincinnati. He has a reputation as being good with quarterbacks. That is a good thing because you might remember the Redskins have a quarterback in Robert Griffin III, who could use some help in regaining the luster he had as a rookie in 2012.
What stands out on Gruden’s resume is he has been a head coach before. Sure, it was in the Arena Football League — an indoor version of the game that sometimes resembles football in name only. To compare what they play in that league with what they play in the NFL is absurd,
But Gruden has shown he can win, with an 82-54 record and two Arena Bowl championships. He’s been able to find the right players and succeed relative to his competition. You don’t win championships at any level if you aren’t able to get the best out of whatever players you have, so he has that going for him.
It is admitedly a flimsy reason on which to hang some hope, but right now it is the best I have.
Redskins fans will have to wait and see how the Gruden Era turns out. Maybe it will be magic. Maybe it will be misery. I think it will turn out well, and my only advice is this: Give it a fair shot. Gibbs lost his first five games and still turned out OK.
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