His immediate predecessor, Mike Shanahan, left a pile of burnt ash in Ashburn. His saga careened from Donovan McNabb to Rex Grossman to Robert Griffin III — with a splash of John Beck and a hint of Kirk Cousins — before the veteran coach departed with 24 wins against 40 losses.
Before that, Jim Zorn completed one of the craziest coaching stints in NFL history. He’ll forever be the sole answer to an absurd trivia question: Who was hired as an offensive coordinator in January, named head coach the following month, and later was stripped of play calling and replaced by a bingo caller?
Joe Gibbs 2.0 wasn’t nearly as exquisite as the original model. But it was farcical to expect anything close from a 64-year-old who hadn’t coached in more than a decade. Gibbs reached the playoffs twice, but had a 30-34 overall record. The NFL had largely passed by the Hall of Famer, like his Tony Stewart overtook lesser drivers in Turn 3.
Steve Spurrier? Ha! He was Costello to Zorn’s Abbott. Spurrier tried to establish D.C. as a University of Florida satellite campus. But his former Gators should’ve gone straight to a retirement home because most weren’t cut out for the NFL. Only Spurrier saw that which didn’t exist.
Unremarkable, one-season turns by Richie Petitbon and Marty Schottenheimer sandwiched the Norv Turner Era, a period that bears a disturbing resemblance to the Gruden Era.
Like Turner, Gruden was considered a sharp offensive coordinator before landing in Washington. It was both men’s first gig as head coach. But Turner produced just two winning records and one playoff berth in seven uninspiring seasons (49-59-1). Gruden has a couple of (barely) winning seasons with just one playoff berth through four full seasons.
Turner’s winning percentage in Washington was .454.
After the Monday Night Annihilation in New Orleans, Gruden’s percentage is .449.
This is the part where we mention that coaches’ won-loss records are team efforts. From personnel executives in the front office, to players on the field, and assistants in position rooms, more than 100 individuals play a role in each W or L. We can’t point the finger at Gruden alone for end results. The blah around here has been par since 1992, when Gibbs retired for the first time.
Which brings us to Gruden’s comment in his day-after autopsy of the 43-19 rout on Drew Brees Appreciation Night.
“We have a cloud looming over our head with issues we have to clean up,” the beleaguered coach told reporters Tuesday during a conference call.
The darkness seems to follow this franchise, like Pig-Pen’s perpetual dirt. It existed before Gruden’s arrival and will remain for his successor’s attempted clean up. Minus a change at the top of the organization, it’s possible that Washington’s stains are permanent.
However, Gruden provides increasing evidence that he lacks the requisite elbow grease.
Not to suggest he isn’t diligent and doesn’t work hard. But the effects don’t last. His team can shine in one game and be a smudge-filled disaster in the next. They can look their worst when showing up matters the most, and they can sparkle brilliantly when everyone least expects it.
Washington is fully capable of putting beatdowns on Carolina and Atlanta when those teams visit FedEx Field over the four Sundays. But it’s just as likely that the sorry Cowboys and Giants will secure wins against Gruden’s team to create another 2-2 quarter-mark.
Back-to-back victories have been rare. And Washington treats three-game winning streaks like communicable diseases, something to stay far away from.
Some of that, probably a lot, falls on Gruden.
Maybe in a better, more stable organization, he could experience the level of success Turner later enjoyed. In his first three seasons as San Diego’s coach, Turner compiled a 32-16 record. The Chargers advanced to the AFC Championship Game in Turner’s first year and reached the next two postseasons. He was USA Today’s Coach of the Year in 2009.
But the same nagging questions about his fit resurfaced immediately afterward. Turner was 9-7, 8-8 and 7-9 over the next three seasons — his last as an NFL head coach. He’ll be in town Sunday with Carolina, his sixth stop as an offensive coordinator.
Gruden shouldn’t have a problem finding work among those ranks when his time is up. There’s no shame in being great as an OC, but only mediocre as an HC. It’s not always totally their fault, as some things are beyond their control.
Regardless, coaches have a limited opportunity to put their stamp on a franchise. And right now, Gruden’s reads “Return to sender.”
No, this isn’t going to end well. And a bunch of coaches could’ve told him so beforehand.
• Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.
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