Since Jay Gruden was hired as the 29th head coach in Redskins franchise history on January 9th, 2014, he has had his fair share of detractors. Many fans voiced their displeasure when he was brought in, and those voices grew louder after he went 4-12 during his first season. What often gets overlooked is the situation Gruden had to step into. He inherited a roster void of talent at many key positions, and was tasked with fixing the mess Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen made.
In 2014, Gruden had to deal with the Robert Griffin offseason drama, which also made its way into the regular season. During that season, he had three different starting quarterbacks, and numerous injuries to key players he had to deal with. All this, while he was attempting to install a new offense, build his own identity as a head coach, and begin to develop some type of chemistry amongst the players. To put it mildly, he stepped into a walking shit-show!
The 2015 season saw a drastic turn-around within the orginazation, and this all started from the top. Scot McCloughan was hired at the team's General Manager, and was put in charge of the roster. McCloughan immediate set out to improve one of the worst rosters in the NFL, and he did so by putting an emphasis on big, tough, smart football players; most of whom he would try and stockpile in the NFL Draft. His goal was to provide his head coach with the necessary talent to be successful in this league, and to build a foundation that would give our once proud franchise a new identity.
Now, getting back to Gruden...It's tough to measure a coach on just two years in a brand new role, on a team that was dysfunctional when he took it over. What we can do, is look back upon his previous coaching career, taking into account some measurable metrics, to see how he has matured in his various roles.
I think Gruden is an excellent offensive coach, and when given talent(and not always top-notch mind you)he's succeeded. He became the OC of the Bengals(his first significant NFL coaching role)in Andy Dalton's rookie season of 2011. Now, to measure a successful offense, I always look a a number of different factors, but to me, Points Per Game holds the highest mark(because it's all about putting points on the boards in the NFL).
-2011(OC of Bengals) - 21.5 PPG(18th) - 9-7(wild card birth). Rookie QB, and first year as an OC.
-2012(OC of Bengals) - 24.4 PPG(12th) - 10-6(wild card birth)
-2013(OC of Bengals) - 26.9 PPG(6th) - 11-5(Division Champs)
-2014(HC of Redskins) - 18.8 PPG(26th) 4-12. Inherited a roster void of talent and depth at key positions.
-2015(HC of Redskins) - 24.2 PPG(10th) - 9-7(Division Champs). Had Kirk Cousins in his first season as a starter.
In his five seasons running his offense in the NFL, Gruden's teams have finished in the top half of the league in points per game three times; twice finishing in the top ten. Moreover, his team's have improved in this category each year under his tutelage. He improved the Bengals in overall ranking by six positions per season over his three years as their offensive coordinator. In his first season as head coach and play caller for the Redskins, the team was 26th in the league. The following season, when he had his guy as the starting quarterback, his team improved 16 slots, to finish 10th in the league!
This improvement in scoring also showed a direct correlation in the W-L column as well. Gruden's 2011 season, his worst in PPG as offensive coordinator of the Bengals, saw his team go 9-7 on the season. As his PPG improved each year, so did his team's record. In his final season as OC in Cincinnati, his offense finished 6th in the NFL in points per game, and his team won the division for the first time under his leadership going 11-5.
This same improvement can also be seen with the Redskins, albeit in a different role, and shorter period of time. Gruden's offense was responsible for the 26th ranked unit in the league during his first season as head coach of the Redskins. In his second season, much like he did in Cincinnati, he turned the offense around, jumping to the 10th ranked team in PPG in the NFL. Based upon his work so far, one can only assume an even better season is in store for us this year.
Another similarity between Gruden's Bengals and our Redskins with him as a head coach, is that both situations saw Gruden get the opportunity to work with a brand new starting quarterback, versus coming into a situations with a proven veteran already at the helm.
In Cincinnati, Jay got to mold rookie Andy Dalton into his offense. Dalton thrived in Gruden's system, showing improvement each of his three seasons. As a rookie, Dalton completed 58% of his passes, good for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns. The following season, Dalton saw improvements in every area, completing 62% of his pass attempts, for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns. In his final season with Jay as offensive coordinator, Dalton had his best year as a pro to date, completing 62% of his passes, for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns. The years since Gruden has left the Bengals, Dalton has seen his completion percentage increase, but his yard per game and touchdowns decrease. Not surprisingly, the Bengals offense suffered as well, dropping to 22.8 PPG(15th) In 2014(the year after Jay left).
When Jay took over as head coach for the Redskins, he inherited Robert Griffin III, and it was obvious from the start that he didn't fit Gruden's system. A QB carousel continued throughout 2014, which saw Griffin, Cousins and McCoy all get starts. The following season, Cousins was given the starting job, and he certainly made the most of his opportunity in his first full season as the starting quarterback in this offense. Cousins was Andy Dalton-like in his first full season as a starter under Jay, competing almost 70% of his passes, for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns!.
So, what can Jay Gruden and company do with Kirk Cousins in his second year as a starter? If history hold true, we should expect to see significant improvement in his game from last season in this offense, and as a result, an even better overall on-field product.
Another aspect of a good head coach is to surround himself with quality assistants. You can read about the Redskins assistant coaches Here. Gruden has put together a staff that is both experienced and talented. He and GM Scot McCloughan brought in former Dallas offensive line coach Bill Callahan to tutor the Redskins young offensive line. Callahan has years of experience as a position coach, offensive coordinator, and even head coach. Perry Fewell came over to DC after a lengthy stint as defensive backs coach with the Giants. He helped mold youngsters Bashaud Breeland and Quinton Dunbar in his first season here. Other key assistants are quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, receivers coach Ike Hilliard and new linebackers coach and former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, to name a few.
Finally, a great measuring stick of a head coach is how he can rally his players around him, and build chemistry amongst the team. Whether you're offensive or defensive minded, a hands-on coach, or a delegator, all successful head coaches have the ability to connect with their players and get them to buy in, while at the same time facilitating a family-like atmosphere. Making players want to come play for your orginazation is paramount.
It it seems from the outside looking in, that Gruden is beginning to build a positive culture at Redskins Park. Players speak very highly of him, and for the first time in what seems like decades, we have a non-toxic environment. Beat reporters who follow the team closely have reported on a strong locker room, full of energy, positivity and leadership. It cannot be understated on how extremely important this is to a team. Now, Gruden still needs to prove himself in this aspect, because two years is certainly not enough time to fully judge, but by all accounts, he is on the right track.
What do you think of Gruden as head coach of your Washington Redskins?