Despite some folks calling for his head, Jay Gruden stands on the cusp of doing something no head coach has ever done in Washington under Dan Snyder: enter his fifth year. The list is somewhat uneven, but for every Steve Spurrier, there’s a Marty Schottenheimer. For every Jim Zorn, there’s a Joe Gibbs. (To be clear, there’s only one of each of them, unless you are sitting at the podcast studio table late on a Tuesday night trying to see these guys through an empty whiskey bottle, in which case there are like, three of each.)
The point is, Jay Gruden is entering some uncharted coaching territory for us, and there appears to be a good reason why: he’s a good coach, and he has built solid coaching staffs. (If you disagree with this core principle, please keep it contained to one comment...cough...SkinsNJ...cough..hahaha.)
One needs look no further than the job Sean McVay is doing out in Los Angeles to see the beginnings of what could be a rather distinguished coaching tree sprouting up. Just as we have spent considerable time here noticing and appreciating the manner in which players that don’t make it in Washington are more often ending up on squads around the league (something that wasn’t the case for a
brief extended period here), the Redskins could be taking the next step on that front by developing coaches that succeed elsewhere. This is what good football teams do, so I suppose by that measure, the Redskins are moving in the “good” direction.
Today, on SB Nation team sites across the network, writers are identifying future head coaches on staff. I have been thinking about this one pretty hard, and the first thought I came to was that the Jay Gruden coaching tree could actually...turn into something. That said, the current coaching staff in Washington might not be ripe enough for the picking just quite yet. There are some candidates to watch though. Let’s go through some of the bigger names before we place our bet on the craps table of NFL coaching hires. At the end, I’ll make a wildly unpopular and ridiculed prediction, and all will be right in the universe. (Please remember that for this weekly series we do, I do have to make a call, even when one doesn’t necessarily jump out at us.)
Guys like Bill Callahan and Jim Tomsula, two coaches incredibly responsible for anything good the Redskins do on Sundays, have already been head coaches. Retreads are always welcome in a league where owners lean on experience and familiarity, but for the purpose of this discussion, I am going to suggest these men are the best at their current jobs, and are likely to stay doing them for the short foreseeable future. Callahan’s offensive line and Tomsula’s defensive line (the units these fine men coach) have shown what teams and fans can expect when you put quality coaches in the right position.
We typically see coordinators make the jump to head coach, and when I look at the Redskins’ sideline, I am not incredibly convinced that we are seeing coaches at the top of wish lists around the league. That is not meant to denigrate Washington’s coordinators. Ben Kotwica has performed admirably as our special teams coordinator, but not to the level where he would command serious consideration for a head coaching spot, though teams could do far worse than the West Point grad that earned the Bronze Star for his service (among other commendations). It is difficult to make the jump from special teams coordinator but it does happen (see John Harbaugh). On defense, it is hard to imagine a Redskins defensive coordinator being lusted after by teams in the league. Again, this is nothing against Greg Manusky—it is just that the Redskins defense still has a little farther to go to be the kind of unit that gets a coordinator paid handsomely as a head coach. Selfishly, I would like to see what Manusky can do with this defense over a few seasons, as they get younger and more athletic.
Under Jay Gruden, it is clearly going to be the offensive coordinator that gets the headlines. While nobody is confusing Matt Cavanaugh with Sean McVay, the Redskins offense has continued to produce. Gruden likely filled in more of the space left vacant by McVay than Cavanaugh in terms of playcalling and gameplanning, but let’s not sleep on this coordinator. Cavanaugh played in the league (2nd round draft pick waaaaaaaaaaay back in 1978), and has 24 years of NFL coaching experience under his belt. The Redskins have been and continue to be an offensive-minded team under an offensive-minded head coach, which means Matt Cavanaugh will at least be on a list somewhere.
Still...I am not sold on Cavanaugh as a head coach, so if we are playing the game of picking/betting on which coach on staff could be the next head coach from Jay Gruden’s sideline, I am looking somewhere else.
As this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive look at every coach on staff, I’ll now just get to the coach I am most intrigued by—despite honestly not knowing enough at this point to call this anything more than a wager. When the Redskins hired Torrian Gray to coach their defensive backs, they had already drafted two of his former Virginia Tech players: Kyshoen Jarret and Kendall Fuller. Gray was a former Hokie himself before playing in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings. It is difficult to watch the Redskins this year and not come way impressed with the work our secondary has shown. D.J. Swearinger has had a lot to do with that, and Josh Norman is of course no slouch, but in general, the Washington defensive back corps has looked MUCH better than in recent seasons.
I see Gray as a man that the players respect and listen to, and his experience at the collegiate level with the University of Florida and Virginia Tech means he has worked with elite athletes for longer than the one season in the league he has under his belt. He doesn’t have to wear the entire performance of the defense or team on his sleeve if and when he is ever considered for promotion, despite the incredible importance of the secondary in this era of football.
There are guys on the Redskins staff right now that are FAR more qualified at this exact second to be a head coach (like most of the guys already named here), but the NFL has a tendency to come looking for guys like Gray. Personally, I think (and we probably all can agree) Torrian needs more seasoning. Thanks to the success of a guy like McVay, it stands to reason that the league would be comfortable with Gray getting that seasoning on Gruden’s staff, but it just takes one owner to think, “You know what? I want that guy growing up on my sideline.” For goodness sake, we hired Jim Zorn on the strength of his position coach abilities. (It’s probably worth noting that I am not advocating that any team use our hiring of Jim Zorn as a blueprint for “how to do it”...except maybe the Giants.)
I can’t quite explain it all the way, or quantify it the same way we were all able to quantify McVay’s abilities, but to me, Torrian Gray has the look of a coach that could be on the rise. If that is true, he could add a great and incredibly respectable branch to the Jay Gruden coaching tree.