By: Jeff Barnes
The Washington Redskins firing of Head Coach Jay Gruden did not come as a shock to many. The team has struggled to win games consistently under his tenure as his record there was just 35-49-1. Many things led to his downfall. The lack of cohesiveness between the front office and coaching staff when it comes to personnel is a big one. That has been an issue with prior coaches before his tenure. Injuries to many key players have made his seasons slow torture with a key player after key player going down. Many will point to a meddlesome owner in Dan Snyder. While you can make valid points as to why he wasn’t to blame, you can point to one major mistake that many head coaches are making. He did not learn not only from his mistakes but the mistakes of his predecessor.
Not all head coaches are great evaluators. Even good evaluators miss on some players. Gruden made the same unforgivable mistake that Mike Shanahan made before him. They both only wanted to coach the players THEY wanted. On the collegiate level, coaches are very active in recruiting players. At the NFL level, it is a marriage of the personnel departments and coaches. As coaches, we for things we like in players that fit what we want to do. Evaluators look for talent
and traits that fit long term. Both sides want to win games. As coaches, we are supposed to get the most out of the roster they are given. That was his biggest mistake. They failed to do that. How so? Let’s walk down memory lane. Washington was in desperate need of a quarterback in 2012, so they drafted Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. RG3 had a tremendous rookie season leading the Redskins to the playoffs before injuring his knee. He was never the same player after that. One main reason was that he never felt he had the trust of the coaches. So he came back early from his knee injury to try and hold of Cousins from taking over as the starter. That was a mistake. When Gruden took over, he had both of those young quarterbacks. He did not want Griffin. Gruden’s lack of patience with Griffin and he was quickly dropped down the depth chart and gone.
This spring, Gruden had his eyes on Daniel Jones, but the Giants took Jones in the Top-10 they were left with Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins. Alex Smith would miss this season recovering from the gruesome leg injury he suffered last season. They signed journeyman Case Keenum and retained Colt McCoy as veteran options. During training camp, there was no learning curve. Haskins was thrown in the deep end. He struggled in training camp with consistency. He had a rollercoaster preseason. In the end, he was the backup when Colt McCoy got hurt, and Keenum was named the starter. Through the first three games, Keenum was not impressive as a starter. His struggles against the Giants led to his benching and Haskins coming in off the bench. Haskins didn’t fare much better.
Now you can say Haskins isn’t ready, and he isn’t the answer, but you would be leaving out the reason why he wasn’t prepared. He was never ready to take over the job. Getting preseason reps and training camp reps to help a rookie get acclimated to the NFL, but they do not prepare you for a starting role in the regular season. The speed of the regular season and the schemes are far more advanced than the preseason and training camp. When the regular season started, Haskins was only getting scout team reps. That doesn’t prepare you to be a starter. To then throw the kid in the game and expect him to be the savior was setting him up to fail. Even Daniel Jones got meaningful reps in practice before replacing Eli Manning. As a coach, we are required to prepare our players to succeed. We have to put the in position to use their strengths to help the team succeed. This is where Shanahan failed Griffin, and it is also where Gruden failed Griffin and was failing with Haskins.
Gruden should have learned that from the first experience with Griffin. He should have had a real plan to develop Haskins instead of letting the rookie struggle, so it can be his excuse not to play him. That was his undoing. He will go on and get another coaching job somewhere. What about the young player he set up for failure? Haskins is painted as a failed prospect without a fair opportunity to grow. That is all on Gruden, not management. If he feels Haskins was forced on him, then he still has to make it work. He can’t write the kid off without trying to help the player reach his potential. Many coaches fail players by doing this. It became about the players they wanted and not coaching up the players they have. Haskins future is now out of Gruden’s hands. That is a good thing. Gruden can move on to another situation. Haskins can get through this season and hopefully get a new head coach that will allow him to compete fairly.