Monday, July 30, 2018

Respect Gruden

Geoff Burke-USA Today Sports

By Wally

On January 9, 2014 the Washington Redskins hired head coach Jay Gruden to a five-year $20 million contract.  Gruden was known in NFL circles as a highly respective offensive mind.  The season prior to coming to the Redskins, under Gruden, the Cincinnati Bengals were 6th in the league in scoring and 10th in total offensive yardage.  

Gruden did well as the offensive coordinator of the Bengals and helped with the maturation process of quarterback Andy Dalton.  With Gruden as Dalton’s offensive coordinator for three seasons (2011-2013), Dalton averaged about 3,787 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions per season.   After the 2013 season, Gruden decided to take his talents D.C.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, before Gruden, was a quarterback who didn’t seem mentally stable and destine to be a backup.  Cousins in 2013, was 0-3 as a starter—52.3 completion percentage, four touchdowns and seven interceptions.  Under Gruden’s offense from 2015-2017, Cousins became one of the more prolific passers in the National Football League. Through that three-year span Cousins’ averaged 4,392 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  On March 15, 2018, Cousins’ play in Gruden’s offense landed him an unprecedent three-year $84 million fully guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Cousins deserves credit for his hard work but some of that should go to Gruden.  Gruden’s play-design to create great passing options make quarterbacks giddy with joy.  Even Redskins backup quarterback Colt McCoy flourished in Gruden’s offense.  The 2010 third round pick out of the University of Texas looked like a bust while playing for the Cleveland Browns.  McCoy had the image of a career backup quarterback— 6-15 as a starter and threw for 21 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a 74.8 quarterback rating.  In the 2014 season, the narrative on McCoy changed drastically with the Redskins and Gruden. After benching quarterback Robert Griffin III and Cousins, McCoy in five games threw for 1,057 passing yards, had a 71.1 completion percentage and a QB rating of 96.4.  McCoy played so well in the 2014 season, that numerous fans wanted him to become the starter for the following season.  Gruden’s offense helped make McCoy relevant again. 

Gruden deserves more credit for his quarterback friendly system.  Former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay left the team after the 2016 season to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.  Some felt that the Redskins kept the wrong coach between Gruden and McVay.  McVay has described Gruden as a mentor. McVay led the Rams to the highest scoring offense in the NFL.  It’s fair to say that Gruden helped him along his journey to be known as one of the young rising coaches in the NFL.  McVay told Kevin Sheehan and Chris Cooley on ESPN 980 (now called the Team 980) that he considered “Jay Gruden as a mentor” and “a big reason why [he’s] fortunate to be in this role.” Gruden is no legendary coach like former Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, however there is still room for him to grow.

Yahoo Sports developed a coaches’ power ranking. Gruden ranked 27th out of 32 head coaches in the NFL.  Their reason is that in “four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, and one franchise quarterback run out of town.” Those are all good points; however everything should be put in context. If it wasn’t for Gruden, it’s fair to say that Cousins wouldn’t be considered a franchise quarterback.  Last year with the roster dismantled with injuries, Gruden helped get the team to a 7-9 record.  Pundits can nitpick but that alone was an incredible task.  He lost players such as left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive lineman Johnathan Allen, and running back Chris Thompson—just to name a few.  If this was New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, would he be praised for having a 7-9 record under those circumstances?  Maybe.  Gruden is no Belichick.  He hasn’t won a Super Bowl or even won over nine games in his NFL head coaching career.  Although Gruden doesn’t have Belichick’s credentials, he does have an efficient system like Belichick.

The Redskins will be entering the 2018 with optimism.  They have a new quarterback in Alex Smith and there are doubts that Smith will put up gaudy numbers in D.C.  Smith came off of a career season last year under head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs—67.5 completion percentage, 4042 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.  Why would there be any doubts about the Gruden and Smith collaboration?  By looking at Smith and Gruden’s resume, there is no reason why these two shouldn’t make beautiful music together. Skeptics of Gruden may not think that he’s a great head coach but at least he deserves respect as an offensive savant. If the pundits are questioning Smith, then they are disrespecting what Gruden brings to the table.  Gruden has the 2018 season to prove the naysayers wrong.

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