WASHINGTON - When the Washington Redskins decided to fire Mike Shanahan last week, many of us began the "Gruden Watch."
The Skins got Gruden. Just not the one we were thinking.
It's Jay Gruden who's been tabbed to lead the Burgundy and Gold, not his older brother Jon, who coached Tampa Bay to their lone Super Bowl in 2003, and currently resides in ESPN's Monday Night Football booth.
We don't know if Jon was ever truly on the Redskins' wish list, but we know there's a warm spot in general manager Bruce Allen's heart for the Gruden family from their time together in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization.
Jay doesn't just carry the family name, though it's a good one. In addition to his brother's success, his father Jim was a longtime coach and scout. But he's paid his dues. He's coached for over 15 years at various levels, and was the head coach and general manager of the United Football League's Florida Tuskers. Even though he hasn't done so yet in the NFL, he's got experience running a team -- which puts him ahead of the curve as far as first-time head coaches are concerned.
As the events of Wednesday and Thursday unfolded, it became increasingly obvious that key assistants like Sean McVay on offense, and Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris on defense — all who worked with Gruden and Allen in Tampa Bay -- were retained because of their ties to Gruden.
Which of course leads one to believe Gruden was the target all along.
I know what you're thinking -- typical Redskins. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many have applauded the Redskins new direction, with perhaps the most respected voice of praise coming from the architect of the great Redskins teams of the 1980s, former general manager Bobby Beathard.
Beathard, in a local interview, lauded the move, calling it a "great hire," and went on to say that when he was spearheading his own coaching search back in 1981, he spoke to a young offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs even before Jack Pardee was fired as coach of the Skins. Beathard told Gibbs the job was his if he wanted it, and told him so before he interviewed other candidates. Beathard went through with the interviews in the name of due diligence, but knew Gibbs was his man all along.
Oh, and part of that process? He had to see if Gibbs was prepared to work with the Redskins' difficult quarterback, Joe Theismann.
By all accounts, Gruden is an innovative coach. He's considered a good communicator, and a fiery coach (which this appearance on Hard Knocks hammers home. I'd advise not watching it at work or in front of the kids). One of his former players describes him as Bruce Banner during the week, but the Incredible Hulk on game day.
The 'Skins could use a guy like this.
On paper, he looks like a good hire. Gruden is a younger coach (he'll be 47 in March) with pedigree, has coaches he's familiar with already in-house (an advantage he didn't have in Cincinnati), and already has a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III -- who enters this off-season fully healthy. Thanks to his refreshing enthusiasm and bluntness in the introductory press conference, Gruden has already proven himself far more likable than Shanahan ever was.
The real question is: Can he truly change the culture at Redskins Park and overcome the dysfunction and toxic atmosphere fostered by owner Dan Snyder? And in doing so, can Gruden get RGIII to buy what he's selling?
That's the task that awaits the Redskins' 28th head coach -- the man who talks like his brother and looks like Cary Elwes.
Time will tell if he can coach like Joe Gibbs.
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