Nations: Skins go different route

Typical Washington Redskins move — hire another “name” coach to try to turn around the floundering franchise.

We’ve seen this before with owner Daniel Snyder — Schottenheimer, Spurrier, Gibbs, Zorn (OK, maybe not that one), Shanahan and now Gruden. Big names, famous names, football names — the splashier the better, right? This is standard stuff for Snyder.

There is a wrinkle, of course, and that is this “name” coach, Jay Gruden, hasn’t made that name famous — older brother Jon Gruden is by far the more famous sibling in this case, thanks to his own successful NFL head coaching career that included leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a Super Bowl victory in 2003 and subsequent gig as an ESPN broadcaster.

The Redskins didn’t hire that Gruden, believe it or not — instead, Washington seems to be trying a new approach by dipping into the somewhat less known visible pool of successful NFL coordinators. Thursday’s news conference introducing Jay Gruden, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator the last three seasons, is a refreshingly different choice for the Redskins.

It’s also a positive reflection on Redskins’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Bruce Allen’s increasing influence. Hired in 2009 shortly before Shanahan, Allen basically split GM duties with the veteran coach (who was also named executive vice president of football operations), with Shanahan holding the ultimate power to make football-related decisions.

There is no such title associated with Jay Gruden, and that’s another good step for Washington. For years, Snyder operated without a true GM before finally bringing in Allen. With Shanahan’s firing following a disastrous 3-13 campaign, it seems that Allen can actually exercise the full authority his job entails (other than answering to Snyder, of course). From an organizational standpoint, the Redskins are actually starting to look like the classic model of an NFL franchise — owner, GM, coach, in that order. Allen knew Gruden from their time together with the Buccaneers (Allen as GM, Gruden as assistant coach under his brother), so there’s already a familiarity and comfort level there — enough so, that Gruden landed a generous five-year contract as head coach.

The coach is the big news today, and some introductions are probably in order for Redskins fans unless they happen to also be a fan of the Arena Football League or the former United Football League. For those not so familiar with the Orlando Predators (head coach from 1998-2001 and 2004-2008) or the Florida Tuskers (2010), check out some recent game film from his three-year stint running the Bengals’ offense. Gruden seemed to maximize the talent level there, helping make quarterback Andy Dalton an above average player and keeping the offense ranked in the NFL’s upper tier during his entire tenure.

Presumably, getting to coach Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was a major selling point for Gruden. He said as much in Thursday’s news conference, expressing excitement over the chance to work with Washington’s talented but still erratic RG3. Gruden also talked about utilizing the zone-read offense, something he did at times with Dalton, even more with Griffin as his quarterback. That, of course, is the basic offensive style Griffin thrived in at Baylor and during his rookie season with the Redskins.

Finding a way to maximize RG3’s talents will be Gruden’s top priority, along with patching holes along the offensive line, tweaking the Redskins’ 3-4 defense and overhauling a horrible special teams group. All in a day’s work? Yeah, maybe not.

Gruden is just the sort of coach who can accomplish what amounts to a minor overhaul. Unlike Washington’s penchant for hiring coaches based on past glory, this is a selection based solely on potential. The 46-year-old Gruden has the chance to make his name leading this franchise, this team, and that’s ample motivation for any ambitious coach.

Seven others (if you include interim coach Terry Robiskie, who took over for the fired Norv Turner to finish out 2000) have tried and mostly failed to put a winning team on the field for the Redskins.

Eighth time’s the charm for Snyder? Time will tell, but it’s good to see a willingness to try something else. Maybe Gruden isn’t the only one whose best days are still to come.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>