Sunday, May 20, 2018
Sports

The other Gruden is coach of the decade

As well as he's done this season, Jay Gruden should not be NFC coach of the year. He should be coach of the decade.

Gruden's club didn't go 15-1 like Ron Rivera's Panthers did.

Gruden did the truly impossible.

He ended Dan Snyder's man crush on Robert Griffin III and lived to tell about it. Almost as amazing, Gruden turned Kirk Cousins into a touchdown machine.

Now the bumbling franchise with the forbidden nickname is in the playoffs. As hard as it may be for you to cheer for Snyder or the Native Americans, you have to admire the ex-Orlando Predators coach who somehow resurrected football in Washington, D.C.

The Beltway crowd suspected Gruden might be merely a Snyder puppet when he was hired last season. Gruden's resume revealed he was a player/coach Arena football legend, Florida Tuskers coach, Cincinnati offensive coordinator and, most notably, Jon Gruden's little brother.

People around Central Florida knew little brother probably had the coaching goods. The worry was that he was committing career suicide going to work for Snyder's football circus.

Gruden was smart, self-assured and easy to like. When he came out of retirement at age 34 to quarterback the Predators in 2002, he was asked to rate his mental and physical abilities on a scale of 1-100.

He gave himself a 100 on the mental side of football. His terminally puffy physique rated a 32.

"That's because I've never been higher than a 32," Gruden said.

That from a guy whom the AFL named the fourth-best player in league history. Gruden never got a sniff from the NFL, which may help explain why he's related so well to Cousins.

The Michigan State quarterback was taken three rounds after Griffin in the 2012 draft. The RG3 rocket took off for one glorious year, then everything disintegrated.

That list started with Griffin's knee, which led to all sorts of soap-operatic twists. He essentially was exposed as a prima donna who couldn't pass from the pocket. There was much palace intrigue between the pro- and anti-Griffin camps. King Snyder had given up a ransom to draft RG3 and was not keen on being told he'd blown it yet again.

Gruden's job was to turn Griffin into Steve Young. The coach quickly concluded that was impossible. More importantly, Gruden detected that the locker room resented how RG3 had been coddled.

Gruden announced in this preseason that Griffin was headed to the bench. The starter would be Cousins, who hadn't done much besides work hard, keep quiet and throw interceptions.

Snyder was not pleased, but Gruden was more concerned about pleasing the guys who actually play, even if it cost him his job.

That seemed likely when the Redskins started 2-4 and fell behind the Bucs 24-0 in Game 7. Then Cousins rallied the Redskins to a 31-30 victory, after which he famously yelled to the media and the world, "You like that!?"

Translation: Eat crow.

It turned into a heaping helping. Cousins threw 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the final 10 weeks and the Redskins finished 9-7. Center Kory Lichtensteiger told the Washington Post the turnaround started with Gruden's decision to start Cousins.

"It was good to see that there's repercussions and rewards," he said. "Repercussions for not playing well and rewards for doing the right thing: preparing, performing in practice and the preseason."

It's still hard to envision the Redskins making the Super Bowl, if for no other reason than the NFL doesn't want its 50th anniversary party marred by fans wearing headdresses.

But no matter what happens next, Gruden has proven a lot this season. Not the least of which is he's far more than Jon's little brother.

— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

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