The Redskins are in the midst of a head coaching search that in many ways will set the tone of this franchise for the next 5-10 years. While any coaching change can bring change and have a lasting impact, the Redskins are at a precipice here. They are coming off their worst season since the first year of the Norv Turner era. The Redskins also have a young core of RGIII, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed, Trent Williams, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to build around. If the right coach comes in and gets the most out of all those players and builds correctly around them the Redskins could be a strong contender in just a year or two. If they choose poorly and the new coach misuses these players talents or hinders the development of Robert Griffin III, it could set this team back for some time. The Redskins desperately need to get this one right, and here should be 5 things they look for in their next head coach:
-It’s very likely that any coach coming into Washington will be made to understand that they need to use and develop RGIII as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins. A lot of times when you see coaching changes you see quarterback changes, but that really isn’t feasible for the Redskins right now. The Redskins need a coach who understands that it is important to get the most out of Griffin and build around him. That means having a game plan that can hide his deficiencies while at the same time highlighting his strengths. It means protecting him not just from a blocking perspective, but also from a scheme perspective. Don’t put him in situations that he’s unable to succeed at, which can only set him back and hinder his development.
Now this doesn’t mean the Redskins should focus solely on offensive coaches. In fact there is no real correlation between an offensive head coach and developing a quarterback. Sure there are examples of that marriage, but you look around the league at some successful young quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Matt Stafford, and Joe Flacco playing under defensive minded guys. Bill Belicheck went with a young untested 6th round QB and developed him into one of the leagues best. Bill Cowher had success and got the most out of numerous quarterbacks. What matters in this case is a coach putting together a strong staff to support Griffin and come up with a game plan on how to handle Griffin (both on and off the field) to get him back on track.
-Now it is clear that whomever the coach is they won’t have the total power that Mike Shanahan had with the Redskins where he was in control of every decision. The Redskins still need to find a coach who is able to work with the front office to come up with a strong game plan. They also need to push for a balanced approach and not overwhelmingly focus on one side of the ball like Mike Shanahan did. That left the defense in a major state of disrepair and significantly hurt this team’s ability to compete.
-It’s always tough when a new staff comes in to integrate with the current crop of players and get them to fit their new schemes and concepts. It’s particularly tough if some of the top players don’t fit that well, limiting their value. The thing is though it’s a reality that every team needs to go through with a coaching change. The smart coaches will tweak and build around their top players and get the most out of their talent. If a player just doesn’t fit what they want to do they will let them go or trade them and find players to fit the new scheme. Some coaches will hold off making a major change for a couple of years until they can get the personnel in place for it to make sense. Mike Shanahan didn’t do those things when he came to Washington, and it set the team back. They made the switch to the 3-4 despite it not being the system Jim Haslett favored or having the personnel to fit the system. It resulted in a defense that has been an utter failure, a very messy divorce with their highest paid player, and numerous other players no longer being a fit for the system.
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The good news is given how bad the defense is, there is little the Redskins need to worry about if they want to switch back to a 4-3 this year. Most of the Redskins top defenders should be able to make a fairly seamless transition. The real interesting transition will be on offense this time. Right now it is clear that Robert Griffin doesn’t fit into every offensive system, also getting back to running Griffin more might not be the best option either. The Redskins will also need to decide what blocking scheme to use to rebuild their offensive line and running game. Another consideration will be the run/pass ratio for the offense. Due to both circumstance and poor play calling, the Redskins were asking a young inexperienced QB to drop back nearly 40 times a game and it was an outright mess this year. The Redskins need their new coach to do what’s best for the team based on the strengths of the talent that he has to work with and not force a bad system on his players that will expose the weaknesses of the team (you would think this would be obvious but apparently it’s not).
-It’s sad to look back at some of the great coordinators and assistants the Redskins have had on staff over the past 12-15 years. Unfortunately that all really began to change these past six years in the Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan eras. Zorn still retained a few guys (particularly on defense and Danny Smith on special teams), but he didn’t have the support of a great staff. Mike Shanahan was even worse in how he built his staff as it quickly became a staff of people who completely agree with me. Shanahan was also willing to interfere in coaches and their roles, and it’s been noted that he would even call some defensive plays.
The Redskins need a new coach who will put in a top staff filled with promising coordinators and assistants, who are the best and brightest in the league. They also need a new coach who works with his coaches instead of undermining them because they don’t completely follow his vision.
-The Redskins need a coach who can take back the lockerroom, media room and the fan base. Since Dan Snyder has taken over the Redskins have had two coaches (Marty and Shanny) who were dictatorial in their approach that upset players, fans and the media in the way they handled things. It led to a lot of back-stabbing and divided team and fanbase. A coach shouldn’t have their ego be the most important thing in the room. Football is the ultimate team sport and these coaches (despite their previous success) ignored that and made it about themselves. The Redskins have also had periods of coaches who were just in over their heads under Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn. Neither one was ready to handle being an NFL head coach and they lost control of their teams because of it. They also lacked the ability to be a counterweight to poor front office decisions (Vinny’s failures). The Redskins lone “sane” period during this time were the Joe Gibbs 2.0 years. Gibbs had power to nix some bad decisions (not that they still weren’t made), and you knew that he cared about the team and being a leader of the team. The only issue was that you saw that Joe Gibbs was not a long term answer, and perhaps that is why so much of their decision making was short-sided at the time.
What the Redskins need is another Joe Gibbs 1.0, a coach who can come in and turn the team around and is willing to admit their mistakes and continually do what’s best for the franchise and not just their reputation.