by Chuck Sapienza, special to Breaking Burgundy
Jay Gruden took over as the head coach of the Redskins and in two seasons has turned the team into a division winner. While some may not look at that feat as impressive, only two other Redskin head coaches since the merger boast divisions titles within their first two seasons as the burgundy and gold’s head man. So where does Gruden rank? Since the merger, nine Redskins head coaches have survived two or more seasons. Here is a ranking of the nine coaches after year two. Spoiler alert!! I gave bonus points for winning a Super Bowl.
9) Jim Zorn
Years - 2008-09
Record – 12-20
While others may have had a better record, no one epitomized the Vinny Cerrato Skins like Jim Zorn. Zorn actually began his coaching career like Vince Lombardi, winning 6 of his first 8 games, including wins at Philly and at Dallas but soon after everything fell apart. Zorn would go on to lose 18 of his final 24 games and who can forget Dec 21, 2009 vs the Giants? With newly hired GM Bruce Allen on hand and the Redskins losing 24-0 going into halftime, Zorn ran the infamous swinging gate in route to a 45-12 loss. Zorn was shown the gate two weeks later.
8) Steve Spurrier
Years – 2002-03
Record – 12-20
The town was a buzz when Dan Snyder announced The Ol’ Ball Coach was coming to Washington to try his hand at the pro game. DC was about to learn phrases such as “Pitch and Catch” & “Ball Plays.” It’s not often a head coach’s tenure can be summed up by one word and a pre-season game, but with Coach Spurrier we will always have OSAKA. Osaka, Japan was where the Redskins played the opening pre-season game of the Spurrier era, a 38-7 trouncing of San Francisco in the American Bowl. The Skins threw 45 passes and amassed 479 yards of offense. OBC’s hand-picked QB, former Gator Danny Wuerffel threw 3TDs. The Redskins had a rematch with the Niners in week three of the regular season and lost 20-10. 49ers rushed for more yards than Spurrier’s offense gained, 252-240 and less than two seasons later he phoned in his resignation from the golf course. NOT VERY GOOD but there was some worse.
7) Norv Turner
Years – 1994-95
Record - 9-23
Norv came to town with back to back Super Bowl’s on his resume as the offensive architect/genius behind the Dallas Cowboys and the development of Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. It was that resume that led the Redskins to draft Heath Shuler and Michael Westbrook in the first round in back to back seasons. Norv’s signature moment came in week 8 of 1994, when he benched Shuler for 7th round draft pick Gus Frerotte. Gus went on throw for 226 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in a 41-27 win against the Colts. Do you know how many games with at least 220 yards and no picks Heath Shuler had in his career? None. Even though Norv’s record was, by far, the worst of all 9 coaches on the list, he is ranked 7th because he actually showed improvement from his first year to his second (increasing his win total from 3 to 6), he also scored points for benching a highly drafted, ineffective quarterback for one taken much lower in the draft that he believed gave his team the best chance to win…sound familiar?
6) Mike Shanahan
Years – 2010-11
Record - 11-21
Part of me believes Shanahan deserves an incomplete. Dealing with a bogus $36M cap penalty and cleaning up the mess left by Zorn & Cerrato allows Shanny some slack, but he totally botched the Donovan McNabb acquisition so he finds himself sixth. Speaking of McNabb, Shanahan’s signature moment was a Halloween 2010 loss to Detroit. Mike benched McNabb for Rex Grossman with 1:45 left down by 6. During his post-game press conference he told the world that Donovan didn’t know the 2 minute offense as well as Grossman, and the media S-Storm began.
5) Jack Pardee
Years – 1978-79
Record – 18-14
Finally a coach with a winning record. Jack Pardee was a defensive standout under George Allen and was his defensive captain in Super Bowl VII. Pardee took over for Allen in 1978 and put up an 8-8 record in year one, as the Redskins transitioned from Billy Kilmer to Joe Theismann. Year two was full of promise as Pardee got the Skins within one game of the playoffs but they blew a 13 point 4Q lead in Dallas and missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record.
4) Joe Gibbs 2.0
Years – 2004-05
Coach Joe RETURNS! After the Spurrier experiment failed, the Redskins needed a hire that would return credibility to the Nationals Capitol and Dan Snyder pulled a rabbit out of his hat by rehiring Joe Jackson Gibbs after a 12 year hiatus. And what does the Hall of Fame coach do? In year two, he leads the Skins to their first playoff appearance (and victory) since Gibbs retired in 1993.
3) Jay Gruden
Years – 2014-15
Record – 13-19
Despite Jay being six games under .500, he is third on this list because he is one of only three coaches to win a division title within his first two seasons as head coach. Over the last 6 weeks of the 2015 season the Redskins looked like a football team on the rise, winning three NFC East games, the final two on the road, while averaging over 27PPG. In addition, Gruden’s decision to name Kirk Cousins his starting quarterback over RG3 could be a franchise defining moment.
2) George Allen
Years – 1971-72
Record – 20-7-1
George Allen, known for being a defensive mastermind, took over in 1971 and he immediately began mortgaging the future by trading draft picks, including once trading a pick he didn’t have, for veterans who fit into his scheme and it worked to perfection. His “Over the Hill Gang” made the playoffs in both seasons and reached the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 1972. But, to me, Allen’s legacy is bringing his hatred of the Dallas Cowboys to Washington. He put a target squarely on the Dallas star. Not only did George walk the walk, Allen talked the talk by defeating Dallas the first time he faced them in 1971. The Redskins had lost 10 of the previous 14 to Big D and his victory over Dallas in the 1972 NFC title game could be the biggest, non-super bowl, victory in franchise history.
1) Joe Gibbs
Record – 16-9
SUPER BOWL 17 CHAMPIONS…ENOUGH SAID!
Chuck Sapienza is the Executive Producer of the Naval Academy radio network and the former VP/Programming for ESPN980. He was also a part of the Washington Redskins Radio Network from 2009 to 2015, serving as the networks Executive Producer. He can be reached at SapienzaChuck@gmail.com
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