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Consistency, Belief Has Fueled Jay Gruden In Year 2

Posted Jan 10, 2016

Jay Gruden treaded through tough waters in his first season as the Redskins’ head coach in 2014. But staying consistent in his approach has paid off for Gruden in his second season.

Jay Gruden treaded through tough waters in his first season as the Redskins’ head coach in 2014. But staying consistent and having a belief in his approach has paid off for Gruden in his second season.

Jay Gruden is a realist.

He knows that patience wears thin very quickly in the highly-competitive National Football League. The minute you sign on as a new head coach, the hour glass turns over and winning is an immediate expectation.

Which is why last season – his first as a head coach in the NFL – was so frustrating for Gruden, who tried his best to seek advice from others – including his brother, Jon, a Super Bowl-winning head coach in his own right – about what it would take to persevere and improve, and fast, from a four-win 2014 campaign.

During the offseason, he faced the tough reality of making several replacements on his coaching staff, as the organization strived to bring in some more veteran figures with different, fresher approaches. Gruden, a former signal caller himself, also added a quarterbacks coach to the staff so that he could free himself up to better cover the needs of the entire team.

The team also brought on noted personnel executive Scot McCloughan as its general manager, who infused Gruden’s roster with a mixture of veteran leaders, each with winning backgrounds, and a 10-player 2015 Draft class, adding better depth and competition during the offseason months into training camp and the preseason.

The wins didn’t come immediately in 2015, as the Redskins played mostly terrific at FedExField and, well, not so terrific away from home. But by alternating wins and losses almost each week, Washington stayed relevant in the NFC East Division race.

By Week 14, the Redskins were 5-7 and tied for first atop the division, but needed a win on the road – something they hadn’t done all year – in order to stay on pace. They did just that, exorcising an ugly demon and defeating the Chicago Bears, 24-21, at Soldier Field, giving Gruden’s bunch confidence that they could close out the season – and the division title – by going on a little run.

And two weeks later, the Redskins did just that, once again going on the road and dominating the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, 38-24, to win their first division title since 2012, and their first under Gruden.

Quite the turnaround.

“I think anytime you’re a football coach and you get the team in training camp you’re excited about the season. And the moves we made in the offseason, the guys we had coming back, the veterans, and then drafts we’ve had the last two years, we felt like we were an up-and-coming football team, like we could compete with everybody,” Gruden said. “It was just a matter of putting it all together and, like I said, handling the ups and downs, which our guys have done very well and we’re going to have to continue to do.”

BRUSH YOUR SHOULDERS
Not many outside of the Redskins’ team facility believed the team was “up and coming” when the2015 season was just getting under way.

Just about every major media outlet predicted the Redskins would finish among the worst teams in the entire league when they released their season projections. Many placed the Redskins dead last.

Based off those projections, Gruden’s message to his team wasn’t to “ignore the outside noise.” No; quite the contrary.

The team used the doubters as fuel.

“You’re always looking for ways to motivate your team,” Gruden said. “Football is hard enough as it is. It’s a grind, obviously. But if you can find unique ways… And there’s a lot of doubters and a lot of haters that really had a lot of negative things to say about this franchise before the season about this team, and you should take it personally.”

Why take it personally?

“This is their jobs,” Gruden said of his players and coaches. “This is what they are paid to do. We have a lot of pride in this locker room, and for people to give us no respect whatsoever is insulting and it is a motivational tool.”

Gruden’s motivation, left tackle Trent Williams said, created a closer “family”-like atmosphere for the entire team. By the end of the season, the walls in the locker room were littered with bulletin board material – quotes from writers, columnists and even league opponents who weren’t shy about taking shots at the Redskins.

“It’s no longer 53 guys playing football – it’s a family,” said Williams, who was voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl this season. “…We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. I don't know if a year ago the team could’ve handled some of that adversity. This guy did a great job bringing in leaders, bringing in talent. This is a hungry team, man. We heard the doubters. We heard everybody. We heard people talking, but what we did we just kept our head down and kept working and it all paid off.”

STAYING CONSISTENT
After two seasons at the helm of the Redskins, Gruden has learned many of the ins and outs of being a head coach at this level.

Sometimes the team needs a tough guy to push home an important message or goal; other times it needs a jokester – a “player’s coach,” if you will – that can relate on a personal level.

Most importantly, however, Gruden has learned not to be too up or too down at any point of the season.

“You know, we just try to stay consistent with our approach and just make sure we get them as physically and as mentally prepared as we can for Sunday and just make sure they try to weather any storm that comes our way,” Gruden said. “They’ve done a good job of that, both after tough games and during games. We’ve weathered some tough quarters or tough calls or what have you. Guys have maintained their composure and continued to stay persistent and just kept grinding.”

That approach is rubbing off on his players.

Throughout the offseason and training camp, Kirk Cousins was switching on and off with Colt McCoy as the team’s No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback.

But just before the regular season got underway, Gruden made perhaps the most impactful decision of his coaching career to this point: he decided to make Cousins his starting quarterback for the 2015 season.

Cousins has gone on to turn in one of the best performances by a quarterback in Redskins history.

He said the faith from his head coach has been a huge part of his growth.

“A head coach is a person with a lot of pull and a lot of say and a lot of direction of which way the ship goes,” Cousins said. “I think he’s done a really good job in his second year of developing this team and bringing it along to the way he wants it and the identity that he wants. I continue to feel like we’re still early in the process. This is only not even finished with his second year. So I think we’re still very early and if we can continue to win and people can continue to be around then I think it will continue to grow.”

In turn, Gruden knows how quality quarterback play can make a head coach’s job easier.

“Obviously in pro sports the quarterback is one of the important positions in all of pro sports,” he said. “You’ve got to have a good one, one that can function, one that can lead your football team. Obviously Kirk’s development has been a huge reason why we’re in the position that we’re in.”

‘GOOD GROUP OF PEOPLE’
Gruden was asked recently what he feels he’s doing best right now.

He initially responded with one of his classic one-liners.

“These interviews,” Gruden told reporters, as he flashed a smile. “I’m killing ‘em.”

No, but seriously, Gruden at his core is humble. He says he doesn’t feel as if he’s doing anything out of the ordinary.

“I just come to work every day and try to do the best I can to get this team better,” he said. “These guys have really done a great job. It really helps having a good group of people around you. And that’s the biggest thing that I wanted to do is make sure you surround yourself with good people, obviously players that love football, are passionate about the game.”

Others in the building would say Gruden’s leadership, personality and football prowess have morphed the Redskins into a winner.

“It’s fun to come to work every day,” he said. “… It’s a process. Every day, every year you have to grow as a head coach. I feel like No. 1, the most important thing that I have to do is surround myself with good people, good coaches and good players. Our players have gotten better, our coaches have gotten better, all of us have gotten better together. Obviously having Scot [McCloughan] has been a big help. I think this organization has grown, not just myself, so it’s been a good thing.”

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