Previous Washington Redskins coaches only had to deal with one divisive influence at the top of the franchise. Now there are two. The next head coach will have to cope not just with owner-supremo Daniel Snyder’s interference, but with the added complication of a 23-year-old boy emperor who believes he can dictate everything from the play-calling to what’s served at training table. You don’t like eggs? Take it up with Robert Griffin III.
On the surface, the presence of Griffin should be a lure for a head coach: Who wouldn’t want to work with an electromagnetic talent who just needs some schooling as a dropback passer to become one of the most powerful weapons in the league, right? That’s how it should be. But it’s not.
Instead, any head coaching candidate will be hesitant about working with a player whose rampant owner-empowered entitlement was clearly part of the team’s problem this season. Once, Griffin was an immensely likable, unpretentious kid who was wide open to collaboration. But according to insiders, Griffin’s public campaign to have the offense altered for him was just the tip of his egotism in his second year. Behind closed doors, Griffin had fierce finger-pointing tensions with his wide receivers, and he bragged to teammates that he could procure favors from the owner and influence the franchise’s direction.
The Redskins have always suffered from chronic organizational deformities under Snyder, but never this badly. If they wind up with a decent coach, it will be because there are twice as many candidates as there are openings, so Snyder and General Manager Bruce Allen can’t help but make a competent hire. The problem is, it doesn’t matter who they get. The new coach will be twice-hamstrung before he walks in the door.
Try winning with a quarterback who has alienated his receivers and members of the offensive line. Any head coaching candidate has to be concerned about the locker room bad blood we all saw evidence of this season. Griffin sat on the ground after sacks and no one helped him up. We all heard, too, Pierre Garcon’s barely contained anger, and Santana Moss’s remarkable public lecture that Griffin needed to quit blaming others and take responsibility for his own failures. It was a significant break with protocol and suggested how badly relationships had eroded; players almost always feel duty-bound to support their quarterback.
The perennial optimists at Redskins Park will try to sell a coaching hire on the idea that they can become next season’s Kansas City Chiefs, who went from 2-14 to the playoffs in just a season thanks to the partnership between new Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. Why can’t the Redskins do the same? But any candidate has to be concerned that the Redskins’ dynamic is the exact opposite: When a team goes from the playoffs to 3-13 in the space of just a year, it’s because something unhealthy has poisoned it.
What coach with other offers would opt for a job in which the perception is that you can be trumped on any decision, from play-calling to personnel, by a third-year QB? Whomever the Redskins hire, his job will depend on placating Griffin. It’s plain that Griffin hasn’t yet learned to read coverages or where to go with the ball against them – but it’s not plain that Griffin understands his own shortcomings. He appears to view himself as a finished dropback passer who simply wasn’t given adequate help from fired coach Mike Shanahan. The lesson from this season is that he has the power to discard any part of the playbook he dislikes, and if his sack numbers are high, it will be the fault of the protections, not him.
In fairness to Griffin, not every story about his ego is true, and he is so young that he genuinely may not understand how he was perceived, especially in the flash of stardom. Griffin complained in November about “character assassination” after a false report that he didn’t want his bad plays shown in the film room. The problem is, he supplied too many legitimate reasons to think such a thing might be true. He didn’t take much blame for the season, while parading his enormous license as the owner’s favorite.
No wonder backup Kirk Cousins said last week he believes Griffin will have a major say who becomes the new head coach. “I’m sure Mr. Snyder and Robert and those people will have a lot of input as to who the hire is,” Cousins told ESPN.
The team promptly issued a statement denying that Griffin will be consulted on coaching candidates. Which by itself was strange and signaled oversensitivity. The Detroit Lions weren’t self-conscious about quarterback Matthew Stafford meeting with Jim Caldwell during his job interview there, nor did they have to issue any clarifications about Stafford’s role in the process. The Redskins clearly have concerns about Griffin appearing too involved.
Griffin is young, with a beautiful long horizon ahead of him, and there is no reason why he can’t use this season as corrective, and go on to fulfill all of his promise. But for that to happen, he has to recognize how badly wrong he went and how much he has to learn about leadership. Reports are that the Redskins are indeed pursuing Griffin’s college coach, Art Briles. Whoever the hire is, his first priority will be to pry Griffin from the owner’s orbit, and help him rediscover himself. That will be a delicate repair job. But the person with the most repairing to do is Griffin.
Fort Worth native Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.