Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Case for Russ Grimm

Make it happen Dan

Joe Gibbs has passed the Redskins torch, again but this time no one is there to take it. January 2008 moves into its third week and still the Redskins have no head coach. Today concludes The Curly R's five part look at the Redskins coordinators, leading candidates and also rans for the highest profile coaching position in the NFL.

Part One: What a New Coach Means for the Redskins
Part Two: Al Saunders
Part Three: Gregg Williams
Part Four: The Rest of the Pack
Part Five: The Case for Russ Grimm


Bill Cowher swears he's off the market. Al Saunders has never been a part of the coaching discussion. Gregg Williams burns bridges and pisses people off. The cast of other candidates is lukewarm at best, none of those guys has the wattage needed to burn in Ashburn. But there is one man, one assistant in the NFL that could break owner Dan Snyder's addiction to star coaches, one man who is ready to rise from ranks and be embraced by Redskins fans and the media alike, a man that embodies Redskins football.

That man is Russ Grimm. He should be the next head coach of the Washington Redskins.

While Curly R acknowledges that Russ has not been a part of any discussions involving the Redskins head coaching position that will not stop Curly R from making the case for Russ. From the perspective of the Redskins right now Russ has everything going for him and nothing against him.


Russ was drafted in the third round of the 1981 NFL draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. Russ played 11 seasons, all for the Redskins, all for Joe Gibbs and retired after Super Bowl 26, the fourth Redskins Super Bowl appearance in Russ' career. He was a founding member of the Hogs, that famous or infamous depending on your perspective front five offensive linemen for the Redskins that came to embody the principles of Redskins football, a notion Joe Gibbs continued to espouse even through his second tenure.

A run blocker, there is little Russ enjoyed more than putting an opposing defensive tackle on his ass. Russ went to the Pro Bowl in 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986 and has been named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame every year since 2005. This year is his fourth year on the finalist ballot.

There may be no player from the Redskins glory days that evokes memories of hardnosed Redskins football than Russ Grimm.

After retiring as a player Russ immediately joined Joe Gibbs' coaching staff as tight ends coach, a position he held through 1992, Richie Petitbon's ill fated 1993 season and was held over in that position through Norval Turner's first three years as Redskins head coach. In 1997 Russ became the Redskins offensive line coach, the position he held through the end of Norval's tenure in 2000. In 1999 tailback Stephen Davis set a Redskins team record and led the NFC with 1405 yards rushing. In 2000 despite the turmoil associated with Dan Snyder's rise as activist owner Stephen Davis again had a great season with 1318 yards rushing, finishing third in the NFC.

Russ left the Redskins in the aftermath of Norval's firing and joined Bill Cowher's staff as offensive line coach before the 2001 season. Russ' early tenure in Pittsburgh coincided with the decline of tailback Jerome Bettis and even through the Amos Zereoue and Duce Staley days the Steelers maintained a commitment to the run. Before the 2004 season Russ was named Steelers assistant head coach in addition to offensive line coach. Willie Parker became the established Steelers tailback in 2005 and had 1200 or more yards rushing each of Russ' last two seasons in Pittsburgh. After the 2005 season Russ added another Super Bowl win to his resume when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl 40. In that game the Steelers amassed 181 yards rushing and needed only 158 yards passing.

After the 2003 season Russ interviewed with the Chicago Bears, that team having fired coach Dick Jauron. The job ultimately went to Lovie Smith. After the 2005 season the Detroit Lions expressed an interest in Russ for the head coaching position but with the Steelers in the AFC Championship and then Super Bowl Russ' former Redskins teammate Matt Millen was unable to wait for Russ to become available and hired Rod Marinelli. When Bill Cowher stepped down from the Steelers head coaching job after the 2006 season Russ was considered the favorite candidate for the position. Ultimately it went to Mike Tomlin and Russ left Pittsburgh to join former Steelers offensive coordinator and new Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt's staff as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Russ is expected to draw interest every year as a head coaching candidate.


Which brings us back to the Redskins job. Owner Dan Synder's three hires as Redskins head coach have all had something in common: star power. In 2001 Dan tried to cede some authority to a quote football guy unquote in Marty Schottenheimer. Unfortunately for Dan Marty saw Dan's toady Vinny Cerrato as part of the problem and fired him immediately. After an 0-5 start an 8-3 finish could not save Marty's job and he was fired, Vinny was rehired and Steve Spurrier was hired to a five year deal worth 25 million dollars.

Steve limped through 7-9 and 5-11 seasons in 2002 and 2003 before becoming so disgusted with himself that he resigned and walked away from 15 million dollars rather than wait and be fired.

When Joe Gibbs was hired before the 2004 season it was not only a surprise to Redskins fans, it was the balm Redskins fans needed to help get over Steve Spurrier.

For you see Steve Spurrier despite his success at Duke and the University of Florida was never embraced by Redskins fans or the hometown media. Steve eschewed Redskins football, a strong running game, ball control and using the clock as a 12th man in favor of pitch and catch, dink dank dunk and it failed miserably in the NFC Beast. Fans were nearing revolt and if Dan Snyder had gone with another candidate that continued to take the Redskins away from those tenets of the game that made them successful that coach also would not have been embraced.

Any coach that wins is loved. This is not a novel concept. There is the notion though that a team's history sets its future and the Redskins have a strong history in a certain kind of football. Any new way of football in Washington will be met with hugs and effusive coverage by the blogs... until it doesn't work and then I and the Washington Post will go on a sustained tirade about how far the Redskins have fallen from their roots as a football team.

Dan Snyder may own the team equity and may have to write some checks and cash others. He is however only the steward of the team, we the fans are the real owners. Don't believe it? Next time you are sharing a cuban and a single malt with Dan ask him why he never does interviews or public appearances anymore or why he never comes out for halftime ceremonies anymore. It's because he thought he would be loved just because he was the Redskins owner and as it turns out Redskins fans call the shots and even the owner can be chased off the field to a cascade of boos.


Let's try this again, back to Russ Grimm and the Redskins head coaching job. Russ Grimm is the right man for this job for three reasons.

1. He has more celebrity in Washington than Bill Cowher and more than any other named candidate. Bill's name has been dropped almost as often as stories of his distinerest, I will not be surprised if Bill is quietly rebuffing every Dan Snyder advance, not wanting to be associated with a dysfunctional football organization like the Redskins.

After Dan's perception of Marty Schottenheimer as a failure after 8-8 it seems as though Dan decided never again to surrender football decision making, wanting to be more like Jerral W. Jones than Jack Kent Cooke. If there ever was a time to use the cover of Joe Gibbs' retirement as a chance to hire a general manager and blunt criticism as to why it took so long it would have been now, there are plenty of candidates on the market. Dan has chosen not to, preferring to continue doing things his way. So far not so good, two winning seasons in eight years as the owner.

2. Russ Grimm is qualified for this job. The great Bill Cowher, the man that seems to be Dan Snyder's white whale this year saw fit to hire Russ seven years ago and then made Russ the assistant head coach. Russ now has 15 years of coaching as an assistant and Russ was thought to be Bill Cowher's preferred candidate for the Steelers job and how lucky did Ken Whisenhunt feel when Russ got passed over and was available. Like the Redskins in 2002 with Marvin Lewis Cardinals fans know Russ will be gone sooner rather than later. I wonder which shit disturbing Cardinals blog is already advocating for the firing of Ken and the promotion of Russ.

To those that somehow poo poo Russ because he has never been a coordinator or a playcaller, or that somehow his past as an offensive lineman somehow makes him a grunt, unable to coach a team, that's just bullshit. The head coaching position is the top of the food chain, it would be Russ' job to set the tone and the coordinators' jobs to run the show. And as an offensive line guy you can bet the team will always consider that a basic principle of winning.

3. Russ Grimm embodies as much or more continuity when it comes to Redskins football as simply retaining the remnants of Joe Gibbs II. In a literal sense many of the coaches could be retained, up to and including the coordinators. Joe Bugel, Don Breaux, Jack Burns, all the Space Cowboys would be here to see the game turned over in a season or two to the next generation of Redskins heritage coaches.

In a figurative sense whatever continuity the team thinks it has goes away in two seasons with the combination of any other coach and the decision making regime that is in place, namely Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato. Any coach will try and mold the team to his vision and even though all Redskins coaches eventually realize there is a certain way of doing things that a) wins in the NFC Beast and b) is appreciated by the fans that realization inevitably happens too little too late. Marty Schottenheimer got it early, Steve Spurrier cursed it on his way out.

Bring Russ Grimm in here and he represents a respect for history and the ability to win. Partner him with the owner and his toadies and let Russ help Dan to understand what Redskins football really is.

Russ Grimm from here.