Jon Gruden appears to be the frontrunner in Dan Snyder's offseason search for his seventh coach in 11 seasons.
Sources close to Snyder say he began considering options to replace coach Jim Zorn after losing to Detroit on Sept. 27; a victory that ended the Lions' 19-game losing streak. The Redskins loss to Carolina on Sunday was its second in three games to a winless team. It followed a turbulent week when Snyder hired an “offensive consultant” to give Zorn another “fresh set of eyes” on a beleaguered offense.
Snyder has not contacted Gruden, say sources, but he believes the former Oakland-Tampa Bay coach might be the best fit among five Super Bowl winning coaches without jobs. Gruden currently is a Monday Night Football commentator who arrives in Washington for the Redskins-Philadelphia Eagles game on Oct. 26. Snyder and Gruden could meet during routine pregame research for the MNF program.
Meanwhile, Snyder's interest seems to have tempered for former Denver coach Mike Shanahan, once considered the frontrunner because of his long relationship with Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato. Sources won't rule out Shanahan, but the latter's demand for more front office control makes it a less-likely hire. NFL sources say the two have discussed the job.
Sources close to Gruden said he plans to resume a coaching job search at season's end in his first break since becoming a college assistant in 1986. Gruden spent five years at three colleges before one season on offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren's San Francisco staff in 1990. After coaching receivers at the University of Pittsburgh in 1991, Gruden worked three years as a Green Bay assistant before becoming Philadelphia's offensive coordinator from 1995-97.
Gruden became the Oakland Raiders head coach in 1998, reaching the playoffs three of four seasons under controversial owner Al Davis. Gruden then coached Tampa Bay for seven years, wining Super Bowl XXXVIII in his first season with the Buccaneers.
After missing the playoffs four of his final six years, including finishing 9-7 last season, Gruden was fired with three years remaining on his contract. He has since declined an offer to become the University of Oregon's offensive coordinator.
Sources close to Gruden say he's interested in the Redskins because of Snyder's free spending. Gruden felt undermined by Tampa Bay owners because they were $45 million under the salary cap in his final season. The NFL won't have a salary cap next year, leaving Snyder to spend freely for the free agents that Gruden prefers.
Snyder is seeking is a candidate willing to leave major personnel decisions to Cerrato and the owner. NFL sources close to Gruden said that's not an expected deal breaker.
“When the guy has worked in the worst environment in football in Al Davis, he'll not see this as a problem,” an NFL source said. “Gruden really wants to coach.”
Snyder also has considered former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and Holmgren, who won a title with Green Bay. The final available Super Bowl-winning coach – Tony Dungy – is expected to remain retired after leaving Indianapolis this year.
Cowher has long been Snyder's first choice, but NFL sources say the Steelers coach turned down the Redskins in 2007 before Zorn was hired and prefers to remain in broadcasting . Holmgren teased interest in an East Coast job and is expected to be pursued by several teams, including Dallas.
Indeed, Snyder's aggressive pursuit of coaches in coming weeks is partly to beat Dallas owner Jerry Jones to the top candidate should the Cowboys part with Wade Phillips.
Snyder has learned to be more proactive following the unexpected departures of Steve Spurrier (2003) and Joe Gibbs (2007). Snyder was completely surprised by Gibbs' retirement despite the latter indicating it in the weeks following Sean Taylor's murder. Gibbs quit two days after being eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs. Snyder met with a series of candidates before promoting Zorn from offensive coordinator.
Snyder was ready for the 2002 search after one season with Marty Schottenheimer, who also was team president. Snyder disliked not participating in personnel decisions for the only time since buying the team in 1999. A heated argument developed between Schottenheimer and Snyder's then minority partner, Fred Drasner, after one member of the coaching staff wouldn't let Drasner use a team vehicle. This, coupled with an 0-5 start, saw Snyder preparing for a switch in September. Schottenheimer was dismissed despite finishing 8-8.