Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Is Bill Cowher Headed To The Redskins?
When Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder finally rid the franchise of Vinny Cerrato, he decided to stay with the umbrella of Redskins legacy without losing his seemed mission of building his own legacy.
He hired Bruce Allen as to become the seventh general manager in the teams 78 years of existence. Three of the previous seven general managers are members of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, which includes Allen's father George Allen.
Though Bruce Allen did not work in the front office for a NFL franchise until 1995, when he was nearly 40 years old, he had experience playing the game. He was drafted in the 12th round of the 1978 draft by the Baltimore Colts as a punter. The Colts head coach was Ted Marchibroda, who had served as an offensive coordinator under his father from 1972 to 1974 with the Redskins.
The Oakland Raiders had just returned to Oakland after a 13 year excursion in Los Angeles in 1995, and Allen was hired to work beside Hall Of Famer Al Davis. The pair oversaw a team that went to one Super Bowl, and won the AFC West three times in his eight years with the team.
Allen was named the winner of the George Young Executive of the Year Award in 2002, as the Raiders reached the Super Bowl. He left that Oakland to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 2003 season.
The move reunited him with head coach Jon Gruden, who had been the Raiders coach from 1998 to 2001. Gruden then joined the Buccaneers in 2002 and got revenge for being fired by the Raiders by defeating them in Super Bowl XXXVII. Both men stayed with the Buccaneers until they were fired at the conclusion of the 2008 season.
Now Snyder is asking Allen to follow a long line of success at the Redskins general manager position. The first one ever was Dick McCann, who has a memorial award named after him that is annually given to sportswriters for contributions to the game by the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. McCann was a former sportswriter himself, and the first executive director of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. It was his idea to have the media to select those enshrined.
Bill McPeak was the general manager and head coach from 1961 to 1965. Though his teams lost mostly, including a one win season in his first year, his era is most remembered for acquiring legendary Redskins like Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell, Chris Hanburger, Jerry Smith, Len Hauss, Pat Richter, Joe Rutgens, Ron Snidow, and Paul Krause.
He was replaced by Hall Of Famer Otto Graham, who lasted three years because of bad draft picks. His best pick was punter Mike Bragg, a fifth round selection in 1968. He was then replaced by Hall Of Famer Vince Lombardi. Lombardi's first draft year produced just three players, none higher than the sixth round. That choice, linebacker Harold McLinton, joined eighth round running back Larry Brown to become vital members of Redskins lore.
Lombardi's second draft year brought in Bill Brundige, Mack Alston, Manny Sistrunk, and Paul Laaveq, but he was unable to coach them because he died of cancer a few weeks before the 1970 season started. Washington then brought in George Allen the next year.
The George Allen Era was a time where many draft picks were traded off in order to procure the services of veterans that Allen was familiar with. It brought the team their first postseason play in 26 years and their first Super Bowl appearance. The Redskins won their division three times in his seven years, and went to the playoffs five times. He left the team after a contract dispute following the 1977 season.
He was replaced by Bobby Beathard, who had worked with McPeak on the 1973 Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins. Beathard stayed until 1989, leading the Redskins to three Super Bowls in the 1980's. It was the work of Beathard that laid down the groundwork for a team that went to four Super Bowls in ten years, winning three times.
He left the team in 1989 and joined the San Diego Chargers. He was replaced by Charley Casserly. He had worked for the team since 1977, starting as an unpaid intern under George Allen. Casserly moved his way up the organizational ladder, and helped Beathard put together the Redskins as a decade long dynasty in the NFL. He is well known for putting together the replacement team during the 1987 players strike. The replacements went undefeated in three games before the strike was over.
Casserly specialized in finding great players late in the draft, or signing undrafted players. Men like Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Brian Mitchell, Stephen Davis, Jimmie Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Brad Badger, Rich Owens, and Shawn Barber became big parts of several Redskins teams. Casserly also drafted Frank Wycheck and Keenan McCardell in late rounds, though they became Pro Bowl players with other teams.
Since Snyder fired Casserly after the 1999 season, the Redskins tradition seemed to be exiled as well. Suffering through a decade of the incompetent Vinny Cerrato, the team had just two playoff seasons and six head coaches. Now the onus is on Allen to bring a stability to the organization that they have not had since the day his dad was hired.
Washington has had seven Hall Of Famers coach their teams. It started with Ray Flaherty, the man who invented the screen pass. He led the team to four championship games in his seven years, winning twice. One of his players, Hall Of Fame tackle Turk Edwards, coached the team for three years.
Washington was able to lure legendary Hall Of Fame head coach Curly Lambeau to the team in 1952, but he was gone after two mediocre years that saw the team lose star players Gene Brito and Eddie LaBaron to the Canadian Football League because of his coaching methods.
Graham's three years were also unsuccessful, but they were exciting to watch on offense via the play of Jurgensen, Taylor, Mitchell, and Smith. Lombardi only lasted one season, but his impact had a lasting effect on men like Brown and Hauss. Brown was discovered to be deaf in one ear by Lombardi, thus saving his career and leading him to becoming the 1972 NFL MVP.
George Allen followed, and his influence helped cement the famed rivalry against the Cowboys that had been brewing since 1961. A rivalry that ranks amongst the greatest in all of sports history for many reasons through several stories.
Joe Gibbs came in to Washington in 1981, and quickly became one of the winningest coaches in NFL history. He led the team to three Super Bowl wins with three different quarterbacks. He returned to the team after a 11 year retirement that saw him get enshrined into Canton, and he led the team to their only two playoff appearances of the decade.
When Cerrato pushed for Jim Zorn to follow Gibbs, he hired a guy who has shown he would not make a good offensive coordinator right now. Zorn was given the duties of head coach, and has shown himself to be out of his league thus far. This is shown by his having been stripped of several coaching duties the past few weeks.. His West Coast offensive philosophy has proven to be flawed for NFC East football, and this philosophy has yet to produce one NFL champion out of the division.
Now that Zorn appears to be ready to leave, it is important that Allen blow up the entire coaching staff in Redskin Park. None should return next year, with the exception of offensive line coach Joe Bugel, running backs coach Stump Mitchell, and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.
The Redskins aggressively signed free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, before the 2009 season, with a contract that could end up costing $100 million. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who inherited an excellent defense in 2008, has run a bland defensive scheme that has failed to create many turnovers. Haynesworth was recently sent home from practice by the lame duck coach Zorn for bristling at what he perceives as a lack of positive usage by Blache.
Hiring Bill Cowher may be just what Allen needs. Cowher is considered a defensive oriented coach, which would help play into a team already stout in that area. He is also known for his toughness, which is an area many feel Washington has lacked in recent years.
The one thing Cowher has going for him over potential hire Mike Shanahan is a true understanding on how to play in the NFC East. Cowher played for the Philadelphia Eagles as a linebacker for three of his six years in the NFL. A Marty Schottenheimer disciple who has led teams that could run the ball well, his Pittsburgh Steelers teams went to postseason play in ten of his 15 years as their head coach.
He is one of just six head coaches in NFL history to have captured seven division crowns, and only the second to coach his team to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons.
One other potential candidate could be Gruden, due to the fact Allen was his general manager already with two teams. Gruden also has experience in the NFC East, having served as an offensive coordinator for the Eagles from 1995 to 1997. Philadelphia went to the playoffs twice while playing with three different quarterbacks during his tenure. Gruden is known for stockpiling rosters with quarterbacks, having success with some.
What separates Cowher from the rest of potential candidates is his track record. He was brought up as a potential hire for the Redskins last year, but he opted to remain a television personality instead of coaching. Perhaps the image of working with the dysfunction of Cerrato and Snyder repelled him, especially after working with a classy organization run by the Rooney's in Pittsburgh.
Now that Snyder has promised to stop meddling for now, even though he frequently admits to knowing little about football, there is the thought that Cowher can be enticed to come to Washington to work with Allen. He went to college at North Carolina State in a time where the Redskins were the favorite team of the area. Even after the Panthers were born, there are still many football fans in the area that cheers for Washington.
Cowher has been successful wherever he has gone, which shows by the fact he was a head coach just eight years after retiring as a player. He was a defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns for two years, and helped make Pro Bowl cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, along with free safety Felix Wright, better players. He coached for Cleveland over four years, and they made the playoffs each time.
As a defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs for three years, he helped Derrick Thomas, Deron Cherry, Albert Lewis, Bill Maas, Neil Smith, Kevin Ross, and Dan Saleaumua to two playoff appearances with defenses that finished in the top ten in each of his three years. Thomas, a Hall Of Famer, had his best seasons under the leadership of Cowher.
The one common theme the Hall Of Fame coaches of the Redskins has was a strong personality that had the players follow them to success. This is a leadership the team has lacked the past two seasons on the field, and ten of the past 11 years in the front office.
Now is the time for Allen to grab hold of the organizations reins and impose his will to win on every employee. Getting Bill Cowher to cajole every player on to greatness would be a start needed for a franchise that has been stuck in mediocrity for so long.