Jay Gruden is one of the luckiest guys in American football today. When Gruden gets up in the morning and gives thanks while watching the sun rise during his commute to work, it isn’t because he has lived to see another great day. No, it is because he is spending another day as part of an elite club. This elite club has only thirty-two members…more elite than being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. It is more elite than being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and more elite than being a gold medalist on any year’s U.S. Olympic team. This is because Gruden is one of only thirty-two head coaches in the NFL. He is the head coach of the National Football League franchise Washington Redskins.
“Now wait a second,” you might be saying right now. Isn’t this the Washington Redskins that has an ethnic slur as a mascot name, is ridiculed and disparaged for keeping the name in the face of national and local media scorn and constant protests in front of whatever stadium they are playing? Isn’t this the Washington D.C. team that is was just called a “dumpster fire” by a prominent local sports writer? Doesn’t the main sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal call the Redskins the “Washington Sadness Machine“? Isn’t this franchise the one that is regularly associated with the other grossly dysfunctional franchises in the league such as the Oakland Raiders or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Yes. Yes it is. But wait, there is more.
Ever since the death of the previous owner in 1998, Jack Kent Cooke, the franchise has been the very face of player and coaching ineptitude. Coaches who succeed are fired. Coaches who don’t have even experience as assistant head coaches are hired as head coach. High profile free agents regularly sign huge contracts with the Redskins that include enormous guaranteed money, and then play sparingly, poorly, or even never. Players celebrate like fools when they get a first down, and like idiots when they score touch downs. Receivers regularly drop balls, quarterbacks regularly throw interceptions and are victimized by fumbles, kickers can’t kick the ball into the end zone on kick offs, rookies have career interrupting or ending injuries, corners and safeties always get called for interference and are often scorched by mediocre receivers, linemen can’t block, and linebackers can’t tackle.
The home stadium, FedEx Field, is a decrepit econobox with few decent seats. Stadium parking, which is horrid, is expensive. The food at the stadium, which is often tasteless and greasy, is also expensive. Traffic in and out of the stadium grounds requires hours of grinding stop-and-go driving, each way. Tickets are among the most costly in the NFL. The franchise used to have a season ticket waiting list that took decades to traverse–and now there is no real wait. Opposing team fans often outdraw home fans in the stadium.
The team sues fans for failing to make good on worthless multi-year season ticket packages. Management has been known to do radio shows on the captive sports radio network when the team wins, and disappear when the team loses. The team and the owner are so reviled by local politicians that none of the three surrounding jurisdictions–Maryland, Virginia, or the District of Columbia–have shown much serious interest in providing the sweetheart stadium deal that most other franchises would easily get. The team’s record under the current ownership is 108-148-0; a dismal 42% win rate.
None of that matters to Gruden.
Jay Gruden spent more time in the Arena Football League as a player and coach than he has been involved in the NFL. As an NFL player he never advanced farther than a brief slot on the Phoenix Cardinals practice squad. His playing career features only highlights from the defunct World League and the AFL. His NFL coaching resume only shows six years as an offensive assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when his more famous brother Jon Gruden coached the team, and three years as the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. He interviewed for head coach at five different NFL teams (and turned down a sixth) without getting hired.
Nope, life is good for Jay Gruden. He has made it to the pinnacle of his profession, and he is enjoying every minute of it. And if he can somehow pull off a miracle of an 8 and 8 season with a second string interception-prone quarterback, no notable tight ends, and injured number one receiver, a questionable offensive line, and a defense with little depth of talent, he just might get another season to marvel at his luck.