Jay Gruden finds Commanders' idealistic run-heavy philosophy 'embarrassing'


Former Washington coach Jay Gruden delivered some piercing barbs in response to the notion that the Commanders would like to run the ball twice as much as they pass it moving forward.

The Commanders fired Scott Tuner after three seasons as offensive coordinator on Tuesday. Just hours prior, head coach Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew held an end-of-season press conference, during which they were asked why they prefer to be a run-first team.

Gruden was asked about that two-to-one run-to-pass philosophy during an appearance with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier.

"Well then maybe Martin Mayhew and Ron Rivera should call plays," Gruden said sharply. "I mean seriously, it's embarrassing. You can't just hand the ball off two-to-one. And say you're gonna do that, the score dictates it, your line play dictates it, your offense, your tight ends — if you don't having blocking tight ends, it's hard.

"What are you gonna run, inside zone? You gonna run outside zone? You gonna run toss plays? It's very difficult to maintain a two-to-one advantage if you're trailing, or if you're second-and-12 or second-and-11 multiple times throughout the course of the game."

"Yeah, I'm with ya. I think it's a nice thing to say," Rouhier replied. "But I wonder if you ever encountered that in your career at any level, where, you as the play-caller had a different philosophy than like a guy from the Mesozoic era that was up at the top, that was screaming at you to run the ball. And you're like, 'Alright, it's second-and-17, dude. You really want me to just hand it off for a run-and-smash?'"

Gruden, who coached the Redskins from 2014 until his firing partway through the 2019 season, alluded to his time in Washington with his response.

"Yeah, I had it every day," Gruden said. "Every Monday when I went in the office, if we didn't run the ball enough, I had a thing on my desk saying, 'Hey, the division-leading Cowboys are running the ball two-to-one. They're leading the league in rushing and that's why they're leading the division.' I said well they're winning every game, they're in the lead; they're not behind, and they have a powerful offensive line and a great back."

"I mean, it's easier said than done," he said. "Sometimes my passing is an extension of the running game with the bubble screens, and the quick game and the RPOs, and you lose some of those carries if you're gonna call a game that way. And I thought that was the most acceptable way to run the ball and call plays, is to try to keep teams off balance and not try to power it between the tackles if you don't have powerful offensive linemen. If your tackles aren't powerful and your tight ends aren't powerful, you're not gonna be able to run the ball between the tackles consistently."

Asked who was putting those notes on his desk, Gruden said coyly, "Who do you think?"

"It doesn't matter. It was on my desk," he added. "I don't know who put it on there. I glanced at it and threw it right in the garbage when I was done."

"Because obviously every play-caller's dream is to power-run the football," he continued. "It's easy for everybody. The linemen love it, the quarterback loves it, the backs love it, your defense loves it. But you can't do it all the time consistently unless you have like a Derrick Henry. Even they struggle. They can't run the ball between the tackles all the time. They get stuck in second-and-12 and second-and-14 all the time and they can't throw the ball to save their life."

"So if you rely on that too much and you can't throw the ball when you have to throw the ball, you're gonna struggle and you're gonna be unsuccessful," he said. "You have to be balanced in what you do. You have to be multiple in what you do. You can't rely and just say, 'Hey, I'm gonna take the easy way out and, hey, let's just run the ball two-to-one.'

"Well, what run do you want to run? What formation? What personnel grouping? Who's gonna block the safeties? Do we have receivers that are gonna come in and dig out safeties? You're gonna get an eight-man box. You're gonna get a seven-man box. And it's easier said than done."

Gruden's best barb of the interview came moments later, when he was asked if he wants the Commanders' offensive coordinator job.

"Ah yeah, I'd love to coach again," Gruden said (he hasn't held an NFL coaching gig since his lone season as the Jags OC in 2020). "Who's the owner?"

"We don't know yet," Paulsen said laughing. "Something tells me Dan's not gonna be hiring you, Jay."

"Something tells me I wouldn't go back if he was," Gruden quipped.

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