Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's playbook for finding an offensive coordinator should come from the pages of "Hamlet" -- "To thine own self be true."
Gruden should return to play calling. It's what led him to a head coaching job. And after three years as a head coach, he's more prepared for the play-calling duties he surrendered after his first season in Washington. But after losing his offensive coordinator and play-calling successor Sean McVay Dec. 12, as the Los Angeles Rams hired him to be their new head coach, Gruden also needs to find an experienced defensive coordinator. Someone to take over that side without worry, like Joe Gibbs did with Richie Petitbon and Steve Spurrier did with Marvin Lewis. I know, a day ago I was
advocating for a younger coordinator
, but losing McVay changes that. Gruden can't afford to worry about the defensive side when taking over the offense.
So much has changed since Gruden's 2014 arrival. He's now more comfortable with his staff. The players know the system. Gruden knows how to better handle the overall demands of the job.
Trying to teach someone his system would be harder on Gruden than doing it himself. Now, he could promote someone on his staff. Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and offensive line coach Bill Callahan both called plays during their careers. Maybe Gruden creates a triad for Tuesday game-planning sessions, and then calls the plays on Sundays. That would be easier than bringing in a Chip Kelly or Bill Musgrave, who might radically change things.
Change may come anyway. Quarterback Kirk Cousins returning isn't a given. The team faces a big decision on whether to pay heavily to retain him. It would seem a no-brainer to retain Cousins, but the prospect of paying $24.5 million per year, which limits defensive free-agent signings, is surely keeping general manager Scot McCloughan up late at night.
Receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are both 30-year-old free agents. Each exceeded 1,000 receiving yards last season in different roles. Garcon seems more likely to return, but he's not a certainly. Jackson is expected to consider his hometown of Los Angeles, where two teams now play, with the Chargers playing their inaugural season this fall after moving from San Diego. That McVay is now the Rams' coach might prove enticing to Jackson, too.
Washington also needs a prime running back after promoting rookie free-agent Robert Kelley as the midseason starter. But Kelley isn't a 1,200-yard runner, and Washington never showed any imagination when running the ball. That doomed the red-zone play calling when defenses didn't respect the run and could flood the end zone to cover receivers.
There are so many moving parts Gruden would be best served by calling plays himself. At least he knows where that leads.