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Matt Williams, Jay Gruden Call For Different Expectations

January 10, 2014

Two teams in the same city are now both on the same page in terms of leadership. You see, the Redskins hired a first-time NFL head coach in Jay Gruden Jan. 9, which mirrored the Nationals' selection of first-time manager Matt Williams to lead the club in 2014.

But this short-lived comparison did more to shed light on the subject that these two franchises, whose fan bases have vastly different expectations, are built by their ownership. If the Nationals were either get to play in or win the 2014 World Series, all bets would be off as to which team would be the big dog in Washington, D.C.

Honeymoons in sports last a lot longer than the seven days couples usually spend in an exotic land. But Redskins owner Dan Snyder has long ago given up the mantle of being a neophyte at this ownership game. The 2014 season will mark Snyder's 16th as owner. He purchased the team from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke in 1999.

But I digress from the topic at hand -- the two men who are charged on the field with winning games: Gruden in football and Williams in baseball.

Although Gruden's contract is stated as a five-year contract, it's hard to imagine he'll last more than two if Snyder's team doesn't make some steady progress. Gruden inherits a dysfunctional team, which was built by the king of dysfunction -- ex-coach and head of football operations Mike Shanahan.

It's hard to imagine just how far Shanahan's reputation has fallen after his four seasons in D.C. During his interview process to obtain the Redskins' job, Shanahan reportedly told Snyder he would need five years to turn the team around. Snyder bit -- hook, line and sinker.

After two mediocre seasons, Shanahan played the I-have-to-have-a-franchise-quarterback card, which led to a grand giveaway of draft picks. For his part, quarterback Robert Griffin III brought Shanahan the necessary progression during his 2012 rookie season, helping the Redskins to the playoffs and an NFC East division crown. 

Perhaps overzealous to again prove his coaching greatness, Shanahan overreached by playing an injured Griffin during a home playoff loss to the Seahawks at FedEx Field in January 2013. After that, it all went backward for Shanahan and led to an embittered, contentious relationship between him and Griffin.

That led general manager Bruce Allen in the direction of familiarity in his coaching search. Allen had been general manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Gruden was an assistant under his brother, Jon Gruden. Three of the Redskins' assistant coaches for the 2013 season also worked with Allen as coaches for Tampa Bay. It appears all three of those assistants -- defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, secondary coach Raheem Morris and tight end coach Sean McVay -- will be part of Gruden's staff in D.C.

In some regard, although the expectations are greater at Nationals Park, general manager Mike Rizzo also reached out for familiarity when hiring Williams. During a 17-year big league career, Williams' last six seasons were in Arizona with the Diamondbacks, where Rizzo was employed at the time in a scouting position. Although Williams will have more say in the composition of his entire coaching staff, he, too, will have a holdover, as Randy Knorr, who served as former manager Davey Johnson's bench coach, will hold on to the same spot.

Where this comparison between two Washington sports teams ends is in terms of the Redskins having gone 3-13 in 2013, whereas the Nationals finished 86-76, good for second place in the 2013 NL East, behind the Atlanta Braves. After the Nationals won the NL East in 2012, many predicted that the 2013 club would walk away with the division again, while making it to the World Series.

With Gruden coming in as a first-time head coach, a 6-10 or 7-9 mark for the 2014 season would show a huge improvement. If he has that kind of season, he would be set for a tenure of success.

Meanwhile, first-time skipper Williams is expected to make the postseason and take the team deep into the playoffs, or else people may view his hire with skepticism.

Regardless of how Gruden and Williams finish during their first seasons, it'll be interesting 365 days from now to come back and compare and contrast once again two of the biggest sports leaders in the D.C. marketplace.