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Could Jay Gruden return to coach the Cincinnati Bengals?

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Marvin Lewis shares one thing in common with his former assistant; their seats are hot. Could the Bengals former offensive coordinator return to his old team?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins played in a must-win game on Thursday Night Football, but came away empty handed. With a decisive loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins look like they are going to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row and suffer their first losing record since 2014.

Jay Gruden, an offensive coordinator under Marvin Lewis from 2011-2013, is in a strikingly similar situation with his former head coach. Both coaches look like they are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight year after winning their respective divisions in 2015.

Entering Week 13 at 5-6, both coaches might be looking for new employment should they finish the season with losing records.

What would it take for the Redskins to part ways with Gruden? Should the Bengals consider bringing him back?

Will Gruden get fired?

Rumors of Gruden’s firing have been circling Landover, Maryland for pretty much his entire tenure. Winning the division in 2015 has probably prolonged his stay longer than some would like. Gruden is a career 26-33-1 as the Redskins’ head coach with four games remaining in 2017.

The good news is, the four remaining games on the Redskins schedule are all against losing teams with the final two against the Broncos and the Giants. It is entirely possible the Redskins somehow make it out of 2017 9-7, but that might not be enough to make the playoffs. With the Panthers, Falcons, Lions, Seahawks, Cowboys, and Packers in front of them, they can’t make the playoffs without help.

Not to mention they are 0-2 against the Cowboys which would give Dallas a tie-breaker. Hypothetically if Gruden could find a way to win his last four games, his career winning percentage of .477 would not be enough to keep him employed without those playoff appearances. An appearance might not even be enough either. A win might be all that could save him.

An embarrassing defeat on Thursday Night Football might have been the last nail in the coffin. The knock on Gruden is one that Bengals fans are used to using against Lewis: he blows big games. The Redskins could ill afford to be on the receiving end of Dak Prescott breaking his slump. Yet, Washington gave up 38 points in one game against a team that has scored 22 points in the last three games combined. The Cowboys were giving up nearly 31 points a game in the same span, but kept the Redskins to only 14.

Not only was the score embarrassing, but this game exposed issues that have been present all year. Entering the week still in the playoff hunt, Washington needed to level their record against their division foes. This was essentially a playoff elimination game for both teams; the struggling Cowboys took advantage of the opportunity that the Redskins could not.

Should the Bengals consider hiring Gruden?

Is one team’s trash another man’s treasure? Or do the Redskins have a valid reason for parting with Gruden? Let’s weigh the pros and cons of adding Gruden to the Bengals’ staff.

Pros:

  • Familiarity with Andy Dalton: Gruden was Dalton’s first offensive coordinator and helped the Red Rifle start his career with a bang. Under Dalton/Gruden, the Bengals went 30-18 which includes Dalton’s only 11-win season in 2013. The same year, Dalton set the Bengals’ single-season franchise record for most passing yards (4,293) and passing touchdowns (33). The Bengals went to the playoffs all three years and Dalton went to his first Pro Bowl in 2011 under Gruden.
  • Development of Kirk Cousins: Gruden inherited a lemon of a quarterback in Robert Griffin III. Cousins was merely the third-string quarterback when Gruden came to town; he became a Pro Bowler two years later and the sixth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL entering the 2017 season.
  • Toxic situation in Washington: one could argue any head coach would struggle with the Redskins. Owner Dan Snyder is under harsh criticism for the way he is handling Cousins’ contract. Not to mention the Redskins have been obliterated by the injury bug this year. All things considered, he never had ideal conditions in his tenure. Then again, who does?
  • Coaching tree: Despite only being a head coach for four years, two of his assistants have become head coaches. Even though Jim Tomsula only lasted one year, Sean McVay, former Redskins offensive coordinator, his having a breakout season with the Rams. Gruden’s coaching tree shows that he is good at hiring assistants.

Cons:

  • 2017 has been a disappointment: With Cousins under the franchise tag yet again and the arrival of Terrelle Pryor, 2017 was supposed to be a good year for the Redskins. Despite a struggling NFC East and a favorable schedule, Gruden was unable to make anything of a promising season.
  • No signature wins on his resumé: Gruden has lost in his only playoff appearance in four years. If the Bengals are looking to hire someone to lose in the playoffs, they might as well keep Lewis. Gruden’s best record as a head coach is 9-7, which is negligible compared to Lewis’ six 10+ win seasons.

Verdict

Schematically, Gruden is a solid fit since he is familiar with Dalton, A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and others. Mike Brown likes what he knows, which is one of the reasons Paul Guenther and Hue Jackson are two of the top names in the rumor mill.

Additionally, with the likes of Chuck Pagano, John Fox, and Ben McAdoo likely to be available for the job, Gruden is a better bet than either anyone else. The other options include coordinators with no head coaching experience, like Guenther or Josh McDaniels, so Gruden is far less of a gamble. The Bengals may not want to take the risk of promoting a NCAA coach, like Washington’s Chris Peterson. In other words, Gruden would be the lesser of the evils.

Finally, the offense is what has held the Bengals back this season. As the former OC and current head coach, Gruden has seen his share of 4,000 yard seasons with Dalton and Cousins. Perhaps Gruden could provide the offense with a spark it desperately needs.

Offensive coordinator or head coach?

Which role would be best for Gruden should the Bengals opt to bring him back?

Its still unclear whether or not current offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is the permanent solution or whether he was a temporary fix. Even though Lazor’s offense is leaps and bounds ahead of where Ken Zampese had the team, the offense is still struggling to score points at times. Should the Bengals give Lazor more time to develop players, sign free agents, and draft a few rookies? After all, he was not given much to work with.

If Lewis is relieved of duty, however, there will be a gaping hole at his position. If the Bengals are already hiring a new coach, it might be good to limit the staff turnover for consistency’s sake. As mentioned earlier, compared to everyone else Gruden is the best candidate for the Bengals.

If the Bengals are going to reach out to Gruden, it should be for the head coaching job. While he proved himself as an offensive coordinator, the head coaching position is the most important right now. The Bengals need an offensive-minded head coach, so one that has worked with Dalton would be a huge asset. With cooperative ownership and talent to work with, Gruden seems like the most logical choice for head coach.