The Washington Commanders haven’t found a stabilizing force as the team’s head coach in more than two decades.
Sure, Dan Synder’s insane meddling and controlling antics didn’t help things for anyone who attempted to take the challenge and return one of the NFL’s most storied franchises back into a consistent contender in the NFC.
It’s no coincidence the last head coach to leave the Washington Commanders/Redskins franchise with a winning record was Joe Gibbs, in hist first go-around with the franchise. Gibbs cemented himself as an icon in DC, coaching in 124 games from 1982-1991.
Three Super Bowl victories later, Gibbs had just one losing season during his more than a decade as the the team’s head coach.
The Hall of Famer cemented himself as one of the winningest coaches in the NFL, with a record of 124–60, and a post-season record of 16–5. His combined winning percentage of .683 was third all-time (behind Vince Lombardi and John Madden). In his 12 season, the Redskins won 4 NFC East titles, reached the playoffs 8 times, and finished with a losing record only one season (7–9 in 1988). Gibbs is the only NFL coach to win three Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks and three different starting running backs.
Norv Turner took over from 1994-2000.
In seven seasons with the Redskins, he went 49–59–1. In 1996 Turner led the Redskins to a 7–1 start but finished the season 9–7. They made the playoffs only once, in 1999, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round. He was released during the 2000 season of the Washington Redskins on December 4, 2000 following a 9–7 loss to the New York Giants where this dropped them to 7–6 on the year despite starting off with a 6–2 record. This left Turner with the distinction of being the rare NFL head coach in the post-merger era to be fired midway through a season with a winning record (Ron Meyer of New England in 1984 was another).
The Dan Snyder Dysfunction Plagues Washington
Marty Schottenheimer took over in 2001, just two years after Snyder purchased the team. Despite leading the team to an (8-8) finish — Schottenheimer‘s Redskins became the first-team in NFL history to win five consecutive games immediately after losing its first five games.. Washington won eight of the final eleven games to narrowly miss the postseason, matching the 8–8 record from the team’s previous year, but moving up in the NFC East. Despite this, Snyder controversially fired Schottenheimer on January 13, 2002, after one season to make room for former University of Florida head football coach Steve Spurrier.
The Spurrier hire was yet another massive miss by Snyder — and after two seasons with losing records — he was fired.
Gibbs game back in 2004 to hopefully regain the magic from the dynasty he built a decade and a half before, and while that didn’t happen, the Washington legend found some success. During Gibbs’ four-year return to Washington, the team qualified for the playoffs twice, once more than it qualified for the playoffs during his 11-year absence. He was succeeded as head coach by Jim Zorn.
Zorn was one of the most head-shaking hires in franchise history. He lasted two seasons, where he posted a 12-20 record.
In 2010, Veteran Super Bowl Champion Mike Shanahan took the job and despite a combined 11–21 record in his first two seasons as Redskins coach, followed by a 3–6 start to the 2012 season, Shanahan orchestrated one of the most memorable seasons under Snyder’s ownership.
Washington ended the year with a seven-game winning streak on the way to the team’s first NFC East title and home playoff game since the 1999 season, riding on the success of rookie sensation Robert Griffin III, who appeared to be the franchise QB Washington had lacked for so many years.
But after suffering a knee injury in the Wild Card loss to the Seattle Seahawks, tensions began to form between Griffin and Shanahan, and he was fired following the 2013 campaign after finishing last place in the NFC East three of four of his seasons as the head coach in D.C.
Then came Jay Gruden.
In the 2015 season, Gruden led the Redskins to their first playoff appearance since 2012. The Redskins would go on a 4-game winning streak to finish the season, and win the NFC East with a 9–7 record. However, the Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round 35–18, ending their season.
In 2016, the Redskins finished 8–7–1, but missed the playoffs. This marked the first time the Redskins posted back-to-back winning seasons since the 1996 and 1997 seasons,
On March 4, 2017, Jay Gruden signed a two-year contract extension with the team. On October 7, 2019, Gruden was fired after starting the season 0–5, finishing his overall tenure as head coach at 35–49–1.
Washington Commanders Must Find Long-Term Successful Coach Under New Ownership
Ron Rivera took on a monumental task accepting the job with Snyder and the team riddled with scandal and off-the-field drama. While he’s one of the most respected men in the NFL, Rivera hasn’t posted a winning season since taking over, and several reports have confirmed new owner Josh Harris is planning to move on from the current regime when 2023 comes to an end.
Harris has openly expressed his admiration for the Baltimore Ravens organization, one that has had plenty of success under John Harbaugh who has been the team’s head coach since 2008.
While it’s unclear the route Harris and company will go to ideally land a coach who can revitalize the franchise and create a winning culture that can compete for Super Bowls on a yearly basis, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him place winning, experience and culture at the top of his list.
Bill Belichick was a name attached to the Washington Commanders — but Harris appears to want to build this team with an experienced, analytics driven general manager and a coach who can focus entirely on that part of the game. Belichick would likely want full control as head coach and GM, making this move far more unlikely than it actually happening.
Could Mike Tomlin Become Next Washington Commanders Coach?
But earlier this week, NFL Insider Albert Breer inserted an interesting, almost unexpected name that may be exactly the type of coach Washington is seeking.
Josh Harris’ ownership group is looking to make a huge statement and this is the kind of hire that would do just that.
“If Tomlin and the Rooneys aren’t going to have the conversation on their own, this would be the way to force it on everyone. Say Carolina’s David Tepper or Washington’s Josh Harris—both former minority owners in Pittsburgh—call Art Rooney and suggest a trade,” Breer said.
“Say they’re willing to part with a first-round pick and more. Say Rooney says he has to think about it, and then goes to Tomlin with the idea. Both owners would likely pay top dollar for him. And if you have that conversation, where does it go? I think it’s possible that conversation leads to the conclusion that, after 17 years, it’s simply time. Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking this way until a couple of weeks ago. But after the Cardinals, Patriots and Colts games, I’m starting to think it’s possible.”
No matter what happens, Harris has to get this initial waves of hires right if he is going to prove himself as the savior Washington fans have been longing for. A name like Tomlin or Harbaugh is going to bring more optimism than an unproven head coach like Lions’ OC Ben Johnson, who appears to be the hottest candidate on the market.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.