Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Is Gruden strong enough to handle RG3?

By John McMullen

Whether he knows it or not Jay Gruden is hoping to become the NFL's version of Pat Riley.

For that to happen, though, Robert Griffin III will have to become football's Magic Johnson.

Riley, the current president of the Miami Heat, is an NBA legend with nine league championships on his resume as a player, assistant coach, head coach and now executive. His legend, however, really took hold in Los Angeles back in the early 1980s as the mentor of the Johnson-led "Showtime" teams.

And Riley may have never been put on the fast track for success if Magic had not butted heads with his first NBA coach, Paul Westhead.

Six games into the 1981-82 NBA campaign, Johnson asked to be traded because he was unhappy playing for Westhead. Days later Lakers owner Jerry Buss did what he had to and fired Westhead in order to keep his superstar happy.

After Jerry West turned down the opportunity to coach Magic and Co, Buss landed on Riley and the rest is history. A master motivator who understands what buttons to push, Riley co-existed with Johnson and the two went on to have great success together.

Meanwhile, a narrative which could have ended with Johnson labeled as a coach killer instead morphed into the Michigan State product being tagged as one of the best leaders, floor generals and teammates in NBA history with Westhead lost to history as nothing more than a footnote in Johnson's spectacular

RG3 is at the same crossroads as Magic was back in the early '80s, the logical winner in the my-way-or-the-highway game the old school Mike Shanahan played inside the Beltway.

In fact Griffin over Shanahan was an easier prediction for DC folks than Obama over McCain.

You only get one, though. If the third-year QB can't get along and succeed with new coach Jay Gruden the whispers will start and all the fingers that immediately pointed at Shanahan this time, will start hesitating, at least a bit.

After all once is chance and twice can be written off as coincidence but the third time is always a trend. RG3 should want to keep that third card in his pocket at all costs.

Gruden, meanwhile, must tap into the Griffin's pure physical gifts and figure out how to get consistent production out of a player with a ceiling as high as any in the game.

Great coaches are part Patton and part Freud. Strategy is obviously an important part of coaching but managing personalities is another and some say far more difficult task for any mentor.

When it comes to superstars, or in the case of RG3 a potential superstar, it's always a feeling out process for coaches. Some big-time athletes have thick skin while others need to be coddled. Finding the right approach and reaching them is what sets the great coaches apart from the majority of their peers.

Gruden took an interesting tact recently by pointing out what he considers to be a flaw in Griffin's game, his inability to give up on a play and live for another day.

"I like the fact that he works hard, he studies the game hard, he's very accountable," Gruden told when discussing his QB before unleashing this caveat: "The only negative on him, if there is one, is he wants every play to be a touchdown.  And it drives me crazy.  It's a good thing, but sometimes, it's not a good thing, you know what I mean?"

We all know what Gruden means and we have all seen that kind of mentality from some great quarterbacks over the years, most notably Brett Favre, who would probably have three of four Super Bowl rings is he just learned to lay up on occasion and not channel Roy McAvoy on every play.

In fact days earlier Gruden was much clear after practice.

"I think (Griffin's) so athletic that he thinks he can keep a lot of plays alive and maybe he can," Gruden said. "But I think there's a point in time where he's got to not make a bad play worse. That's something we're going to preach and eliminate the negative plays."

The issue here may be the cachet or lack thereof that Gruden brought to the capital with him. The ex-Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator got his coaching start in the AFL and just doesn't possess the presence of heavyweights in his profession like Parcells or Belichick.

And his request for an  reporter's ratification only speaks to that.

"(Griffin will) do some things, I know, on game day. He'll jump around, make six guys miss, throw a bomb for a touchdown, and I'm sure I'll high-five him," Gruden admitted. "But if he does it again and it's a 12-yard sack-fumble, then what do you do?"

It's always possible Gruden is just a big "Seinfeld" fan and took on Cary Elwes' role as a "question talker" but fair or not it sounds like the rookie head coach has no idea how to cure RG3 of what he perceives to be a bad habit and that's a problem.

To reach his potential RG3 needs a strong, steady hand and I'm not sure Daniel Snyder has provided that to him.

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