They are recalled as one of Hollywood’s most famous couples. The marriage of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton produced great intrigue and great art. They met on the set of “Cleopatra” and went on to co-star in memorable movies, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. But the marriage lasted only 10 years, 1964 to 74. However, they were divorced for only about a year before they decided to give it another go-round. And that lasted less than a year. If it didn’t work the first time, you wonder why they would give it another shot.
That would be my question as we head into what looks like a forced remarriage between Redskins coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Robert Griffin III. In taking the job as head coach less than a year ago, Gruden essentially agreed to a football marriage with Griffin. After the flameout last year with the Shanahans, Gruden seemed to be the perfect mate for the newly divorced RGIII. Gruden has an easygoing way about him and a good reputation for working with quarterbacks. He’d turned Andy Dalton into a three-time playoff performer. Why wouldn’t this work?
Well it hasn’t. If you look at the great winners of the past, you see a great coach-quarterback marriage. From Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr with the Packers in the 60’s, to Bill Walsh and Joe Montana in the 80’s to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the 21st century – you’re talking about 11 championships from just that trio of pairings alone. All six of those guys are either in the Hall of Fame, or going there. And it doesn’t always take Hall of Famers to make it work. Joe Gibbs won his three Super Bowls with Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. None of those quarterbacks will get a sniff of Canton.
With all of those coach-quarterback marriages, there may have been some bumps in the road, but what’s gone on between Gruden and Griffin borders on the war of the Roses. Gruden has openly ripped the former Heisman winner, even questioning whether he’s grasped the basics of playing the quarterback position. Griffin has been doing his best to hold his tongue, but this has been a devastating season for him. It’s been bad off the field and worse off it. In just five starts two relief appearances he’s been sacked 28 times. In the Super Bowl season of 1991, Rypien was sacked a total of seven times in 16 games. Griffin was sacked seven times last Sunday. When Mike Shanahan deactivated Griffin for the last three games of the season last year, it was painted as a precaution against injury so that Griffin would be healthy for the offseason. This season Gruden outright benched him in what amounted to a separation in this coach-quarterback marriage. Divorce is usually the next step.
But the Redskins have too much invested in each of them for that to happen. Gruden was smart enough to get himself a five-year contract and the three first round draft picks the Skins dealt to St. Louis for the rights to RGIII makes him too valuable to give up on.
So we move into the next phase. With Colt McCoy reinjuring his neck last Sunday against the Giants, Griffin returns as the starter for Saturday’s home game against Philadelphia, with Gruden saying, “So moving forward, this is Robert’s team right now. Hopefully we will have a good game plan for him to give him a chance to succeed and to win. And then from there, we’ll just take it one game at a time and make our judgements and our conclusions after that.”
For now Gruden and Griffin are back together and the organization is rooting for a long-term union. Owner Dan Snyder recently told Sonny Jurgensen that Griffin is only 24 years old and deserves another chance to win the job. So we’ll sit back and watch. Hopefully this reconciliation lasts longer than Liz and Dick’s.