If you believe ESPN's Mark Schlereth (and I see no reason not to), the Mike Shanahan-to-Washington deal is all but announced -- most likely the only things standing in the way are the Redskins' final regular-season game against the Chargers and the subsequent, merciful firing of Jim Zorn. Of course, in the little hamlet of Redskinsland, nothing can be that simple, right? Fire one coach, get a sure-fire upgrade? Sounds great, until you peer under the hood and see the complication.
It seems that in interviewing secondary coach Jerry Gray for their never-actually-vacant position, the Redskins ran afoul of certain sensibilities at the same time they complied with the spirit of the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview a qualified minority candidate for every coaching and senior front office position. Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post was surprised that in his most recent "media day", Gray wouldn't even admit to the interview. After several "no comment" replies, Gray simply laid out the fact that his relationship with Zorn is still good:
"By the way, I did pick him up last Saturday and drove to the hotel like we always do every Saturday. So if the relationship was kind of bad, I think he would have told me, 'No, Jerry, don't come this week.'"
But Zorn's response isn't really indicative of anything; after two seasons under Dan Snyder's thumb, he's probably numb and immune to the sort of humiliation you'd think would result from having one of your assistant coaches stumping for your job behind your back. Unless there was no humiliation at all, and the interview was simply a sham to get the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the organization in charge of signing off on the veracity of minority interviews, off the team's back. Gray is an eminently qualified individual who has done great work in Buffalo and Washington, but as John Feinstein recently wrote, the Redskins were very typical in mishandling a situation that should have been fairly cut-and-dried. Not only did they not wait until Zorn was fired to interview Gray, but Gray erred in first telling the media that he had not been interviewed, thus putting the 'Skins in the comical position of having to admit that they had, in fact, spoken to Gray and had done the required due diligence.
I'm not totally on board with Feinstein's outrage -- the Redskins are simply an easy target due to their ability to complicate the simplest situation. John Wooten of the Pollard Alliance said that he was convinced the Redksins were seriously considering Gray as their next head coach. Which is either blind rubber-stamping or naiveté at a very high level -- the Redksins have been talking to Shanahan for a while now, and Snyder's history of hiring big-name coaching candidates (Zorn excepted) makes the move to Shanahan obvious. Still, what was the Pollard alliance supposed to do? If a team, even a team as colossally mismanaged as the Redskins, have a bead on a guy and they want to hire him, do they cite the team for not playing the charade well enough?
Clearly, the Rooney Rule has done a great deal to enhance minority opportunities in the NFL (college football needs it desperately) and allowed some deserving people to get a real shot. But the Redskins situation brings up some flaws in the system that need to be addressed. If the Redskins want to hire Shanahan, and they want to do so right after they fire Zorn, and they must interview a candidate they would not hire simply to fill a requirement, how does that help anyone? The NFL would probably tell us that Gray at least got some interview experience out of the ordeal, but I'm not going to assume a guy as smart as Gray needs a dog-and-pony show to bone up on his interpersonal skills. There has to be a better way of handling imminent and obvious hires.