In nine seasons with the Redskins, tight end Chris Cooley played under Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan. In his first season as an analyst for ESPN 980, the Redskins Radio Network and the Redskins Broadcast Network, Cooley provided an insider’s perspective throughout the final year of the Shanahan regime. Cooley arrived at Redskins Park last Thursday with some time to kill before interviewing Gruden on-air after a press conference to introduce the 29th head coach of the franchise.
Cooley briefly met Gruden before the coach’s hectic media tour. Afterward, I sat down with Cooley for a one-on-one interview to get his early impressions of the new head coach. (The following interview has been edited and condensed).
Gabe Hiatt: What are your impressions of this move and this fit with Jay Gruden?
Chris Cooley: I’m excited because I feel like all the pieces that Bruce (Allen) wants are currently here. I’ve been a believer in Bruce since the minute he walked in the door. I think he understands people well. I think he understands players well. He knows who to bring in. My trust in that, and his relationships with everyone in the football world are so high. I think it’s an exciting time. You have everyone on the same page with Bruce, with Jay, with the scouting department now… You have a completely synched organization. That’s something we really haven’t had since I’ve been here.
GH: From a players’ perspective, how are these guys going to react? How is this different from your normal offseason turnover?
CC: It was always new enthusiasm when a new head coach came in. You’re always interested in what your role will be, your relationship with him and his staff, what they want from you. It was a little bit nerve-racking, but at the same time I think a little bit exciting. I know a lot of this roster is going to turn over, so I think a lot of players will be concerned with what they are going to be moving forward. But my belief is they make a lot of those decisions before you even get back to minicamps, before they even get rolling, and guys kind of know where they stand with this staff early.
GH: What do you make of Gruden’s unconventional background? I don’t want to downplay the fact that this guy has coached in the NFL for a good 10 years, but a lot of his early football experience was based in the arena league.
CC: I think really the take on that is that he loves football. He wanted to be around it in any capacity and he found a place where he could be a part of playing, be a part of coaching and do whatever he could do. The Grudens are a football family. That’s the life for them. He loves it. I think that’s a good thing in any coach. You really, truly have to love it. It’s your life. These guys spend so much time and work so hard; it has to be the most important thing to you. If it’s not and you’re unhappy with what you’re doing, you don’t do the job that you need to do. Looking at everything Jay has done, you can see that he loves the game of football.
GH: What do you think about bringing in a coach who is a quarterback specialist? What does that say to you about the team’s commitment to that position?
CC: There’s no doubt that they’re going to commit to Robert Griffin being the franchise guy. I think, quarterback specialist or not, Gruden was the guy that everyone believed could come in and be the head man… run this franchise the way you want it run. It’s a bonus that he should be able to work very well with Robert. I think he’ll get along well with Robert. I spent some time with Jay. He seems like a really cool, down to earth guy. It’s what Robert needs.
GH: What were your impressions of Gruden just getting to meet him, shake his hand and see the type of guy he is on your first look?
CC: He’s the kind of guy that anyone could sit down to talk to and spend time with, inside the organization or outside the organization. I think he’s a guy that will be relatable to all the players. I think he’s a guy that will be able to talk to all the players. I hope he’s a guy that is confident to tell all the players what he really thinks of them and where he thinks they stand, and I think he will.
Tags: Chris Cooley, Jay Gruden
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