Redskins win, Washington Capitals coaching changes -- Ask Boswell

Nov 28, 2011

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins' game, the Capitals, the Nationals, the rest of D.C. sports and more.

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I don't know if it was the right move and can't fault GMGM -- but I think I have just stopped loving Ovechkin. Hunter???

As I watched recent Caps loses by 5-1, 6-3 and 7-1, I've actually wondered, "Are the players trying to get Boudreau fired?"

They certainly succeeded. This will be a blemish on Ovechkin's record. After the cameras caught him, apparently, cursing Boudreau on the bench, he's going to have to overcome a bit of a coach-killer image.

After the last game last season, I was stunned at the wrap-up meeting with the media the next day that GMGM instantly endorsed Bruce for this season. I even followed up, to make sure he was really throwing his support so completely beind a coach who had such a terrible post-season record with such a talented regular season team. I wrote with some of that disbelief in the column the next day.

The Caps always bend over backwards to be fair to everybody, give everybody a second and third chance, or in Ovechkin's case a 10th chance to STOP acting his age.

In any other major sports __NFL, MLB, NBA__ Boudreau would almost certainly have been fired after last season. GMGM explained that it's not quite that way in the NHL because of 'hot goal tenders" and streaky teams know the list. I thought it looked like Boudreau was unable to adjust in the playoffs the last two years. Every game looked like the previous defeat. Inability to adjust __or to get your team to make the adjustments you demand__ is close to the definition of being "outcoached."

At least the team fired the coach __with their awful lifeless play__ and took the decision out of the hands of the front office and ownership.

I remember Hunter as tough, a little crazy, a leader and I'll never forget when the VCaps had their "night" fotr him in '00 and gave him the penalty box from the old Capital Center! And, yes, I remember the hit on Pierre Turgeon that it's ever going to go away as long as there's an internet __21-game suspension, the longest in NHL history at that time for an on-ice hit.

Off-ice, Hunter was always gentlemanly, considered a fine captain and a key to the Caps one Stanley Cup run.  However, he sure has some unusual numbers associated with his career: Only NHL player with 1,000 points (1020) and 3,000 penalty minutes (3565) in 1407 games. Also the most playoff games (186) without a Stanley Cup win.

Bruce had to go. A lot better with 60 games left than 20. When the Caps started fast this season I actually wondered, "Is this good?" Hard to imagine that the Caps new preference for discipline, accountability was going to come to fruition with a player's coach who had so much trouble getting those same things out of his team in the past.  




Mr Boz. Have not been closely following the Caps so was shocked to see this morning's webline of Boudreau fired. What happened/has been happened to bring the Caps to this point??

Those who saw the HBO special on the Caps and Pens last year probably got their first clear "inside" look at Boudreau in the "room" __usually yelling at his players to "work harder." Then he'd throw in some curses and yell at them to "work harder" all over again. It didn't exactly seem like the message was getting through. And it seemed like the same message over and over. Maybe HBO just didn't show BB the brilliant tactician and strategist! But, aside from a LOT of line changes, that didn't seem to be his strong point. As this season went sour and Semin was a healthy scratch, Ovie curses at BB on the bench and all the stars had their time on the ice cut, it just seemed like BB was the teacher who is lax with the class in Sept, Oct, Nov, then suddenly decides to crack down in December. As all parent, teachers, coaches at anmy level know, it is much easier to start "tough" and then loosne the reins. It's is almost impossible for the same person to do it in reverse order.

Hunter was always known as a perfect player __early to the ice, hard worker. Boudreau had to ask the Caps to play exactly the opposite of how he played (in the minors). Hunter can say, "Do as I did __or else."

Since Hunter has never coached in NHL, he's a huge but fascinating question mark. But for long-time Caps followers, he arrives with a ton of goodwill.

Was this a smart move by the Capitals, Boz? Or signs that there is panic creeping in at the top?

If anything, imo, it was overdue. But hindsight is perfect. Because the Caps were so lousy so early in the year, they got a chance to be "fair" to BB and still make the switch with plenty of time to see what impact Hunter can have.

BTW, the GMGM/Hunter press conference at Kettler is on  Comcast now.

"We got their attetion," McPhee just said. "Hunter was tough and sometimes he was downright mean...The best thing you could ever say about Dale Hunter was that (no matter what) he played the same way every night for 19 years __HARD."

Just talked about Hunter's great winning percentage in 11 years with the London Knights in Ontario. "A great resume," said GMGM.


So now that Boudreau is gone are we going to find out who was dishing on Ovechkin to Wash Post reporters last week? If it was Boudreau is it part of why he was fired? If it was McPhee or done with his consent what does it say about McPhee? And did any of it make sense?

Ovechkin has gotten a wonderful press. As a player, he's earned it. Which is all the more reason to worry about his play this year. Has he "aged" fast? Seems doubtful but possible. Is it a problem with Boudreau? That would be a lousy excuse. Not sure he's deserved all the credit he's gotten as a "leader" and as a captain __well, .

"If the worst thing you can say about a guy is that 'he's a great guy,'" said GMGM, "then he must be a great guy.

"What he said worked for a while," said George of BB. "It's not working now."

Then, in one of the more bizarre funny questions you'll hear __but a good one because it set up an obvious great answer, was: Boudreau was a 'player's coach.' Will Dale be a 'player's caoch.'"

"The players would probably say he was a 'player's coach' because they would be to scared to say anything else,'" said McPhee.

What is the deal with the blocked kicks. This game had two (alomost three) and there have been couple of others in previous games. Is it Gano or is the protection not doing its job?

They took huge Trent Williams out on place kicks to protect his sore knee. They call it "suicide teams" for a reason. It's even suicide to play the interior line because they storm one spot in the line and if it's your spot you get bent backwards and blown over. You just have to resist for an instant __that's enough. But it's easy to get reinjured.

So, without Williams, the Seahawks seemed to identify Montgomery as a smaller O-lineman who could be bowled over. You could even see him (apparently) saying he was sorry. But it wasn't all Montgomery. That can happen once, not twice.

John Feinstein took an unusually extreme position in his article on Randy Edsall. What are your thoughts?

If only Maryland had a plausible way to fire a coach with five more years and $10M more still on his contract.

In all respects, that's probably as bad a first season as I have ever seen any Washington-area coach have in any sport at any level. That's a mouth full. Does anybody else have any other ideas about Worst Debut Season.

Remember, to be competitive, you have to be bad in a lot of different areas __not just W-L record.

I watched every play of the 56-41 loss. Partly because my son is a fairly recent Md grad and a fan (currently in despair). Even at 41-14 I said, "They can still lose this game." At 41-35, I told my wife that Edsall needed to prepare himself and his team for the moment when they trailed 42-41 __because it was coming. At 41-35 or at 41-28, he needed to say, "We need one more score __even if it's a field goal to get to 44 points." The big issue with surviving a huge comeback is to understand that you HAVE to have at least one answer for their counter-attack. You can't just role over because you're on the road and they are a somewhat better team on paper.

Edsall just went into a shell when it was still a one-point game. He was beaten when the game could still have been won. College players can be in shellshock. But a major college coach can't allow himself to become numb and beaten. The team sees it.

It's too easy to beat this guy up. But Saturday was historic __in a bad way. So, you have to face it. 

And who hired him? And who is the A.D. at NC State? And how is Franklin does at Vandy?

Instead of saying, "What can Maryland do?" I'm afraid I'm still stuck back at gasping in awe at watching the Wheel of Karma at work.  

Boz: Rex goes for it. I love that. Excessive caution solely to avoid mistakes is like painting with just pastels. Show us some color! And Rex gets that. To badly paraphrase Tennyson: "'Tis better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all." Athletic arrogance is a requirement for success in sports. Agreed? When will commentators acknowledge this and get off of Grossman's back?

As I mentioned last week, Grossman is easy to root for and I actually enjoy watching him because he has guts and refuses to acknowledge his own limits. (If he did, he'd be out of the league.) But, as I mentioned, you also want to find a better starting QB for the future ASAP.

Tennyson didn't have the highest career interception percentage of any current starting QB in the NFL. 

As Jim Mora mentioned, Grossman has "little hands" for an NFL QB. That's probably another contributing factor to all the fumbles when he's hit. 

Look up Rex's career game-by-game record and you'll see other games like Sunday's when he passed for 300 yards __and even a few better games when he passed for 275 without any interceptions (or only one).

He has his days. Enjoy them. This team hasn't given up. They'll probably win another game or two. The big question for the future is 1) when do you replace Grossman and 2) Who will it be? It's easy to get fooled when you are watching Matt Barkley throw six TD passes in one game against UCLA, but the 6th of them comes to run the score up to a 50-0 final.

It's easy for everybody to scream: "There are four good college QBs who may be in the draft this year. So, just pick one!" Believe it or not, as flawed as Grossman is, you could do worse, even with a very high pick. And the Redskins have (Heath Shuler). 



I know this question isn't about the Redskins or Washington sports, but I respect your opinion. I'll say upfront that I'm a Broncos and Tebow fan. I don't think there is only 1 way to play QB in the NFL and he just plays it differently than others. I also think that he somehow has "it" to inspire his teammates to play better. What are your thoughts abou the enigma named Tim Tebow?

I'll follow up on my answer from last week because I still think it is correct. This isn't magic. It's just football. In his six starts, Denver has averaged 320.5 yards and had 349 on Sunday vs the Chargers. That's right in the middle of the NFL average for total offense. But Tebow is doing it __for now__ with almost NO turnovers. He has one interception. NOTHING comes close to turnovers in determining who wins in the NFL. If you have a middle-of-the-league offense in terms of yardage __and the Broncos do since Tebow arrived__ but you are among the very best in least INTs, then you have a good offense AND and offense that consistently helps its defense help in the field-possession battle with its ball control style. If you almost always punt, and almost never give up a turnover deep in your own end, you have truly changed the NFL balance in your favor.

Also, Tebow in much better in the end of the 4th quarter because he can run the ball more often __he can't do a whole game or he'd have 25 carries and die of exhaustion. 

But, lets also note that Tebow made an excellent clutch 3rd down throw in the 4Q that set up the game-tieing FG. He's a natural leader.

The question should not be "how long can the magic last?" Perhaps it should be, "How good would Denver be with Teebow at QB all season?" He has his limits, but they are not nearly as bad as his critics say. As long as he keeps turnovers VERY low __and that is a big IF__ he can lead a winning team (10-6ish). Is he "5-1 good?" No, it's been an inspired and probably slightly lucky run. But can he play option QB in the NFL and make it work? I think he's proving he can already.

I can hardly remember a day with more good subject. NBA is back! I;m surprised. I thought they could mess it up even worse. But those Xmas TV games matter.

Also, everybody is still sifting through the new MLB CBA to see who it helps, etc.

Seriously, what's the point of the win? Grossman is clearly not the answer. The more we win from here on out, the worse our draft pick is going to be. We're going to play ourselves right back into mediocre and fool ourselves if everyone was healthy we could win a SuperBowl. There's a lot of really good college QBs coming up in this draft. I'd rather have any of them than Grossman.

Yes, that is a problem.

Ken Denlinger used to analyze the NFL for us and say that  to be really really great you usually needed to be really really bad and nail a franchise-changing players, probably at QB. That formula held true for years. Does it still? I may look into that.

What do you think of the Orioles' new hats ?

I saw 'em the first time.

The Redskins finally end their losing skid (should have been last week!) and the morning after, the Capitals fire their coach. So I'm thinking "Finally, something DC sports-related is overshadowing the Redskin's game from the previous day". Then I thought, no, nothing can overshadow the results from a Redskins game.

Oh, the Boudreau firing is far "bigger." The Caps, supposedly, have Stanley Cup winning potential. The Skins don't even have play0ff-contending potential yet. Sometimes, a change at coach is what it takes to "click." Bruce raises a huge eternal problem in sports: How much of the coach/manager's record is the team's talent and how much is his input? Just a week or so agao Boudreau was getting to 200 wins faster than any coach in NHL history. Now, at 201-88-40, he's fired __and it seems logical, fair and "about time."

I really want to find out if BB was part of the problem or if the Caps have leadership/maturity/chemistry/style problems that will continue to thwart them, especially in the playoffs. I don't know. Can't wait to see.

GMGM described Hunter as "an offensive players who became a defensive player" over his 19-year career. Hunter was the fastest coach to 400 wins in OHL history with his London Knights. Like Gabby, a cool minor league record. Will it translate? 

Don't say Hunter is a "rookie" coach, even though he techniocally is. When you play 19 years, then coach for 11, that's just about all the experience the law allows.  We're going to find out what Hunter, 51, has as a coach this year, I assume. I don't think you wait for him to "grow" into an NHL coach. GMGM got him to be the answer Right Now. And that's how it should be judged. I don't mean in the first week or month. But in the first season? Yes. Because the Caps have already squandered too many of Ovechkin's prime post-season shots. As his play so far this season shows, his clock may be ticking faster than we thought.

FWIW, I think Ovie's ability to get back to being one of the 3-4-5 best players in the league __and he's nowhere close to that now__ is more important to the Caps future than whether the coach is one level better or worse.

Many successful teams have a GM and a coach with different temperments. McPhee was tightly wound, tough, as an NHL player. He and Hunter are somewhat similar types. GMGM and BB was opposities. This time, opposites didn't work. This is the absolutely STANDARD kind of coaching switch in all sports __Okay, lets get the one guy on eqarth who is the exact opposite of the coach we just fired.

Don't give the Caps are credit for originality. This is tubby gabby gruff but adoreable Bruce for a tough, handsome, mean-if-necessary Hunter. I just hope he has more good ideas when the going gets tough in the playoffs than Boudreau did.    

Are you talking about confidence? Because without confidence you've got nothing, in just about any endeavor be it sports or otherwise. I don't see any reason any player has to be arrogant to succeed. I don't see confidence and arrogrance as the same thing. In fact, I think arrogrance can hurt you. It's one thing to believe in yourself and follow through with practicing hard and doing everything you can to be your best. It's quite another to be arrogant, which to me is someone who doesn't think they have to try that hard to be good.


Are you trying to say __politely__ that some of the Caps more gifted players would fall into the second category? It's hard to imagine a team that could look both "arrogant" and yet lack real "confidence" at the same time. But it's an interesting thought. Did it happen with the Caps in the last two playoffs? They looked like their confidence was shot by the end against both Montreal and Tampa Bay, yet they acted like they couldn't believe that THEY were losing __or getting swept__ by THOSE guys. 

Bos......I can think of plenty of coaches around here who started badly like Randy Edsall......Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner, Leonard Hamilton (Bullets), Flip Saunders, Bob Wade.....the list could go on forever.....LOLOL

I knew Bob Wade a bit from his high school days in Baltimore and liked him. Granted, a distant memory. However, as soon as he moved up a level to college you just realized immediately: This man just went from his comfort zone to out-of-his-depth as a coach. I have the same feeling with Edsall. If he can come back from this year, it'll be one of the best turnarounds in local history.

I thought that Buffalo was proof of Denlinger's hypothesis until they started to sputter, but the 49ers might be. I don't think they'd be playing this well without the change at head coach, though.

Yes. agree. The NFL is a coach and QB medium.

You could see glimpses of what the Shanahan offense is supposed to look like vs Seattle. There may be new Kyle wrinkles, but it still looks like it aways did for Mike __stretch play to set up bootlegs the other way to against-the-grain receivers.  

Boz, I think the 2012 Nats are going to make Earl Weaver proud. Pitching, defense and 3 run homers. Once Riz lands either Oswalt or Buehrle AND gets his centerfielder/leadoff guy, this team will be lethal. Davey played for Earl and understands the concept. Whare am I wrong?

IF they add Buerhle or Oswalt and IF they don't deteriorate, and if they get a CF, THEN you wouldn't be wrong, that's for sure!

Look at the career comparables for Buerhle and Oswalt. The Buerhle guys are got old in a hurry. The Oswalt comps, even from his current age, were better, like Mussina. But neither inspires a lot of confidence. 

I keep looking for the one m ove that has a very high probability of succeeding. And I'll keep looking. But when the names are Buerhle, Oswalt and B.J. Upton, you are not talking about mortal locks. MLB history is full of good-to-very-good pitchers __like Buerhle and Oswalt__ who had 10 years of 200+ innings, then lost their effectiveness very quickly. 

Where did Ryan Torain go? Was he not active for the Seattle game? Did not see hide nor hair of him all game. What gives?

Skins want to find out if Helu can take a top-back pounding. He had one "top back" game. I still didn't see much quality pass blocking from him __certainly nothing like Hightower who was excellent. But the 28-yard TD with the hurdle of the tackler was the breakaway run I've been waiting for. I don't think he has the burst/balance that most of the really good Skins backs of the past have had. He had a lot of room to make something big happen yesterday and didn't break anything __until, finally, he did!

Hey Tom. With the Redskins win yesterday their record is now 4 and 7 for the season. Looking at their remaining schedule they have 4 very tough games still to play of the 5 on their schedule. MN may be the only win they get from here on out. That would give them a record of 5 wins and 11 loses, or a winning percentage of .313. When the Nats were suffering through back to back 100 loss seasons in 2008 and 2009, their winning percentage was .366 and .364 respectively. To put it in perspective a .313 winning percentage would mean a 111 loss season for the Nats. Is it safe to say that as bad as the Nats were a few years ago, they were never as bad as the 2011 Redskins?

Funny you should ask.

Since Gibbs I left, the Skins are 126-172. That's .423.

The Wizards are worse. Over the last 22 years, they are 682-1100 = .383.

In baseball, those would translate into an average of 93-94 loses a season for the Skins and exactly a 100-loss-a-year average for 22 years for the Wiz.

I realize that ONE season in the NFL or NBA isn't a sensible comparable, based on winning percentage, to MLB, which tends to bunch everybody between .400 and .600. But why wouldn't it have some meaning over 19 years for the Skins or 22 for the Wiz?

Since they came to town, the Nationals are 492-640 = .435. Or an average of 90-91 loses a season.

I wouldn't say anyone has much to brang about in recent times. Except the Capitals. And they just fired their coach!


And he wasn't very bright. A former Post reporter told me that in the Heath - Gus training camp, Sonny offered (with Gibbs' permission) to work with them on their own time if they wanted. Gus followed Sonny around like a puppy, sought him out every free moment, and Heath said "No thank you." Several reporters said to Heath "You know he's in the HOF, don't you?" Gus did well for a time and Heath flamed out.

All that matters is "football intelligence." Gibbs once explained that there were players who tested poorly, didn't express themselves well, etc., but as soon as you started talking to them with an overhead projector __talking formations and reads, etc__ "then they understood everything instantly."

I was watching an old Magic-Bird retrospective. Reminded me of "basketball intelligence" and how each saw it in the other instantly. Shuler apparently didn't have it. Trent Green did. Didn't stay around here long. Too bad.  

The Edsal car. You gotta love irony.

That's "Edsel" car, I think.

Yes, it was hard to miss that name the first day. It ranked up with Zorn's first press conference and the "maroon-and-black." That's my top new-coach OMG moment.

I assume, from all his years here in town, Dale Hunter will make a much better first impression.

Tom, So why the hate from MLB for the draft? Was it all a detest of Scott Boras? Some way for the big market teams to slap down the small market teams again? These are really harsh penalties for going "over slot". There's got to be something else behind this, right?

I don't think the details and implications have really been sorted out in public yet because it hasn't been signed and totally finished yet. GMs and such won't tell you everything they think about it until it's "official." I've even read that you may be able to trade draft picks under the new system. But you can find any and all types of misinfo if you wander the 'net enuff. And I do. 

James Franklin has Vandy bowl eligible--just saying.

Yes, I noted that earlier, but not prominently.

Deserves a post of its own.

Tom, I asked Tracee about this a couple of weeks back, and she said that you were likely in a better position to answer this. When he becomes, eligible for Cooperstown, how much does his connection to the Steroid Era hurt LaRussa??!? The one comment I heard from many people during the playoffs was that they couldn't stand shots of the Cardinals' dugout and seeing LaRussa, McGwire, and Dave McKay all in a row. I'm from the Bay Area, and have fond memories of the late '80s Oakland teams, but I cannot accept that Tony didn't know what was going on with Canseco and McGwire--just isn't rational. Will there be a block of writers who think the same when Tony comes up??!?

Interesting point. We'll see. I doubt anything will/should/could keep Tony out of the HOF after the '11 World Series! But the HOF vote total will be of interest to some.

Can a coach/manager change his stripes once he has established his personality with a team? The question came up with Terry Francona and whether he could crack down on/reach the Popeye Chicken Red Sox after positioning himself as a "players' manager." He admitted he wasn't the right guy to do it at this point. The question was also raised by Boudreau this year and whether he had lost credibility within the Caps lockerroom after employing a star rule system in previous years with Ovechkin and trying to change his ways this year. Are these exceptions or the rule?

Well stated. Probably better than I did in an earlier answer.

I have never seen a coach/manager successfully make a fundamental change in his approach while he was with the same team. But I have seen plenty of them who, on their next stop, "learned from the past" and altered their approach in future. Bruce will get another shot. He'll probably come back with a somewhat different approach, but one that's still consistent with his personality. He had SO MUCH personality __and was so easy to like__ that it probably made it impossible for him to change while he was here __even change a little. It was odd watching him try to play the role of Tough Guy Coach this year, jerking chains, getting cussed at by Ovie, sending Semin to the press box for one game. Talk about out of character.

Players "change" before the next coach/manager comes through the door. Some Nats changed before Davey Johnson even got to meet them in L.A. Your reputation arrives in town long before your plane lands.

The question of the effectiveness of Ovi as the Caps captain may be an issue Hunter must face early in his tenure. Do you think a change should be made, and what impact might that have?

I will be more interested in how Hunter EXPLAINS why he keeps Ovechkin as captain or doesn't.

Dear Bos: Who made this hire? Leonsis, McPhee, or the season ticket holders?

This one was easy. The players fired him.

You can be sure McPhee hired Hunter. Ted has probably, with hindsight, been too much of an easy-riding owner with the gifted young Caps. But it's also GMGM's responsibility. When you reach the point where you hire a new coach because the players fit the description "spoiled kids" who "don't try hard enough," the blame starts at the top, not just with the coach.

It's column time! See you next week.

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Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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