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Ol' Ricky's Redskins Tales - Ray Flaherty

Ol' Ricky remembers Ray Flaherty, the best coach in Redskins history?? Before you say no, read along and is Redskins Park good enough?

Ray Flaherty was the greatest coach in Redskins history. What – Joe Gibbs, you say? Well, Joe has three rings, but Ray earned two in seven seasons before enlisting in World War II. Flaherty also earned a third ring as a player with the New York Giants in 1934 where he was the first pro athlete to have his number retired in 1935.

I interviewed Ray in the late 1980s. Wish I could remember more of the conversation. Mostly, Ray was annoyed to be talking to me. He’s hardly the first or last to feel that way.

Flaherty joined the Redskins after retiring as a three-time All-Pro with the Los Angeles Wildcats, New York Yankees and New York Giants. In 1936, the Redskins won the division title in Boston before winning the overall title in 1937 in Washington.

Flaherty was a pretty inventive coach, coming up with the screen pass in 1937 to protect quarterback Sammy Baugh. He also created the platoon system for running or passing and a “Squirrel Cage” kickoff return where 11 players gathered before running in different directions to baffle opponents.

Owner George Preston Marshall annoyed Flaherty. Then again, Marshall annoyed everyone, but right after winning the 1942 championship he immediately left for the Navy as part of World War II. Flaherty had already enlisted and the Navy let him finish the season before leaving from the locker room to report.

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Now what is a 39-year old going to do in a war? Why, coach football. Flaherty coached five teams at Camp Farragut in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. It was a busy training facility that saw nearly 30,000 men over 2½ years and Flaherty found a few pros for his teams, including Redskins’ Ed Justice and Marv Whitehead. German prisoners of war swept snow off the field.

After the war, Flaherty opted to coach the Yankees from 1946-48 and the Chicago Hornets in 1949 before retiring from the game. He was 80-37-5 with seven division titles and two world championships. Flaherty was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

In retirement, Flaherty returned to Couer d’Alene where he ran a beer distributorship for 40 years. He died in 1994.

Tomorrow: Ol’ Ricky remembers The Wreath Game.

Rick Snider is an award-winning sports writer who has covered Washington sports since 1978. He first wrote about the Redskins in 1983 before becoming a beat writer in 1993. Snider currently writes for several national and international publications and is a Washington tour guide. Follow Rick on Twitter at @Snide_Remarks.