This coming September, Mike Shanahan will begin his fourth season as head coach of the Washington Redskins. After difficult seasons in 2010 and 2011, Shanahan led the Burgundy and Gold on a seven-game win streak to end the 2012 season, which resulted in the team’s first division title since 1999.
All told, Shanahan’s record through three seasons with Washington is 21-27, with the narrative regarding his tenure in D.C. as yet incomplete.
Certainly, the ornery coach who won two Super Bowl titles during his time with the Denver Broncos has made some notable missteps the past three years. The handling of Robert Griffin III in last season’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, well-documented spats with high-profile players Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth, and the trade for McNabb are, with the benefit of hindsight, examples of mistakes.
In particular, McNabb and Haynesworth are not only examples of the coach mismanaging players, but arguably cases of Shanahan escalating matters that could have been diffused with a more delicate approach.
Also, Shanahan’s frosty public persona probably hasn’t done him any favors. Rarely changing inflections in his voice, often giving curt, non-substantial answers to reasonable questions, the coach seemingly cares little about endearing himself to the public.
But let’s not lose sight of the big picture here.
Yes, Shanahan has made mistakes. Yes, no matter what Shanahan accomplishes with the Redskins, no one in D.C. will likely remember him with warm fuzzy feelings as they do Joe Gibbs. However, none of that changes this simple fact: in three short years, the Redskins have transformed into a professional football team, run by professional football people, in a professional football manner.
Not only has it been an awful long time since you could say that, but it would be foolish not to credit Shanahan.
While there are many examples I can give, let’s start with player acquisition. Shanahan, of course, in conjunction with general manager Bruce Allen, is responsible for player personnel decisions. While this area was a criticism of Shanahan in Denver and he has not been perfect in D.C, he has greatly upgraded the Redskins personnel through both the draft and free agency.
Impact players like Griffin, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Albert Morris, and numerous other contributors such as Jarvis Jenkins, Niles Paul, Leonard Hankerson, Roy Helu and Evan Royster have been drafted the last three years.
That list doesn’t include Logan Paulsen and Darrell Young, undrafted free agents who have become starters. Nor does it include backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, who played a significant role during last year’s late-season winning streak.
As for free agency, while there have been disappointments like Maake Kemoeatu, there are more examples of significant contributors such as Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Pierre Garcon. Perhaps best of all, such players are indicative of how the culture has changed in Ashburn.
Remember, for about a decade, high-priced, big name free-agents didn’t come to D.C. to win, but rather to get paid. Haynesworth, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George, Adam Archuleta and others came to D.C. and showed themselves to be more proficient at cashing checks than executing on Sundays.
Further, not only were many of these individuals lousy over-priced players, but were also self-absorbed prima donnas who were quick to blame a coach or the scheme for whatever happened to ail them.
That doesn’t happen anymore.
Yes, while Shanahan’s offense or defensive coordinator Jim Haslett‘s system may have its flaws, there is at least a system — a process in place to acquire talent suited for that system. This simple fact cannot be interpreted as anything other than a testament to Shanahan.
In short, Shanahan has his flaws, and has made blunders. Further, whether the curmudgeon coach make the Redskins a consistent playoff team and Super Bowl contender remains to be seen.