In less than three months, the 2013 season for the Washington Redskins will kickoff. It will be the fourth season at the helm for head coach Mike Shanahan, and for the first time since 2000, the Burgundy and Gold will be defending the NFC East title.
Of course, divisional titles and playoff appearances have been in short supply for Redskin fans over the past well, two decades. The franchise enjoyed a Golden Age in the 1980s and into the 1990s, as Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs led the team to four Super Bowl Appearances, and three victories from 1982-1991. Further, the franchise during those years was viewed as a first-class model of stability.
Much of that changed, however, when Gibbs retired after the 1992 season. Between 1993 and 2009, the Redskins employed seven head coaches, including Gibbs from 2004-2007, and became a laughing stock synonymous with instability and total dysfunction. Sure, some of the symptoms of said dysfunction can be laughed at somewhat in hindsight. For example, the coaches changed so often, there were instances of players not knowing the coach’s name (Deion Sanders calling Terry Robiskie, “coach Robinskie”) and coaches not knowing the players name (Steve Spurrier calling wide receiver Darnerien McCants, “Darcerien”).
Further, the constant change in coach brought with it constant change in system, coordinator and scheme, which often resulted in players on the roster totally ill-suited to the scheme of the new coach. For example, Andre Carter, a very good defensive-end in the 4-3 scheme, was a holdover from the previous regime when Shanahan arrived in 2010. While they tried and tried to transform Carter into a 3-4 linebacker, he was very ill suited for the position.
And I could go on with stories of 800 page playbooks, a play caller hired out of bingo hall, and quarterbacks just going ahead and deciding to call their own plays. However, the best thing I can say about Shanahan is we don’t have such discussions anymore. No, despite his faults, which have been outlined in this space, Shanahan has professionalized and stabilized the Redskins. For better or worse, the Redskins run the 3-4 defensive scheme. They draft players and sign free agents that are suited to play the 3-4 defensive scheme. Ditto for the read-option/zone-stretch scheme they run on offense.
Furthermore, both the offense and defense have the same coordinators as they have for the past four years. Sure, I think defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can be recklessly aggressive, particularly late in games. Likewise, I think offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tends to over think his play calling. Still, young Shanahan and Haslett are top-level professional coaches. While they have their faults, their continued presence has given the Redskins what the franchise lacked most during those very dark two decades: stability.
Yes, rather than 800-page playbooks being dropped into people’s laps, the system remains the same. Sure, maybe a formation is tweaked, or the timing of a play altered. However, change is incremental, not sweeping.
So, Mike Shanahan has his imperfections. Furthermore, the coach’s surly, at times, seemingly arrogant demeanor, probably does him no favors in the public relations department. Still, Shanahan has stabilized and professionalized the Washington Redskins. It’s been quite a while since you’ve been able to say that.