This might be hard to believe, but in September, Mike Shanahan will begin his fourth season as head coach of the Washington Redskins. The longtime coach of the Denver Broncos came to Washington after the 2009 season with the task of cleaning up an organization that was a dysfunctional, embarrassing mess.
Shanahan has, in conjunction with GM Bruce Allen, succeeded. While the coach has made some high-profile mistakes (ie. the Donovan McNabb trade, the Albert Haynesworth debacle and the handling of quarterback Robert Griffin III in last season’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks), the Redskins have professionalized under his leadership.
Also, while some have pointed out flaws with the 3-4 defensive scheme Shanahan brought to D.C. or the play-calling of his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, I have contested that these are small problems, if problems at all. The simple fact is after years of constant turnover, countless schemes, 800 page playbooks and personnel that was often not suited to the system-du-jour, there is a system in place.
If you want to argue that Kyle Shanahan should run more on first down and throw more on second down, or that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is too predictable with his blitzes, go ahead. However, just keep in mind that there is a system in place which has produced continuity, something this franchise has been starved for.
But where is the team with Shanahan?
He enters 2013 with two years left on the original five-year deal he signed back in 2010. However, we all know NFL coaches rarely enter a season as a “lame duck”, if ever.
Also, there has been intense speculation over the relationship between team owner Daniel Snyder and Shanahan. Snyder is of course, very close with Griffin, and the owner was said to be quite upset at the handling of Griffin in last season’s playoff game.
Furthermore, Snyder has adopted a sudden fascination with public opinion. Part of a recent survey he mailed out asked fans to give their evaluation of Shanahan. Could it be that Snyder is testing public opinion in the case he wants to make a change? Of course, Snyder has made coaching hires/dismissals in the past without surveying public opinion and been disappointed with the results.
Generally speaking, Redskins fans do not have any sort of emotional attachment to Shanahan as they do/did Joe Gibbs. Shanahan is by and large an uncomfortable, frosty public figure who seems to care little with how the masses perceive him. However, the masses essentially view Shanahan as a professional coach who has helped make the team relevant again. Thus, they will tolerate boring press conferences, his hint of arrogance and a coach that never smiles.
Unless, 2013 goes terribly wrong.
Remember, Shanahan is only 21-27 in three seasons. If for some reason the Redskins go 6-10 (for the record, I don’t think this will happen), last season’s seven-game winning streak to end the season may look more like a blip on the radar rather than the start of a return to prominence.
Such a scenario, combined with Shanahan’s lack of interpersonal skills and the fact that there’s only a year left on his contract, may encourage the notoriously impatient Snyder to consider his options.
Personally, I hope this doesn’t happen. If I were Snyder, I’d consider extending Shanahan merely for the sake of continuity, the very thing Shanahan has given the Redskins.
Still, I know Dan Snyder can be restless. And I know Mike Shanahan isn’t going to go out of his way to smooth over whatever friction there may be. All of it may mean that 2013 is more important to the future of this proud franchise than any of us fans may think.