As Mike Shanahan commences his second season with the Redskins amid speculation that owner Daniel Snyder could, after another subpar season, do to Shanahan what Snyder has done to other coaches, Mike Wise of the Washington Post provides chapter-and-verse details regarding the courtship of Shanahan, which began long before Shanahan actually was hired.
It’s no surprise that Snyder coveted Shanahan. Jay Glazer of FOX reported in late 2009 that Snyder had offered Shanahan the position in March. And at multiple points during the 2009 season, there was rumor and speculation that Snyder wanted Shanahan to take the reins during the 2009 season, but that Shanahan wanted to wait.
Wise’s article, based on thorough details provided anonymously by 11 persons “in and around the franchise,” starts at the end of the 2008 season, when a practice incident between Zorn and former Redskins running back Clinton Portis boiled into a demand by Portis for an apology, even though the situation arose after Zorn told Portis to take his hands out of his pockets during a drill.
Wise reports that, within a week after the end of the 2008 season, Snyder sent a plane to pick up Shanahan and his son, Kyle, where the family was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas and to bring them to L.A., where Snyder was attending the Golden Globe Awards. Snyder, Cerrato, and the Shanahans reportedly met for six hours. (Kyle’s involvement raises eyebrows, given that he was under contract with the Texans at the time.)
No offer was made to Mike Shanahan at that time, and Mike Shanahan reportedly wasn’t interested in entertaining an offer until Snyder decided whether to keep Zorn for a second season. Wise explains that, in the end, the Redskins opted to keep Zorn due to the potential P.R. debacle arising from firing Zorn after only one year on the job.
But Snyder, according to Wise, became willing to fire Zorn during his second season on the job, after the Redskins lost to the lowly Lions, a franchise that hadn’t won a game since 2007. Snyder’s despair eventually resulted that evening in a call to Shanahan and, eventually, a flight to Denver for a sleepover at Shanahan’s 35,000-square-foot home.
When the tail of the Redskins plane was spotted in Denver, the folks involved lied to anyone and everyone, claiming that the plane was on loan to a private company. “Everybody bought it,” one of the unnamed sources told Wise. “I still remember Peter King calling Vinny on his cellphone, telling Vinny he knows we’re in Denver. Vinny says, ‘Peter, we’re not in Denver. We’re at Redskins Park right now. Go look in the parking lot. All our cars are there.’ And I hear Peter on the other end say, ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t think you guys would be so [expletive] obvious.’ And he hung up.”
But they were being so [expletive] obvious, and like many teams do they lied through their teeth. (And, yes, that makes me wonder about the Saints’ insistence that Randy Moss wasn’t at the team’s facility on Saturday.) Though Shanahan declined to take the job during the 2009 season, the foundation was laid for the eventual arrival, which along the way included one or two sham, in-house Rooney Rule interviews that were conducted before Zorn was even fired.
So why are unnamed sources now talking about the situation for a story that was published on the eve of the launch of Shanahan’s second season with the team? Though it’s possible that folks like Cerrato and former Snyder confidants Karl Swanson and Dave Donovan have opted to tell tales because they’re disgruntled former employees, it’s also possible that Snyder and/or P.R. guru Tony Wyllie wanted this story to be told in order to temper rumors and speculation that Shanahan could be in trouble. Permeating Wise’s story is the notion that Snyder wanted Shanahan not for days or weeks but months.
The unspoken message is that, after putting so much into getting Shanahan, Snyder likely won’t dump him so soon.
But there’s another message. Unless Snyder has changed dramatically and fundamentally since early 2009, when he hits another point of despair with his team, he’ll possibly do whatever he has to do to identify and then to recruit a new head coach, regardless of the fact that he already has a head coach. At some point, Shanahan could be the head coach behind whose back Snyder would be wooing the next head coach.
UPDATE 4:50 p.m. ET: In a prior version of this article, I incorrectly wrote that Shanahan was fired in late January of 2009. I was incorrect. He was fired in late December 2008.