As the football-following world waits for the apparently inevitable divorce between Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and owner Daniel Synder, Kent Babb and Mark Maske of the Washington Post have joined forces to chronicle many of the details and nuances of a relationship that started swimmingly, but has in the last year sunk.
Four years ago, Shanahan became Snyder’s latest reason for unrealistic optimism. A year after being fired by the Broncos in the wake of only own playoff win following a pair of decade-old Super Bowl victories fueled by a team he didn’t build and held together by salary-cap violations, Shanahan landed in D.C. as the man firmly in charge of the football operation.
“Snyder would stay out of day-to-day decisions on personnel and keep his distance from star players,” Babb and Maske write.
At first, Snyder complied, backing Shanahan’s decision to challenge defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, the last pre-Shanahan reason for unrealistic optimism who arrived in 2009 with $41 million guaranteed on an otherwise trumped-up $100 million contract. Snyder also allowed Shanahan to hire his son, Kyle, to serve as offensive coordinator — and to trade for aging quarterback Donovan McNabb.
But Kyle didn’t want McNabb, and the two men clashed. With three games left in McNabb’s only season with the team, McNabb landed on the bench and Rex Grossman got the ball.
The relationship between Mike and Kyle helped, in hindsight, to undermine other important relationships for the elder Shanahan. Babb and Maske write that Mike Shanahan, who made his name as an offensive coach, stayed out of the offensive game-planning but at times micromanaged the defense run by established coordinator and former NFL head coach Jim Haslett.
In a 2011 loss to the Cowboys, for example, Shanahan reportedly stepped on Haslett’s toes and called for an all-out blitz with the Cowboys 70 yards from paydirt and 140 seconds on the clock. Quarterback Tony Romo connected with receiver Dez Bryant, gaining 30 yards and setting up the eventual game-winning field goal.
The following year, after reportedly Snyder pushed for the trade from No. 6 to No. 2 in the draft that brought Robert Griffin III to town, Mike Shanahan tried to protect Griffin from the media, with Kyle hand-timing once-per-week press conferences and P.R. chief Tony Wyllie breaking up locker-room chats with reporters. The protection didn’t extend to the field, however, with the Shanahan’s repeatedly putting Griffin in harm’s way and Griffin’s family bristling at the risks that were being taken with the 2011 Heisman winner.
The most obvious moment, in our view, when the situation became irreparable happened last January. Mike Shanahan and Griffin went over the plays that would be called against the Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game, with the goal of protecting the quarterback’s injured knee. They agreed that the zone-read running play would be largely avoided. Then, once the game began, Kyle called a pair of consecutive zone-read runs, shaking Griffin’s trust in the coaching staff.
Owner Daniel Snyder began to disregard the reported commitment to stay away from players after Griffin’s thrilling Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys in Dallas, and in the wake of Griffin’s eventual knee implosion against the Seahawks, Snyder spent more and more time with the star quarterback.
Snyder “was at Griffin’s side” during his reconstructive knee surgery, while Mike Shanahan made only a brief post-operation visit. In the offseason, Snyder and Griffin spent plenty of time together, attending various high-profile events together, from a movie premiere in Hollywood to the White House correspondents’ dinner.
The damage apparently already had been done. Per the report, an assistant coach confronted Mike Shanahan regarding the report from three Sunday’s ago that he considered quitting in January 2013, before the playoff loss to Seattle. Shanahan reportedly told the assistant coach that Shanahan had indeed considered leaving the team.
Before January 2014 commences, it’s likely that Shanahan will indeed be leaving. With a contract that reportedly makes it difficult if not impossible for Snyder to fire Shanahan for cause, the more likely outcome is that Snyder will pull the plug after a forgettable season finally ends — unless Shanahan is willing to set the stage for another forgettable season by extending a recent game of chess/checkers/chicken into the offseason.