It may have been necessary, come Monday morning, for Mike Shanahan to part way with the Redskins. That does not mean firing him was a beneficial move for this struggling NFL franchise.
It is hard to stand up straight and say Mike Shanahan should not have been relieved of his duties as Redskins head coach. The relationship between Shanahan and the Redskins organization had clearly deteriorated to the point where his presence had become toxic. That does not mean that a two time Super Bowl winning head coach walking out of the door Monday morning should be viewed in a positive light. The failure to make things work with Mike Shanahan is a complete organizational failure by the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins came into this season with lofty expectations after surprisingly winning the NFC East last season, and returning a young core on the offensive side of the ball. Many analysts, myself included, predicted they would win their division much more comfortably than they did last year. That reality never materialized, as nothing went to script from the very beginning for this team. It became apparent quite quickly that this season was headed down the drain due to an undermanned defense, historically poor special teams, and a regressing young quarterback. The Redskins finished the season with a 3-13 record, and to add insult to injury, will not even get the spoils of having a high draft pick (St. Louis posses the second overall pick in the wake of the RG3 trade). There is no questioning this season was an outright disaster for the team in the nation’s capital, but was alienating and firing Mike Shanahan the appropriate response? No, it certainly was not.
It is never discussed enough because he was such an electric player as a rookie last season, but Mike Shanahan, and his son as offensive coordinator to a lesser degree, were primarily responsible for Robert Griffin III’s success in 2012. Shanahan quickly realized he had been given a young quarterback not yet ready to handle the rigors of playing from the pocket in a pro style offense. Shanahan did what great coaches do; he adjusted his scheme to tailor to his personnel. Going into his rookie season, the Redskins offensive coaching staff set up a system perfectly tailored to RGIII’s skill set, and he executed it almost flawlessly. The threat of Griffin’s world class speed not only opened up huge holes for Alfred Morris to give the offense a strong, sustaining rushing attack, but it also provided Griffin with a lot of wide open lanes to throw to in the middle of the field. Linebackers and safeties were constantly cheating up to the line of scrimmage because they were so terrified Griffin would take off running down the field. Those wide open lanes allowed receivers to get open in between the numbers where Griffin displayed elite accuracy and ball placement to allow for plenty yards after the catch. Credit must be given where credit is due, and on this issue, it never truly was. Mike Shanahan put RG3 in position to dominate the NFL quickly and to be anointed as the franchise’s long-awaited savior.
It was almost laughable to hear midseason reports about Robert Griffin supposedly not getting along with the coaches. His comments after the second loss to the Eagles, where he essentially implied the team was outcoached, were particularly egregious. Griffin has all the potential in the world, but he clearly has developed an annoying habit of not knowing when to keep quiet. Of course, most will never truly know what went down behind the scenes with this team. However, if the rumors were true and RGIII assisted in talking Mike Shanahan out of town, the guy needs a serious reality check.
Due to his devastating knee injury, Griffin was unable to participate in any real offseason activities coming into his second season in the league, and as Shanahan astutely pointed out, that is the offseason that is actually more crucial to participate in than the first one. There is a reason so many people talk about the “sophomore slump” for quarterbacks. Defensive coaches around the league have a year’s worth of tape on them and are more often than not able to “figure them out”. They know their tendencies, they can exploit weaknesses, and they will not allow team’s to get away with the “gimmicks” that the Redskins pulled off with ease in 2012.
Athletic quarterbacks like Griffin are especially susceptible to this inevitable step backwards. While they are able to come in, catch the league off guard and take it by storm (think Cam Newton, Vince Young, and yes, even Tim Tebow) they are much less likely to get away with that the following season and the years to come. To expect Robert Griffin to walk into this season and suddenly turn into a refined pocket passer, after never being one in his life and having missed an entire offseason was silly, unrealistic, and frankly unreasonable. Is a change in the entire offensive coaching staff going to suddenly make life easier on the young quarterback? It is highly unlikely. The product he put out on the field proved Griffin is still light years away from being a competent pro-style quarterback. He will now have to attempt to make the difficult, but necessary strides to accomplish that, while also learning an entirely new offensive system. That is an unenviable task, and one that has derailed a number of exciting young prospects that came before Robert Griffin III. He still posses all the tools to become an elite passer, and one of the best players in the game, but RG3 will find the sledding much tougher without Shanahan around.
Do not expect that only Robert Griffin will potentially struggle in the wake of Mike Shanahan’s departure. With Shanny and his offense heading out of town, all bets are off with the rest of the offensive players. For all his flaws building teams and choosing personnel, Mike Shanahan has consistently proven he is still amongst the best offensive minds in the NFL. His scheme made the offense somewhat viable even with Rex Grossman behind center two years ago, and his history of churning out production from mediocre backs and offensive lines is well documented. There is a chance Alfred Morris is just another “Shanahan back”. Plenty of other runners rose from obscurity to stardom, only to fall off the map away from Shanahan. It is also very hard to count on lineman like Kory Lichtenstieger, Tyler Polumbus, or Will Montgomery continuing to start when they were nobodies prior to Shanahan’s arrival in D.C. Pierre Garcon established himself as a number one receiver in 2013, but he might be the only certainty on offense post-Shanahan. For a team that already needed a ton of new players on defense, they may have just created a lengthy list of needs on the other side of the ball. Without a first round pick in tow, it is hard to imagine the Redskins patching all their holes anytime soon.
Despite the number of troubles the move will bring with it, the Redskins still decided to part ways with Mike Shanahan. Running the head coach out of town is just the latest example in a long line of moves that shed light on what the Redskins truly are; one of the most dysfunctional teams in the league. Since they are a popular team in a big market the Redskins never get lumped in with other circus-like teams, such as the Browns or Raiders. However the results show that under Daniel Snyder this team has perennially been amongst the bigger laughingstocks in the NFL. The way the team permitted their second year quarterback to turn his rehabilitation process into a media frenzy was an utter embarassment. Other players undoubtedly were annoyed, and Shanahan was visibly frustrated when everyday during the offseason he had to answer questions about why he continued to sit his quarterback, despite RG3’s cries to get on the field. Robert Griffin is not the first case of Snyder’s player coddling tendencies reportedly dividing locker rooms and irking coaches. You cannot let the inmates run the asylum. Snyder’s failure to properly empower his head coaches over the players has left the Redskins in trouble for far too long. His preferential treatment of Griffin over Shanahan is just the latest example.
Daniel Snyder is like the friend you know who constantly finds themselves in bad relationships. Every few months you meet them for coffee, and they lament to you their latest breakup. Sometimes you just have to tell your friend that there is only one common denominator in all those failed relationships. Someone needs to have that talk with Snyder about his head coaches. If the Redskins owner just wants to have a yes-man around to prop up his beloved quarterback, it’s his team and he has every right to do so. However, if he wanted to see that quarterback develop after a proper offseason of full health, he should have stuck with the man who got the best we have seen out of RG3 so far. If Snyder and the Redskins make good on the rumors of their interest in hiring Robert Griffin’s college coach, Art Briles of Baylor, it will only send the franchise further down the tubes. Nothing would ramp up the damning reports about Snyder’s pampering of his quarterback than hiring a man who has no NFL experience, and reportedly already babied Griffin long before his arrival in Washington.
Mike Shanahan is certainly not without blame for the catastrophe Redskins fans were put through this season. Choosing to work with his son, and his decision to let Griffin dictate his own playing status in the playoffs stand out as bungles made by the coach on his second shot as the headman. However, Washington’s issues run deeper than Shanahan; they existed prior to his tenure, and they will still exist even though he is gone. Realistically, it was quite reasonable to expect that last year was two steps forward for the Redskins, and that this year would be one step back. Good organizations can handle that single step back, and stay the course, but bad organizations take that one step right off of a cliff. The Redskins showed once again they are a bad organization under Daniel Snyder when they bottomed out in the face of adversity.
After such an exciting 2012 season the Redskins are once again in shambles. The future seemed as bright as the smile of their franchise quarterback less than a calendar year ago. All the smiles are gone now. The Redskins face yet another rebuilding process, with overhauls on both sides of the ball needed. The Redskins fan base has been through this an unfair amount of years before, but it feels different this time. It feels like this time, it all could have been far too easily avoided.