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Pin the tail on the cause, but Redskins all-around mess

The SportsXchange

ASHBURN, Va. -- One day shy of a year after leading the Washington Redskins to their first NFC East time since 1999, head coach Mike Shanahan was predictably fired Monday, less than 24 hours after his team concluded a 13-loss season with an eighth-consecutive defeat at the hands of the New York Giants.

"Redskins fans deserve a better result," owner Dan Snyder said in a statement. "We thank Mike for his efforts on behalf of the Redskins. We will focus on what it takes to build a winning team, and my pledge to this organization and to this community is to continue to commit the resources and talent necessary to put this team back in the playoffs."

Shanahan, who won consecutive Super Bowls in Denver while compiling a 14-year record of 146-91, departed with a year remaining on his $7 million per year contract, a ruined relationship with franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III and the return of the Redskins' laughingstock reputation that Snyder hired him to fix in January 2010. Shanahan's .369 winning percentage was actually slightly lower than the .375 mark of predecessors Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn, neither of whom had coached an NFL game before coming to the Redskins.

As it turned out, the game after Shanahan's Washington highlight -- the 28-18 victory over archrival Dallas that concluded the 7-0 tear to clinch the division crown in 2012 -- began his rapid downfall. The coach indulged Griffin III by letting the record-setting Offensive Rookie of the Year stay in the wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks even though he was obviously gimpy.

The Redskins led the Seahawks 14-0 and might have won behind backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. Instead, Seattle rallied to take the lead before Griffin's right knee buckled for good, prompting major surgery three days later, an offseason on the sideline, a knee brace all year and the deterioration of trust between the coach and his son/offensive coordinator Kyle and the larger than life (Subway, Gatorade, Adidas commercials) quarterback and his too-present father.

Griffin returned for the 2013 opener as promised, but wasn't himself the first three weeks until Washington's defeats were all but certain. Once Griffin returned to a reasonable facsimile of his 2012 dual-threat form, the sacks kept coming and Shanahan sat him for the final three games, supposedly to ensure he would have a healthy offseason, but more likely as part of a power struggle with Snyder, who loves the quarterback's magnetic personality and marketing ability.

"Coach Shanahan has taught me a lot in just two years," Griffin said in a statement. "I want to thank him for drafting me to the Washington Redskins and giving me a chance to live out my dream. I also want to thank Kyle and (quarterbacks coach) Matt (LaFleur) for working so hard with me, day-in and day-out. I wish the three of them the best in the future. Looking forward to a new year and building with this team to where we know we can be."

When the offensive focal point struggled, that was big trouble for Shanahan since his special teams under protege Keith Burns, who had never previously been in charge of anything, were epically bad and the defense surrendered a franchise-record 478 points as the Redskins were outscored by 144, their largest negative margin since the 1-12-1 team of 1961, Washington's worst-ever.

Shanahan did draft major talents in Griffin, second-year running back Alfred Morris, third-year outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and fourth-year offensive tackle Trent Williams, but receiver Pierre Garcon and nose tackle Barry Cofield were his only true hits in free agency.

General manager Bruce Allen indicated on Monday that he'll assume much of the control over free agency and the draft that Shanahan had the past four years, meaning Snyder won't be hiring a proven personnel expert. Allen believes the Redskins won't be down for long even though they have occupied the NFC East basement in five of the six seasons since Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs retired in January 2008.

"There is a nucleus of success," Allen said on Monday. "We saw it a year ago."

Allen noted that Kansas City and Philadelphia rocketed from 2-14 and 4-12, respectively in 2012, to 11-5 and 10-6, respectively this year under new coaches and each qualified for the playoffs. The Chiefs did so under long-time Eagles coach Andy Reid while the Eagles turned things around under former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, an NFL newcomer.

Allen said the Redskins will consider veteran NFL coaches and assistants as well as college coaches. Among the names being rumored besides Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, who have rejected previous feelers, are: former Chicago coach Lovie Smith, former Oakland coach Hue Jackson and ex-Arizona Ken Whisenhunt, who played for Washington in 1990; offensive coordinators Greg Roman of San Francisco and Darrell Bevell of Seattle, each of whom has had success with young, mobile quarterbacks like Griffin; Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer; college coaches like Penn State's Bill O'Brien (once an NFL assistant), Stanford's David Shaw, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly.

Baylor's Art Briles has been mentioned but hiring Griffin's college coach would set up an unwieldy dynamic. Maybe even Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm, a former Redskins star and assistant, will get a call.

Snyder has hired proven winners Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer. He lured Gibbs out of an 11-year retirement. He went the college route with Spurrier and the out-of-nowhere path with Zorn. Nothing has worked and he refuses to hire a true general manager, preferring to let Allen and personnel assistants Morocco Brown and Scott Campbell run things as his former right-hand man Vinny Cerrato did until Shanahan's arrival, save the year Schottenheimer was in command.

"Dan Snyder wants to win more than life itself," Allen said.

That's hyperbole of course, but Snyder's next coach will be his eighth in 15 years. The only one who has produced a winning record during that span is Norv Turner, whom he inherited. The Redskins are 32 games under .500 during the Snyder regime, worse than all but four teams (Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit and Oakland) who were in the NFL when he bought the storied franchise in 1999. Two of those teams, the Cardinals and the Raiders, have reached the Super Bowl during those seasons, leaving the Redskins (two playoff victories during Snyder's ownership) arguably at the bottom with the Bills and the Lions.

So much for the Redskins being, as Allen said, one of the NFL's "flagship franchises." That was true when his father, late Hall of Fame coach George Allen, coached in Washington from 1971-77. Under Snyder's direction, and Shanahan's, the Redskins have been more capsized than flagship.

-- The fates of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, defensive line coach Jacob Burney, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, offensive line coaches Chris Foerster and Chris Morgan, and tight ends coach Sean McVay rest with whomever replaces coach Mike Shanahan, who was fired on Monday after a 3-13 season and 24-41 overall record during four years in Washington.

Let go along with Shanahan were his son/offensive coordinator Kyle, receivers coach Mike McDaniel, running backs coach Bobby Turner, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, linebackers coach Bob Slowik and special teams coach Keith Burns.

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