ASHBURN, Va. – If Albert Haynesworth(notes) believed he could spend seven months challenging the icy will of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan then expect to be forgiven, he learned the futility of that hope halfway through a fitness test he would not pass on Thursday afternoon.
Few men in the NFL can carry a grudge like Shanahan, who harbors resentment behind a forced smile. Valued assistants and longtime colleagues tell of their relationships with the coach in hushed whispers. Some have begged not to be interviewed. They value the coach's knowledge, admire his obsession for detail. But they also fear him. Even long after they have stopped working with him their words quiver when his name is raised. Some say they fear they might say the wrong thing. They don't want to cross him.
He is a man who does not forget.
And after Haynesworth used the winter, spring and half the summer to defy Shanahan, refusing to attend his minicamps and OTAs and conditioning sessions because he didn't want to be a part of Shanahan's new 3-4 defense, he finally came back to the Redskins this week. Whatever leverage he had was exhausted, his attempts to embarrass his new coach into dealing him had failed. He had no choice but to return to practice.
[Photos: More images of the disgruntled star]
With one caveat.
"There's a conditioning test he'll go through," Shanahan said on Wednesday, the day before camp started. This was a Shanahan invention, officially administered to Haynesworth because he missed a percentage of the offseason workouts, unofficially because he tried to embarrass Shanahan.
Haynesworth should have understood right then he would not pass the test. Despite Shanahan's insistence it was a "basic" fitness exam, the test was made to fail.
Shanahan refused to reveal the details of the test but it involved lots and lots of running in temperatures that pushed through the 90s in a sticky, swampy muck. Haynesworth, who supposedly shed 40 pounds in the offseason working out with a personal trainer, had no chance.
So he was banished to a solo workout on a treadmill on Thursday as the rest of the team practiced outside. Later, after practice was over and the fans were heading toward their cars, he was dragged out for a scramble around trash cans on a far-off field. When he was done he was forced to jog a gauntlet of fans, past the media and back into the safety of the locker room.
Predictably, he did not speak to anyone during his walk of shame.
There is a long list of former players and bosses who have endured Shanahan's wrath, including Raiders owner Al Davis, who fired him, and once-acclaimed receiver Ashley Lelie(notes), who never played well for him in Denver. Then there was one-time Broncos guard Montrae Holland(notes), who rewarded Shanahan for a contract extension by showing up 20 pounds overweight at the start of training camp in 2008.
Like Haynesworth, he was quickly banished from practice, forced through a cocktail of punishments including the treadmill, elliptical machine and stairmaster. When he was done, he had to run outside just like Haynesworth. After a few days he was allowed to return to only one of the team's two daily practices. A starter the previous season, Holland could only play for the scout team during that workout. Later in the day, he was forced to run alone on an empty field.
His exile lasted two weeks. He lost his job and not long after he was traded to the Cowboys.
Late Thursday afternoon, Shanahan seemed to revel in his revenge over Haynesworth. He smiled as he stepped onto an interview stage.
"I bet I can anticipate the first question," he said.
When that first question was, of course, about Haynesworth, he laughed.
Haynesworth will have to take the test again on Friday, he said. And if he doesn't pass it – a likely possibility given Thursday's result – he'll be shipped off to the treadmill once more.
"It may take two or three days or it might take a week," Shanahan said.
In the days before he returned to the Redskins, Haynesworth had softened his stance against the team, texting with some of the coaches, trying to catch up on the nuances of a new defense installed in the spring. He expressed a willingness to work and the sense among the assistant coaches was one of optimism.
Jim Haslett, the defensive coordinator, smiled this week as he described a defense designed to take advantage of Haynesworth's pass-rushing skills, even though his basic position – nose tackle – is one that doesn't yield the big sack numbers Haynesworth craved. The plan, Haslett said, was to move Haynesworth between nose tackle and defensive end – sometimes even outside linebacker – frequently during games.
"I think he's really going to like the scheme, I really do," Haslett said. "There's a lot going on. There's a lot of movement."
Only for seven months Haynesworth wouldn't listen. As a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme he didn't want to give up the dominance he once enjoyed at the position while with the Tennessee Titans to play a scheme that didn't seem built for him. When Shanahan arrived, insisting on playing the 3-4, Haynesworth tuned out.
On Thursday he paid the price for his petulance. The coaches say they are excited about nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu(notes), signed in the offseason after missing last year with a heel injury. If healthy he can fill the middle. The idea was Haynesworth could play outside. After receiving $32 million of the $100 million contract he signed before last season, he infuriated most of Washington by appearing out of shape. Shanahan could have provided him a new start.
Yet when asked to adhere to his new coach's plan for him, Haynesworth refused, choosing to scorch the earth.
And so on Thursday he ran.
And became just another man who challenged Mike Shanahan and lost.
- Mike Shanahan