Shanahan stumbling after wrong decisions at QB
To think one gamble would matter so much.
Mike Shanahan was never going to have much time to make the Washington Redskins great again. He took the job as the team’s head coach telling people he thought he had two seasons before owner Daniel Snyder would want to run his team again. If Shanahan could win in these first two years then he believed he could probably keep control. And with Shanahan everything is about control.
What he never seemed to grasp – or maybe didn’t care to see – was how deep the franchise’s decay had become, how much work it would take to rebuild a disaster in 24 months and how much he’d have to be right when picking his next quarterback.
Once he decided Jason Campbell(notes) wasn’t the team leader, he had two choices: draft or trade for the team’s quarterback of the future, or jump the development process with someone experienced hoping to make the Redskins competitive sooner. In the end, he bet heavy on crumbling and stubborn Donovan McNabb(notes) and never found that quarterback to grow. Now, 22 games into his time as the ruler of the Redskins, he is left with the legacy of a failed McNabb experiment and two journeymen who can’t seem to hold onto the job no matter how many chances they get.
And with a 9-13 record in Washington you have to wonder if it is ever going to work for Shanahan and the Redskins, because staking your reputation on John Beck(notes) and Rex Grossman(notes) is probably not going to bring the playoffs again this season.
Shanahan is a quarterback man. Everyone knows this. It is supposed to be one of his great strengths. He tamed John Elway enough to win two Super Bowls in Elway’s final two seasons. He rode Jake Plummer to the AFC championship game and he built up Jay Cutler(notes) before the axe fell in Denver. He showed he can take three unique players with diverse skills and mold them into his offense.
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Then he came to Washington and, so far, has failed to find the man who can lead the Redskins.
His record on acquiring players was always suspect, even before Snyder gave him control of the roster. One of the biggest criticisms of Shanahan from football people is that he didn’t listen enough to his scouts, that he relied too much on highlight tapes, picking a player’s 10 best plays and saying he would coach him to that level. This has served him well at times. His worst critics say he has often overcome bad personnel decisions with good coaching. He has made players better. And once his run-blocking schemes took hold in Denver the Broncos trampled over AFC West defenses.
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But the same hubris led him to believe he could do better than what Andy Reid accomplished for a decade in Philadelphia in disguising McNabb’s stubbornness and passive-aggressive leadership. He figured with a few adjustments McNabb could be a three- or four-year bridge to that next great quarterback. This, of course, was a disaster. McNabb did not adapt to change. He struggled to run Shanahan’s offense, bouncing passes and failing to find the best receiving targets. Before the end of the first season he was banished to the bench and ultimately traded to Minnesota where he has already blown up less than two months into the season.
Perhaps the McNabb debacle would have been survivable had Shanahan drafted a quarterback upon arriving in D.C., say a Colt McCoy(notes) or even picking an Andy Dalton(notes), Jake Locker(notes) or Christian Ponder(notes) this past spring. But he had gone too deep with McNabb. He had given up a second-round and fourth-round pick for him. Drafting someone else would have sent a message to McNabb that he was only a temporary solution and probably would have led to the same insecurity he had in Philadelphia over the Eagles’ pick of Kevin Kolb(notes).
In the end, the Redskins wound up without McNabb, a legitimate replacement or the hope that anyone promising is looming for the future.
The tragedy of this, in the truest definition of the word, is that Shanahan has done a good job of otherwise rebuilding the Redskins. He has made the defense younger and faster. He has added more wide receivers and developed a talented tight end who is a traditional fit for the West Coast offense. He finally got the offensive line to grasp his blocking schemes. And he added enough running backs to make it work. But now he has no one to lead.
He could have muddled through the season with Grossman, who once took the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl. The key was to not ask Grossman to win games but rather control them. But the Redskins started asking Grossman to do too much and he imploded, leaving Shanahan to go back to Beck, a player he once coveted years ago in Denver. After watching Beck on Sunday in Charlotte it’s hard to see him as any great solution in Washington. Beck is a limited player who is prone to fumbles, with seven in his seven career games in Washington and Miami. He has 11 turnovers in those seven games and many of his passes wobble.
But if not Beck or Grossman then who?
How could Shanahan of all people wind up in this mess? The Redskins are 3-3 and after a promising start are looking very much like a team on the decline. They have had critical injuries including left tackle Trent Williams(notes) and running back Tim Hightower(notes), yet he finally built the depth in Washington that the Redskins didn’t have when Snyder and Vinny Cerrato were running the team.
What the Redskins don’t have is a quarterback upon which to build the Shanahan era. No one is waiting. And with a season spiraling out of control, with no big reason to hope for a quarterback of the future, the window is closing fast on Shanahan’s two years of freedom. It’s no longer too soon to wonder if he will ever recover from the failed bet on Donovan McNabb.
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