It's become more and more supremely ironic that Mike Shanahan was replaced by Josh McDaniels as the head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2009. Because the way that Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle, have handled the Donovan McNabb(notes) situation brings to mind the way McDaniels dealt with Jay Cutler(notes) when he took over in Denver.
For those who don't remember, McDaniels knew current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel(notes) very well when he developed under McDaniels, then New England's offensive coordinator, in 2008. In that season, Cassel got a full season's reps in the wake of Tom Brady's(notes) knee injury, and he impressed over time. When McDaniels went to Denver, he expressed interest in bringing Cassel on board, which certainly set the entrenched Cutler on edge. One trade to the Chicago Bears later, Cutler was out and Kyle Orton(notes) was in as the Broncos' starting quarterback. That was the first in a series of McDaniels personnel decisions that ranged anywhere from questionable to downright idiotic, and eventually led to his recent firing.
In Washington, it's not Mike Shanahan acting like McDaniels - it's Kyle. The former Houston Texans offensive coordinator had Rex Grossman(notes) holding a clipboard in 2009, and though Grossman has never resembled a franchise quarterback in any way, shape, or form, at least he understood the offense. That was the reason for McDaniels' dalliance with Cassel in Denver, and it was the quoted reason for the benching of McNabb in favor of Grossman for the second time this season.
The first benching happened during a 37-25 Week 8 loss to the Detroit Lions, in which McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance" for the two-minute drill was questioned, and Grossman's late-game fumble was taken for a touchdown by Lions rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes). The Shanahans gave several different reasons for the first benching over the next few days, which made one thing very clear: these two guys didn't have a plan in place for their quarterback situation. That was made even more clear when the Redskins subsequently signed McNabb to a contract extension despite the Shanahans' seeming distaste for his overall play.
With the most recent news that McNabb will not play the rest of the season in favor of Grossman, and will be dropped to third starting quarterback in favor of John Beck(notes), the Shanahans have turned up the setting on the personnel blender from "conundrum" to "fiasco". It was clear, the more we heard from Kyle, that this had the younger Shanahan's hand all over it.
We've been struggling. We've definitely been struggling to score points, and we got to give someone else an opportunity. I'm excited to see what Rex can do. I have no idea what he'll do. This will be my first game with him as starter.
At this point, there are three people in the world who seem to agree with this decision - the two Shanahans, and one Rex Grossman. Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network recently reported that the Redskins' players were furious with the coaching staff over the way the decision was handled. One coach went on the record with La Canfora on the condition of anonymity, and put the blame firmly on the guy calling the offensive shots - the younger Shanahan.
"This is Kyle Shanahan only knowing one way to do things and not being willing to make adjustments for the player," one coach said. "Look at (Philadelphia Eagles coach) Andy Reid. He had one version of his offense for McNabb, and then tweaked it for Kevin Kolb(notes), and then for (Michael) Vick. That's coaching. I can't believe they benched McNabb for Rex Grossman."
And of course, the fact that the Shanahans didn't inherit McNabb makes their handling of the situation even more pathetic. This wasn't a guy they were stuck with, like McDaniels seemed to be with Cutler -- this was a guy they seemed to go out of their way to sign. They jettisoned a perfectly decent starter in Jason Campbell(notes) for a veteran on the wrong end of the age curve, and for what? To show how well they could jerk a quarterback around?
I don't believe that the Redskins are tanking the season to get a better draft pick and thus a better quarterback - a hypothesis that was discussed on the NFL Network on Sunday morning. No matter how misguided he currently is, Mike Shanahan is too competitive to sign off on such a conspiracy. But the fact that people are even talking about it brings to mind the jokes people used to make about McDaniels - that he was hired by Al Davis to being the Broncos down - because nobody with an honest hand in business could screw things up this badly.
As we first learned with McDaniels, and now with the Shanahans, never underestimate the power of ego to ruin a perfectly good thing.