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Should Mike Shanahan stay or go?

Dec 28, 2013, 9:11 AM EDT


If you are reading this post you probably know that Mike Shanahan is very much in danger of being fired soon after tomorrow’s game against the Giants. The conventional wisdom is that his departure is inevitable.

But is it the right move for owner Daniel Snyder to make?

There certainly are people who want Shanahan back to coach next year including most of the players. There may be some who would rather see a change at the top but no player has gone on the record saying that they would prefer that. In fact, there aren’t even any anonymous sources in the locker room who would rather see Shanahan and company move on. Many have cited the need for continuity as the main argument in favor of Shanahan staying on.

His four years in Washington have not been without accomplishment. After taking over a franchise in disarray with Vinny Cerrato and Jim Zorn in charge, he restored order. He drafted cornerstone tackle Trent Williams, found running back Alfred Morris in the sixth round, signed receiver Pierre Garçon and made a bold trade for Robert Griffin III that may have solved the Redskins’ decades-old problem at the most important position on the field. Along with Bruce Allen he navigated the team through a two-year salary cap penalty without blowing up the cap in future seasons. Of course the signature accomplishment was the NFC East title the team won in 2012.

But if you go by the adage that you are what your record says you are, you have to say that the Shanahan Redskins have not been successful. They go into what could be the final game of that era with a record of 24-40, counting the playoff loss to the Seahawks last January.

Yes, they did have to deal with the cap penalty, as Shanahan has mentioned repeatedly and both Kyle Shanahan and Jim Haslett noted during their press conferences this week. But they managed to win the NFC East in the first year of it. And in their second year they were remarkably injury free for most of the season, suffering no major injuries while they were in realistic playoff contention. The presence of all of their starters on the field should have mitigated the cap penalty to some extent.

Shanahan was supposed to rid the franchise of the off-field drama that has plagued the team for years. But it has not stopped. We had the theatrics of Albert Haynesworth and his conditioning test, refusal to play nose tackle and eventual four-game suspension to end the season.

To be fair, Shanahan inherited the Albert problem. But he traded for Donovan McNabb himself, giving up picks in the second and fourth rounds for the Eagles’ QB. It never was a good fit and troubles bubbled to the surface when McNabb was pulled out in the late going of a midseason game in Detroit because, as Shanahan explained later, he didn’t have the “cardiovascular endurance” to keep up with the two-minute drill. McNabb was dealt after one season for a sixth-rounder.

You probably don’t need your memory refreshed about the saga of Griffin and his offseason recovering from his knee injury and the recent leaks that have made the Sunday morning pregame shows must-see TV.

Bottom line, so much for no drama.

But how well has Shanahan done actually coaching the team?

That calls for a very subjective answer. One rap against Shanahan’s coaching that is unfair is that his teams have drawn too many penalty flags. In his four years in Washington, the Redskins have been in the top half of the league in terms of penalty yards just once. They have ranked 28th, 17th, 4th, and 18th. Their worst year was 2012, when they had the most success in the wins column.

But you can question the timing of some of the penalties. One of the most notable came in the second game of 2012 when Josh Morgan lost his cool in the closing minute, costing the Redskins 15 yards and pushing them out of field goal range in a game they lost by three.

Are infractions like that the coach’s fault or does the blame lie with the player? Certainly the player deserves some of it but has the head coach created an atmosphere where such mistakes are tolerated? Earlier this month against the Giants, three veteran players committed dumb penalties. In his news conference the next day, Shanahan gave Santana Moss (arguing with an official), Pierre Garçon (kicking a ball on the ground), and DeAngelo Hall (personal foul for retaliating) passes for their penalties (see item 4 in this post).

At a key point last Sunday against the Cowboys, the 15th game of the fourth season under Shanahan, the Redskins committed two sloppy, dumb penalties and then had to burn a timeout. That turned a golden opportunity for a touchdown into a field goal in a game the Redskins lost by one. Is a sequence like that a hallmark of a well-coached team?

Going into this season, the Redskins were 13-16 in games decided by seven points or less. That’s not particularly good but it’s not awful. But in 2013 they have gone 2-6 in such games.

Close games are one thing and can be a matter of getting the right bounce of the ball, but the Redskins are getting blown out with alarming frequency. This year they have lost games by 18, 15, 24, 21, and 35 points. In 2010, Shanahan’s first year here, they lost just two games by 15 or more points. With Rex Grossman and John Beck at QB in 2011 they lost three such games. Is this a sign of a program moving in the right direction?

They have been outscored by 130 points this year. Jim Zorn was fired after a four-win season during which the team was outscored by 70.

Did the Redskins face some headwinds this year? Certainly there was that cap penalty and the injury to Griffin, who was able to be the RG3 of 2012 only here and there. They didn’t have a first-round draft pick due to the Griffin trade. Under such circumstances, a slide back towards the middle of the pack would have been understandable.

But a total collapse? No. Not when you have 21 of 22 starters back from your 2012 division champion. Not in a very weak division. Not when you had to make only a handful of changes to your lineup before Thanksgiving due to injury. Not when your offense has the ball in the late going with a chance to tie or win the game in five of your last seven games (the Redskins went 0-5 in those situations).

Even given the on-field failure, Snyder might have been inclined to let Shanahan finish the final year of his contract. But it’s hard to see how things can continue after a string of media reports that have damaged the coach’s relationship with Griffin beyond repair. Even if Shanahan is not responsible for the leaks as many suspect, he has done little to refute the substance of them.

If Snyder does do the expected and ends the Shanahan era sometime early next week, it will be difficult to apply the popular impatient and impulsive label to the move. The case against Mike Shanahan continuing to coach the team is just too strong.

  1. oaklandred - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    Vince Lombardi with a staff of Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh would not be able to win with RG III at quarterback this year. The team made the decision to go forward with RG III, and it was an organizational decision. That meant that the offense wasn’t going to be adequate. Clearly this year was a ‘no win’ situation.

    RG III’s health, his inexperience as a pocket passer, the political situation with RG III having political power disproportionate to his role as quarterback – all of these things meant that the team would have an impossible hill to climb to win this year.

    But the possibility is, as long as Mike Shanahan is head coach and is backed by Dan Snyder, is that the future is very bright. RG III will have his health, he will have competition that will keep him focused on improving, he will know that he doesn’t rank higher than ‘head coach’ in the hierarchy, he will have an offseason to improve.

    The team won’t be blown up and the offense, which isn’t built for an inexperienced quarterback who has a hard time making decisions and can’t run well enough to scare defenses won’t have the handicap it had this year in those ways and instead will have free agents to improve our talent.

    We can go forward with some new coordinators for a fresh start, and everyone will see that there is co-operation between the owner and head coach. Dan Snyder will be rewarded for backing Mike Shanahan with success that simply won’t be possible otherwise. The story when we win the next Super Bowl will be, “Dan Snyder made the decision to stick with Mike Shanahan, and that was the turning point.”

    I think Dan Snyder has a precious chance to change his reputation from the past by maintaining continuity at the head coach position.

    • Rich Tandler - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:21 PM

      Playing RG3 at QB, from game 1 through game 13, was Mike Shanahan’s call. Period. Any “disproportionate” power that Griffin has was given to him by Shanahan, the man with total control of football operations.

      I didn’t see Griffin or Cousins miss any tackles on defense or give up a ridiculous number of long kick returns.

      Those issues also point to the guy with the $7 million per year contract. He was paid to play the best player at QB and to field a winning defense and special teams. He didn’t.

      Anyone who knocks Snyder for giving Shanahan “only” four years a d $28 million to fix things is way off base.

      • oaklandred - Dec 28, 2013 at 3:42 PM

        I don’t think that it was the wrong decision to start RG III, because he did need game experience, and because it wasn’t known that he would be so much less effective than in 2012. But once you make that decision to start him, then you have to be realistic – in retrospect – that the team could not be very successful.

        Having a very ineffective offense because of the organizationally agreed to decision to start RG III has had a serious effect on the defense. It’s clearly too much of a load to put on them. The defense would have seemed a lot better this year with an offense like we had last year. And that stems to a large degree from playing RG III.

        The team is unified according to Rich Tandler in support of Mike Shanahan, both on and off the record. That is a remarkable testament to Mike Shanahan. The one exception would seem to be RG III. Little matters of ego issues on the part of a young quarterback don’t matter and tend to dissipate when it’s understood that they have no bearing on the coach’s status with the team. A clear organizational structure comes not just in terms of what is in the contract, but what happens between the lines as well.

        There are systemic issues here related to the salary cap that have effected special teams talent.

        • Rich Tandler - Dec 28, 2013 at 3:53 PM

          Let me hit that last point–aren’t most special teams guys the minimum-salary guys? It’s those players who form the heart of the special teams. Yes, they missed Lorenzo Alexander who they lost due to money. But his absence doesn’t add up to at least on major special teams gaffe every game since Week 4. That’s just not caring about special teams when you pick the last 12-15 players on the roster. Shanny picks the players.

          And maybe Griffin feels different about Shanahan than the other players do because, say Kory Lichtensteiger has been thrown under the bus repeatedly lately via leads from the Shanahan camp to Mike Silver, Jason Cole, Adam Schefter, etc. Utterly unprofessional conduct on Shanahan’s part.

          Not to say that RG3 doesn’t have an ego; virtually all NFL players do to an extent and QB’s tend to have very large egos. It’s Shanahan’s job to manage egos, of his QB and the rest of the team. Again, the guys gets $7 million/year to do this. If he can’t handle a second-year QB’s ego, he should quit.

        • whittio651 - Dec 28, 2013 at 4:39 PM

          Agreed. I’m having a really hard time believing this is just a coaching problem. Does anyone actually think that Raheem, Haslett, and Shanahan don’t know how to coach the basics of football (or forgot how to)? Also you can’t discount the on field leadership from Fletcher. These are good coaches.


        • oaklandred - Dec 28, 2013 at 4:59 PM

          [There is no ‘reply’ button for me to respond to Rich Tandler’s last comment below, so I’ll do it here:]

          The salary cap penalty clearly means that the team has far less money for players than the other teams do, so that affects depth, particularly at the special teams level. Offense and defense come first.

          Rumors and innuendo are not relevant, and usually wrong, as far as I’m concerned.

          Mike Shanahan is doing what is right, at the right time, by starting Kirk Cousins. This is a way of managing RG III’s ego, by making it clear that his play no longer justifies allowing him to start to gain experience. Shanahan handled that respectfully and diplomatically, but firmly.

          There are family systems and there are organizational systems. Everyone has their role. Things work best to me when everyone stays within their role and works co-operatively and supportively with each other.

          Conserve the things that need to be conserved, change the things that need to be changed. Hopefully, we take wisdom we’ve learned from the wrong turns in the past to make the right turns in the future.

        • Rich Tandler - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:18 PM

          I’ll give you the last word here, good talking with you. We will see what happens soon enough.

    • pavlock635ballplayer635 - Dec 28, 2013 at 7:56 PM

      Rich, you have mentioned many line items I have spoken to friend about here in Fla. However, you have forgotten a few. 1) The first 2 years Mike Shanahan had to clean up a lot of Vinny’s draft screw ups. Then before he can begin to add.. the 36 Million salary cap hit for the next 2 years. As you mentioned because of that the team could NOT keep their own players let alone sign any good one. Lorenzo Alexander was a HUGE hit to the Special teams coupled with Danny Smith wanting to go home to Pittsburgh. 2) The team KNEW that they had to go with some rookies in the defensive backfield and would sink or swim. Well, they sank. Maybe that’s god for next year.

      If the team had gone say…8-8, people the media would still be screaming for his head on a platter, because.. Mike doesn’t play nice with the media. IF, they had gone 8-8 we would have had a mid round or lower 2nd round pick. Which sucks, not having the #1 for RG3. NOW, with all the bad news, here we get GOOD NEWS. We will have the #2 pick in rounds 2-7. That high #2 is like a late #1. We should be glad.

      say let Mike do year #5, with plenty of money to spend, a HEALTHY RG3 next year, upgraded special teams and stability in the front office. Dan Snyder did the right thing hiring a REAL GM and an EXPERIENCED Head Coach. If, after next year if the Redskins go 3-13 go ahead and can him. BUT, he was dealt a very bad hand with the Cap hit and the injury to RG3. Thanks

      • Rich Tandler - Dec 28, 2013 at 10:21 PM

        The only thing is, there is no REAL GM. Bruce has different duties, more on the cap/business/PR end of things. The duties of GM are all Mike. It hasn’t worked.

        And, trust me, “people in the media” would not be screaming for Mike to be fired at 8-8. I can state that with confidence because I am one. No reasonable person in the media would have advocated that. Actually, most of us get along with Mike quite well.

  2. blackqbwhiterb - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    We can all tell watching that some of the problems are players-dropped passes, missed assignments, etc… But it’s also been apparent on too many occassions that coaching is to blame. Playcalling on both sides, special teams gaffes weekly, etc. i believe the team has improved, the roster is much better, if not yet complete. They’re much younger, and have many pieces to work with/build around. The salary cap condition is now really good, where they were a big mess 4 yrs ago. So the next coach has a solid foundation to build upon. But it’s time for new leadership to settle the drama and get this bunch on track. Bill Cowher would be perfect here, though I highly doubt he’ll coach again.

  3. whittio651 - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    Well written article and well written first comment. I agree that Shanahan needs to stay. This organization needs stability more than anything at this point. If you look at this staff, you have three former NFL head coaches. Most teams would love to have this experience in their locker room. The organization is improving at its drafts and in free agency. RG3 is a great athlete, very intelligent and will be a star QB soon. Snyder needs to establish Shanahan’s authority and stay out of the way. If that happens, we will start to see great things out of this team.

    If not, we will have to just remember the good old days.

    • Rich Tandler - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      Welcome, whittio and thanks for your comment. What I think you’re missing is that Snyder did establish Shanahan’s authority–it’s in his contract–and has stayed out of the way. Do you really think Thanksgiving dinner with RG3 somehow undermined Shanahan?

      Shanahan has called all of the shots for four years and the Redskins will at best have the same record that got Jim Zorn fired.

      Sorry, I just don’t see what good comes from keeping this mess together. Maybe I’m wrong, but I see no chance that he stays.

      • whittio651 - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:21 PM

        I’m just struggling with the dysfunctional behavior on display over the past few weeks/months. If Shanahan really feels he has authority, then why communicate to the owner through the media. This feels like a childish game of “I’m not leaving unless you fire me and I get my last 7 mill”. I do agree that this is a mess and staying with status quo will give the same results. I’m putting some blame on Snyder and I’m suggesting that unless he changes, we can wash/rinse/repeat coaching staffs all day long and will see more of the same.

        I see no chance that Shanahan stays either. I’m interested to see how many potential head coaching candidates turn the position down! This could be a dream opportunity, but Snyder owns the team.

    • oaklandred - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:13 PM

      Amen, well said.

  4. colmac69 - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Before season started most xperts had redskins btwn 9 and 11 wins and possible superbowl run…..four months later its looking like 3-13…..u have to ask was last yr a one off or was it true evaluation of what we could have xpected this yr? Whats potential for nxt yr with coach or complete change in staff/players…only one man can decide one way or another. …is all alleged rumours bout relationships, turmoil in camp etc etc true or is it false rumours brought up by media guys with a hidden agenda toward redskins and snyder in particular? Whatever way owner turns I believe we dont need to blow it all up and start again….offense has pieces in place for nxt few yrs…couple key areas to improve…rg gets back to last yrs form (which I xpect he does) we b fine……plenty of cap room to improve defense and s/t….bring bak orapko (must), hall, riley, doughty, baker plus a new punter and I believe we can challenge nxt yr….biggest disappointment for myself is that 9-7 is going to win div….however if chicago bt g bay then only san fran and seattle will b in playoffs from last yrs six..

  5. roger - Dec 28, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    7 coachs in 14 years not very good !!!

  6. vpromuto - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Thank you Rich Tandler for a balanced article about a tough topic. I am really split on this. A part thinks Shanahan needs to go but another part sees the benefit of his staying. What I have noticed this year from the first game on was a lack of esprit. My viewing was solely from TV so I likely missed quite a bit but it seemed to me that far too many times after a sack the oline didn’t help RG up. I saw him sitting on the bench either with Kyle or by himself. This makes me wonder about a psychological split going on in the locker room that has gotten no press but has been wreaking havoc. I don’t see too many other logical explanations for a team that brought back nearly all of its starters after a very successful year end campaign from 2012 and falling flat on its face. I suppose we won’t get the inside scoop on that anytime soon.

    HTTR! I love em win or lose and have been doing that for 50 years. That was a lot of losing! LOL

    Can we trade owners?

    • kirkcomer - Dec 29, 2013 at 12:02 PM

      Let him finish out his contract then then make a decision.

  7. aprilwalker2013 - Dec 29, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    I vote for Mike to keep his job! I’m sorry but I think he’s done more good than bad for this team!! Know my vote doesn’t count but who you gonna get to replace him? We’ve been down this road right?? I didn’t like how it turned out, idk bout the rest of you but stability at the HC means a lot! Just wishful thinking I know but you vote to fire a coach 1 year after winning the division? Just doesn’t seem right to me! HTTR

    • rhinochaserdesign - Dec 30, 2013 at 4:15 PM

      I completely agree with you. Griffin is the team’s problem right now, more than Shanahan at least.

      Shanahan told Snyder he needed 5 years to correct the team. The Redskins 2012 season can be attributed to other teams not knowing how to defend the read option – it wasn’t the great ‘talent’ we had. That’s why this year was so disasterous. Not great talent in MANY positions mostly a result of the cap hit. Snyder should actually give MORE time to Shanahan to correct the ship, not less.

      Shanny being fired is a sad day for me. Snyder still hasn’t learned that the grass is always greener on the other side. Now we get to rebuild AGAIN, except with a spoiled, know-it-all kid for a quarterback. Good luck finding a coach to come into this situation. Especially one that’s won superbowls.

      The easier fix would have been to keep Shanahan and Cousins, and trade Griffin to another sucker team.

      But, alas, we have Snyder as an owner. Here’s to another decade of mediocrity.

      • aprilwalker2013 - Jan 13, 2014 at 10:54 PM

        It was a sad day for me too!! I’m not sold on Gruden, but that’s who wanted all along so we gotta ride with him I guess!! Gotta go up…right?? HTTR

  8. nomaan78 - Dec 29, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    Mike Shanahan should stay. He and Allen are good for this franchise. While Shanahan has been here he has brought youth, hunger and talent to this team with major upside. He has gotten rid of the bad culture and the players who came here for big contracts but couldn’t or wouldn’t perform. He has drafted solid players who have a future here. Trent Williams, RG3, Cousins, Kerrigan, Riley, Morris, Helu, Reed, Hankerson, Robinson, Crawford, Amerson, and likely Phillip Thomas, and Rambo. (You cant write off a rookie adusting to the NFL in his first year) In FA Garcon was a very good addition. We were shafted by the cap penalty, but this year we can get some good free agent players to fix our weaknesses.


    FS Jarius Byrd (Bills)
    WR Hakeen (Nicks Giants),


    Donald Butler(Chargers) 6-1 242 age 25
    Pat Angerer(Colts) 6-0 236 age 26
    Joe Mays(Texans) – 5-11 244 age 28
    Brandon Spikes(Patriots) – 6-2 255 age 26

    Rodger Saffold(Rams) – 6-5 332 age 25
    Jared Veldheer(Raiders) – 6-8 321 age 26
    Geoff Schwartz(Chiefs) – 6-6 340 age 27
    Michael Oher(Ravens) – 6-4 315 age 27
    Marshall Newhouse(Packers) – 6-4 319 age 25


    2nd Xavier Su’a-Filo OG UCLA, Cut Polumbus already
    3rd Brandon Coleman WR Rutgers 6’5 monster opposite Garcon
    4th Daniel McCullers DT/NT Tennessee 6’6 mamoth nose tackle, move Cofield to end with Bowen
    5th Jalen Saunders WR Oklahoma 5’9 speedster (think Dexter Mcluster) Slot and special teams
    6th Corey Linsley C Ohio State
    7th Carrington Byndom CB Texas

    • nomaan78 - Dec 29, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      Actually one of the above FA OT will take over for Polumbus, and Su’a-Filo will take over for Chester.

  9. nomaan78 - Dec 29, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Next year our roster will look like this

    Offense 26 players

    QB Griffin III, Cousins
    RB Morris, Helu, Jamison
    WR1 Garcon, Robinson, Jalen Saunders (Oklahoma), Nick Williams
    LT T. Williams, Jared Gaither (Ravens)
    LG Lichtensteiger, Gettis
    C J.D Walton, Corey Linsley
    RG Xavier Su’a-Filo OG UCLA, LeRibeus
    RT Jared Veldheer(Raiders), Tom Compton
    WR2 Hakeem Nicks (NYG), Leonard Hankerson, Brandon Coleman (Rutgers)
    TE Reed, Paulson, Paul
    FB Darrel Young

    Defense 24 players

    CB DeAngelo Hall, Crawford
    FS Jarius Byrd, Rambo
    OLB Orakpo, Tapp, Brandon Jenkins
    DE Bowen, Carriker
    NT McCullers (Tennessee), Baker
    DE Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins
    OLB Kerrigan, R. Jackson
    ILB Riley, Keenan Robinson
    ILB Pat Angerer ILB (Colts), Barnett
    SS P. Thomas, Doubty
    CB Amerson, Minnifield, Byndom (Texas)

    Nick Sundberg LS
    Punter Will Hagerup, P, Michigan (Undrafted FA)
    Kicker Kai Forbath

    • nomaan78 - Dec 29, 2013 at 2:04 PM

      I meant Oher not Gaither. LOL Archives

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