Under Shanahan, Plummer went 39-15, and had the three best years of his career before he fell out with the coach. He set a club record for passing in 2004, made the Pro Bowl in 2005 for the only time in his career, throwing 229 passes without an interception, and reached the AFC title game.
In 2008, it was Cutler who set the new club record and made the Pro Bowl for the only time his career.
Lesser names succeeded with Shanahan, too. Gus Frerotte, the former Redskin, played for the Broncos in 2000-01, replacing Griese when he was hurt. His QB rating rose by 12 points as he went from completing 54 percent of his passes to 60 percent. Bubby Brister subbed for an injured Elway for four games in 1998, and his quarterback rating rose by 15 points.
The best numbers of Steve Young’s career, from wins to completion percentage, came when Shanahan was his offensive coordinator in San Francisco. In that context, Elway’s numbers under Shanahan aren’t anomalies.
He won 11 or more games a half-dozen seasons in his career — all of them with Shanahan as his coordinator or head coach. It’s often said Shanahan never won a Super Bowl without Elway. It’s seldom noted that Elway never even won so much as a playoff game without Shanahan on staff as an assistant or head coach.
Shanahan’s performance in Washington is, of course, equivocal. Yet even McNabb, who had just a 5-8 record, was on pace to throw for a career high in yards in 2010 when Shanahan benched him with three games to go. Rex Grossman, too, was on a career-high pace and went from a 54 percent completion rate to 57 percent in 2011 before he was benched.
None of this is to say that Shanahan is without flaws, or that he handles quarterbacks perfectly. Just that if there is an outlier in his career, it’s failure. McNabb is a nice man who is no longer employed in the NFL because he was inaccurate. It appears he’s off to the same start in TV.
It’s impossible to say whether RGIII will live up to his promise — drafting quarterbacks is a highly inexact practice. But the facts suggest that he will have every chance to.
For previous columns by Sally Jenkins, go to washingtonpost.com/jenkins.