Jason Reid
Jason Reid
Columnist

Donovan McNabb is bitter at Shanahans, but does he have a point?

We already knew quarterback Donovan McNabb had a bad relationship with Mike and Kyle Shanahan. On Thursday, we learned McNabb is still holding a grudge long after their breakup.

During an interview on ESPN’s “First Take,” McNabb again ripped the father-son coaching tandem, with whom he battled over the direction of the Washington Redskins’ offense during the 2010 season. McNabb believes that Mike, the team’s head coach, and Kyle, Washington’s offensive coordinator, will force quarterback Robert Griffin III to fit into their system instead of tailoring an offense to Griffin’s strengths.

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McNabb said the Shanahans put their egos ahead of what’s best for the Redskins. Through team spokesman Tony Wyllie, the Shanahans declined to comment.

Given an opening to criticize two of his least favorite people, McNabb kicked the door in, which surely pleased ESPN executives. McNabb’s shots at Mike and Kyle made for great television. Unfortunately for McNabb, he came across as a bitter former employee who apparently hasn’t moved on from his only season with the Shanahans. Still, McNabb could have a point. We’ll find out soon enough.

The Redskins and their fans are abuzz about Griffin, whom the team is expected to select with the second overall pick in April’s NFL draft. Without question, Mike and Kyle will have the biggest roles in his development. If it turns out the Shanahans are better equipped to help Griffin, in part because of their brief encounter with McNabb, then at least something good came from McNabb’s time in Washington.

It’s true the Shanahans could have been more accommodating in calling the type of screen plays McNabb requested, especially early in the 2010 season (they argue they did; others in the organization disagree). At times over their two seasons in Washington, Mike and Kyle have seemed too rigid in sticking with game plans despite poor results.

McNabb was a rectangle they tried to cram into a round hole. He was about as comfortable in the Shanahans’ offense as the overmatched John Beck was directing plays that required passes of longer than five yards.

As for the Shanahans’ egos, well, all football coaches are highly confident. Let’s just say Mike and Kyle believe in themselves more than most. McNabb, however, has no way of knowing whether Griffin will face problems comparable to what he encountered.

McNabb once possessed off-the-charts athleticism and arm strength similar to that of Griffin — but that’s where the similarity of their situations ends. Unlike McNabb, Griffin would work with the Shanahans at the beginning of his career. They would have the opportunity to mold him from the start.

When he arrived in Washington before the 2010 season, McNabb was a set-in-his-ways veteran. He already had been in the league 11 seasons. McNabb was a star at the sport’s most important position and carried himself like one. He expected to be treated as such.

The Shanahans asked the six-time Pro Bowler to retool his game. McNabb’s footwork, throwing mechanics, film study — Mike and Kyle had ideas to improve it all.

The changes were necessary, in their view, because McNabb had lost something on his fastball over the years. McNabb wasn’t interested in being remade. Thus, the friction began, leading to his abrupt departure last July in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Shanahans are perfectionists about the quarterback position. Given that, it wouldn’t be shocking if they tinkered with some aspects of Griffin’s game.

But they also know what’s at stake. After two wasted seasons in Washington, they need Griffin to be spectacular, not merely good. And it has to happen quickly, too. Mike, entering the third year of a five-year contract with the Redskins, has staked his future on Griffin; Kyle’s chances of ever becoming a head coach depend largely on his success with the Heisman Trophy winner.

Redskins people say the Shanahans still have complete confidence in the offense Mike designed over the years and Kyle also used when he was the Houston Texans’ play-caller. They believe their problems in Washington have stemmed from poor quarterback play, not scheme.

The expectation at Redskins Park is that the Shanahans, at least initially, will try to make it work with Griffin doing things their way. If it becomes evident, though, that changes in philosophy would accelerate Griffin’s learning curve, the Shanahans have to put Griffin first. Washington paid the steepest price in NFL history — three first-round picks and another in the second round — to move up to No. 2 in the draft. The gamble has to pay off big.

Mike and Kyle are smart guys, even though their first two seasons in Washington haven’t shown it. With so much on the line for them, they won’t get caught up in the same behind-the-scenes bickering they did with McNabb, who really should let it go now.

Last season in Minnesota, McNabb had a chance to state his case. Instead, he struggled and eventually lost the starting job to a rookie. At his request, the Vikings released him late last season. No other team signed him.

Drafting Griffin would offer the Shanahans a similar chance to vindicate themselves and their methods. Surely, they don’t intend to blow theirs. We’ll soon know if they learned more from their experience with McNabb than he did.

For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.

 
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