Kyle Shanahan, hired by Mike Shanahan, must share the blame for Redskins’ woes

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that Kyle Shanahan had roomed with quarterback Rex Grossman when both were with the Houston Texans. This version has been updated.

Mike Wise
Columnist October 31, 2011

In explaining the danger of hiring family members, Bobby Bowden was candid last week when I asked the retired Florida State football coach about the amount of grief he took for once making his son, Jeff, the school’s offensive coordinator.

“If you hire your son, you better win all your games,” Bowden said. “Because he’s usually the first to get criticized. If you lose, people want to know why. They goin’ to think up a reason. And if they can’t think up a reason, they gonna go after your daggum’ son.”

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Kyle, this isn’t your day. This might not be your year. Worse, if this aversion to the end zone and scoreboard continues, this might not be your team someday.

And if the unfortunate knock on your coaching career begins with, “If you couldn’t take over the Redskins, where your old man was the head coach, where can you take over?” it’s fair to wonder whether your father hiring you for this job was a favor or a foible.

I’m not saying the fast track to nepotism just sent the Redskins over the ledge. But why Mike Shanahan’s son could not muster a single point out of his offense against Buffalo on Sunday is just inexplicable.

The abysmal offensive showing could very well be attributed to multiple injuries, receivers not working hard enough to get open, the Bills’ suffocating defense and a quarterback holding on to the ball too long as he made just his second start in four years.

But the front man of that skunked group is Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator — the guy who claims he jumped up and down on a table in the draft war room of the Houston Texans, pleading unsuccessfully for them to take John Beck with the No. 11 pick in 2007.

If Mike Shanahan staked his reputation on those two quarterbacks, by association so did Kyle. Father and son have now had four starters at quarterback under contract in Washington the past 19 months and this is how they have fared:

Jason Campbell never took a snap before he was gone. Donovan McNabb became the toy Kyle never wanted. Grossman won the Rex-Becks duel in the preseason, but in the last four games before he was benched completed nine passes to the other team. Now it’s on Beck, who has had to pick himself off the carpet 12 times in two weeks.

At the moment, the father-son team is 0 for 3 and veering toward 0 for 4 at selecting the most important position on the field. Some might say their QB “picker” is broken, that they have one more offseason to get it right.

Because all is forgiven if father and son let us in on a little secret. Just tell us this is a transition year until a bona fide franchise quarterback can be acquired through the draft or free agency.

Make it clear. Because right now it feels like ego got in the way of fortifying the weight-bearing walls of the franchise. It feels like someone realized the Redskins’ defense was better than he thought it would be and that he could make a playoff run with smoke and mirrors on offense.

After a Mike Shanahan-coached team was shut out Sunday for the first time in his 267-game career, the jig is now up. We see right through every Monday’s let’s-get-this-over-with post mortem.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the play-calling at this point,” Shanahan said. “I’m pretty involved with the offense.”

The latter quote is quite an understatement, no?

Maybe because his father is deemed untouchable until at least after the 2012 season, Kyle now is the focus of much of the frustration fans are feeling today. He would be criticized even if he were not the head coach’s son. But as Bowden said of his experience, it only adds heat to the situation.

In 23 games with the Redskins, Kyle has overseen an offense that has scored more than 30 points just once. Maybe more unconscionable: the Redskins have scored fewer than 20 points in 15 of the 23 games in a league in which 21 teams average more than three touchdowns per week.

Injuries would be an understandable alibi, especially for a team that lost some of its best offensive weapons. The problem is, the Redskins weren’t scoring when everyone was healthy.

In quarterback parlance, the word “progression” is used often, as in, “John Beck went through his progressions well today.” It’s code for not focusing on just one receiver, making sure your eyes move quickly to the next one so the field becomes a panorama of options.

When is Washington’s offense going to show real progression under Kyle Shanahan, become more multidimensional and productive?

The truth: If Kyle had any other last name his job might be up for discussion this off-season. As it is, Mike Shanahan can only hope the most intensely personal decision of his tenure in Washington doesn’t end up costing him a bust in Canton.

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