To be clear, the possibility of Mike Shanahan coming back as coach now resides somewhere between infinitesimal and really, really small. Returning for a fifth season would seem to be the greatest upset of his tenure here, defying every headstrong personality trait ascribed to the head coach, the owner and the franchise quarterback that Shanahan weirdly shut down for the season after Robert Griffin III was crumpled in the snow more than two weeks ago by the second-ranked pass rushing defense in the NFL.
Many who work in and around team headquarters believe otherwise. They think there is a decent chance Shanny survives. But they are hearing that from Daniel Snyder’s minions, who want it made crystal clear that the owner doesn’t want to fire Shanahan and merely give him what he essentially wants: a $7 million parachute off the Hindenburg.
That’s not the same as wanting him back.
There is a big difference, in fact, between not firing the coach and wanting, in your heart of hearts, for Shanahan to continue lording over an organization now 15 games under .500 in his four years.
And for Shanahan, there is a big difference between saying you’re not going to resign and wanting, deep down, to continue working with Snyder and Team Griffin. Contrary to his public statements, Shanahan is about over this drama.
The two primary reasons given by The Coach Stays crowd are: (1) Dan has tried everything else, so why not give a shot at stability and continuity in the face of real adversity for once? and (2) who else is he going to get that’s any good and won’t cost a fortune?
It’s the same rationale miserable couples often use to stay together: They can’t do any better. Because Snyder’s problem with coaches for years was the opposite — he always thought he could do better — it would be sold as more professional growth.
But ask yourself: If this were the last year of Shanahan’s contract — given that his team has lost its past seven straight games and he is 24-39 over four years and an indicting 2-6 at home in three of those seasons — would we even be having this conversation?
No. Everyone would go their separate ways and conclude it was time to move on.
This is largely about the money owed Shanahan for his fifth and final year of his $35 million deal, the more than $10 million total wrapped up in Shanahan’s contract and that of his coaching staff.
The moment news conferences in Ashburn became raw theater about three weeks ago — the moment Shanahan felt the walls closing in and the moment Snyder felt he was publicly embarrassed by what he saw as a Mike-inspired media leak regarding him allegedly growing too cozy with Griffin — this became a standoff over money and pride.
To believe Shanahan is going to return, you have to believe Snyder would ignore the resentment of Griffin, a player who, growing pains and all, most likely is the organization’s top human revenue stream for the next decade.
You also would have to believe that Snyder would trust Shanahan with his millions in free agency to bolster a deeply flawed roster hand-picked by Shanahan himself. You would have to believe that a person who appears to have been trying like hell to get fired the past three weeks is suddenly All In for Year 5.
You would, in short, have to envision an emotional, often impulsive owner morphing into a member of the Mara family.
Hey, that’s not the worst thing.
Washington’s first three-win season since 1994 could become official this Sunday in a New Jersey swamp, where a once-embattled coach was surprisingly retained after a disastrous season in which his team finished 1-6 down the stretch and several of his best players publicly called him out and all but begged for his removal.
Remember 2006? Tom Coughlin was supposed to be gone too. He had rebuilt an organization only to have it all bottom out a year later amid back-biting and doused Super Bowl hopes. But the Giants’ hierarchy refused to give in to Tiki Barber, the media and fans’ wishes, and decided to bring back Coughlin. (The difference is that team actually made the playoffs, and Barber was on his way out.)
Still, Coughlin came back and miraculously stunned the 18-0 Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl. Ownership’s commitment to continuity in the midst of a fractured franchise had paid off in the most rewarding way: streams of confetti and two Lombardi Trophies in five years.
“The teams that expect to win, there’s going to be an outcry when things don’t go the right way — especially when you come into it with expectations,” said Barry Cofield, who was part of that 2006 Giants team and has been in Washington now for two seasons. Before he walked out of the home locker room for the final time this season early Sunday evening, he recognized the parallels.
“In New York, we had expectations every year,” Cofield said. “And here we had expectations this year coming off of last year. You never know year to year. Look, no one expected this to happen. And I’m sure no one expects us to go on a run next year. But obviously it could happen.”
It’s the best argument of all for putting the band back together in Washington, no?
And, of course, it won’t happen.
Because before a retiring London Fletcher and other players campaign for Shanahan to stay via extension, Griffin would have to swallow his pride and look into the camera convincingly and say he wants Mike and Kyle back, that bygones are bygones and it’s time to win together.
And probably before that happened, Mike and Kyle and Robert III and Robert Jr., would have to get in a room together and lower their guards, be vulnerable for maybe one of the few times in their lives, and hear the other person instead of just hearing themselves.
Shanahan and Snyder would have to do the same. Heck, Bruce Allen could be the mediator, be a uniter rather than a divider taking the owner’s side just to preserve his own gig.
Renewing commitment between the most powerful people in the organization would require a total forgiveness on all sides that doesn’t jive with the personalities of men who carry grudges to their graves. They would have to genuinely change the corrosive, top-down culture of interfering with people trying to do the jobs they were hired to do.
Frankly, I don’t believe they have it in them. In fact, I dare Snyder, Shanahan, Griffin and their divergent camps to lay down their swords and work this out for the good of the roster, much of which behaved more like adults this season than their alleged leaders.
Otherwise, don’t waste our time. Go get Ken Whisenhunt or Lovie Smith. Or heck, bring back Danny Smith from Pittsburgh. The long-time special teams coach won’t get a head coaching job elsewhere, but he could lather up the disenchanted. Besides, Snyder always liked him and believed he could lead the troops.
If this is just a budget-and-pride dance, move forward and let the healing process begin. Gas up the private jet. Go bedazzle the next big name. Go back to doing what the franchise does most offseasons: Sell hope anew.
But whatever you do, don’t tell us it’s going to be different this time. For once, show us.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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