As much as Shanahan has brought stability to the Redskins, his tenure in Washington has meant a great deal to his professional legacy. At one point, the two-time Super Bowl winner with Denver seemed on the fast track to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But quarterback John Elway retired, and injuries cut short running back Terrell Davis’s career. Suddenly, Shanahan didn’t seem so smart.
In Shanahan’s last 10 years in Denver, the Broncos missed the postseason six times. Shanahan’s playoff record during that stretch was 1-4. Denver was so bad defensively in Shanahan’s final three years that the unthinkable happened: Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired him.
Overall, Shanahan had a great run with the Broncos. If he had never worked again in the NFL, he would have received strong Hall of Fame consideration. After the way things ended in Denver, however, Hall of Fame voters may have viewed Shanahan’s résumé as a tad light.
Rebuilding another franchise was seen as a good way to bulk it up. The problem for Shanahan was that the task in Washington proved more difficult than he envisioned. In his first two seasons in Washington, the Redskins went 6-10 and 5-11. Shanahan made big mistakes at quarterback (how else would describe staking your reputation on John Beck and Rex Grossman?) and got distracted feuding with Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb.
Things weren’t looking good for Shanahan — until he went all-in to get quarterback Robert Griffin III. Shanahan has roster control. No matter how much anyone else in the organization wanted Griffin, Shanahan ultimately had to decide to part with four high-round draft picks for the rights to take Griffin. It proved to be one of Shanahan’s best moves.
Griffin’s performance last season enabled Shanahan to get his swagger back. The Redskins’ first NFC East championship in 13 years was enough to make fans downright giddy — until Shanahan botched the handling of Griffin in a playoff loss and Griffin wound up needing reconstructive knee surgery.
Anyone who followed what Mike Shanahan, Griffin and Griffin’s father, Robert Griffin Jr., said throughout the offseason realizes the coach and his quarterback hit a rough patch. But winning helps heal wounds. If Shanahan and Griffin deliver again this season, it’s reasonable to guess they’ll stay together for a while. Their personal feelings aside, their union would seem to be in the Redskins’ best interests in that case.
In ending the player-personnel tomfoolery that ruined Redskins rosters for more than a decade, Shanahan has made smart decisions in the draft and free agency. He assembled an offense that is among the NFL’s most versatile and productive. Next up on his fix-it list: the defense. The progress that has been made so far gives Shanahan the right to continue building the roster his way.
That’s a big deal. Over the years, we’ve seen things go horribly wrong at Redskins Park when unqualified people make the biggest football decisions.
Mike isn’t the only Shanahan with a lot on the line this fall. Last season, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Mike’s son, showed he knows what he’s doing, and owners like to hire sharp assistants who potentially could become great head coaches. With another successful season, Kyle could be in line to fill one of the inevitable vacancies that will be there next offseason.
But when you’re in charge of a whole program, you have to be good at more than just X’s and O’s; you must be able to manage personalities, as well. Kyle got a bad rep for butting heads with McNabb, who didn’t work as hard as the Shanahans would have preferred.
With Griffin, he has a much bigger opportunity — and even more scrutiny. In order for Washington to continue winning — and the Shanahans to get what they want — Griffin needs to be happy. Play-calling helps to determine a quarterback’s mood. That’s something for the Shanahans to remember.
With a timely assist from Griffin, Mike Shanahan pulled the Redskins from a decade-long punch line to a formidable team again. He just might have been the right guy for the job. If the Redskins deliver on this season’s promise, Shanahan could keep it for a long time.
For more by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.