Maybe hiring new coordinators would provide a clean slate for Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan. And perhaps owner Daniel Snyder would bring back Shanahan next season, as some in the organization have suggested, if he shakes up the coaching staff. But ask yourself this: Why would any assistant coach with options choose to join this mess?
The centerpiece of the potential Snyder-Shanahan reconciliation plan floated last week calls for Shanahan to jettison his top lieutenants on offense, defense and special teams — including his son, Kyle, Washington’s offensive play-caller — to appease Snyder and collect the remaining $7 million on his contract. Bringing in accomplished coaches from outside the organization, the thinking goes, would give Shanahan a fresh start.
Good luck getting them.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume Shanahan does stay on the job after this season. He would enter the final season of his five-year contract, with three seasons of double-digit losses and only one playoff appearance in Washington. Snyder would have about as much interest in extending Shanahan’s contract as he would in offering refunds to disgruntled season ticket holders, so that would make Shanahan a lame-duck coach.
Coaches perceived to be on their way out often have no chance to succeed because strong leadership is a must in the Alpha-male world of the NFL. Coaches with only one year left on their contracts appear weak. In such an environment, Redskins coordinators would enter their new positions almost set up to fail. They also would be working for a boss who doesn’t want his job.
Shanahan’s scorched-earth exit strategy has been about two things: getting fired and getting paid. So far, Snyder hasn’t taken the bait. Snyder would rather light his cigars with $100 bills than fire Shanahan, who won’t collect a dime if he resigns, and pay him $7 million not to work. The current stalemate has prompted both camps to examine the unpalatable option of Shanahan returning. How long do you think the line of applicants will be for the chance to work for a short-timer coach who’s at odds with the person who pays him?
The situation would be even worse for a new offensive coordinator.
The father-son coaching dynamic has hurt the Redskins. Quarterback Robert Griffin III’s poor relationship with Kyle Shanahan has been a big part of the dysfunctional team’s behind-the-scenes drama in its disastrous 3-11 season. And after being benched for the final three games, Griffin now has nothing but contempt for Mike Shanahan, people familiar with Griffin’s thinking say. So count on Griffin to be suspicious of any coordinator Mike would pursue to replace Kyle. Speculation has centered on former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.
Shanahan has known Kubiak for 30 years. Kubiak worked under Shanahan as Hall of Famer John Elway’s backup and was a longtime member of Shanahan’s coaching staffs with both the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. If Kubiak joined the Redskins, Griffin would go from working with Shanahan’s kid to Shanahan’s protégé — a person Shanahan treats like family. Yep, that would work well.
Anyone taking over the defense would face other issues. After four years, Shanahan’s decision to change the team’s defensive philosophy hasn’t paid off. The Redskins’ personnel is the problem. Defensive linemen, especially nose tackles, are the key to effective 3-4 defenses. Shanahan, who picks the players, hasn’t provided enough good ones for coordinator Jim Haslett. The $36 million salary cap reduction penalty and the four high-round picks the Redskins traded to draft Griffin had an adverse effect on Shanahan’s ability to bolster the roster. Still, after four seasons, the Redskins should be closer than they are to having an effective 3-4 defense.
Although Haslett has done about as well as any coordinator could in his situation, the Redskins simply aren’t talented enough on defense. His successor will inherit a group that needs several new parts in the secondary, at least one new starter at inside linebacker and faces major questions along the defensive front. The next defensive play-caller also should expect interference from Shanahan, whose hands-on approach has been a source of friction with defensive coaches under him in the past. That would be an added bonus.
Then there’s special teams, which is in even worse shape than the offense and defense. First-year coordinator Keith Burns played under Shanahan, who also gave Burns his start in coaching but didn’t provide him with enough good players this season. The Redskins mostly have been awful on returns and coverage. Burns has appeared hopelessly overmatched while watching Redskins opponents compile highlight-film plays.
In the NFL, special teams players are bottom-of-the-roster guys. The cap penalty resulted in the Redskins becoming bargain shoppers. Many of the guys at the bottom of the Redskins’ roster shouldn’t be in the league. The worst part, as tight end Niles Paul recently explained, is that some of the core players on special teams think they’re too good for their jobs. Burns’s replacement needs many new players with better attitudes.
So in the hypothetical scenario in which Shanahan finishes his contract in Washington next season, any new coordinators would be joining a bad team in a soap-opera environment — to work for a boss who will be around just long enough to get his money.
Sounds like a great help-wanted ad to me.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.