Mike Shanahan, with his job under scrutiny, defends his tenure, says cap penalty hurt

Mike Shanahan said Monday he believes the Washington Redskins are headed in the right direction under his leadership despite this season’s struggles, delivering what amounted to a defense of his four-year coaching tenure in the face of mounting criticism following Sunday’s loss that dropped Washington into last place in the NFC East.

Speaking at a news conference at Redskins Park, Shanahan deflected questions about his job security but said the Redskins will have a chance to improve their roster next season after a two-year salary cap penalty expires.

“I think you’ve got to take a look at a number of things when you take a look at the direction of a football team,” Shanahan said. “I think when you take a look at the offensive numbers . . . that just doesn’t happen naturally with a lot of new players. We talked about it last year. We had six new players on our team, and putting up the numbers that we’re putting up are pretty impressive, especially with losing the $36 million salary cap over those two years time frame.”

Shanahan’s comments came a day after the Redskins’ record fell to 3-7 with the 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins have a record of 24-34 under Shanahan, who signed a five-year contract worth about $7 million per season when he was hired by owner Daniel Snyder. The Redskins have failed to build on last season’s NFC East title, forged with a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season, and fans and some media observers increasingly have speculated Shanahan won’t be back for a fifth season.

Shanahan declined to respond directly to a question Monday about whether he thinks the Redskins’ results during the remainder of this season will determine his future with the team or whether he instead has been given assurances by Snyder he will return next season.

“I don’t talk about those things during the season for obvious reasons,” Shanahan said.

It does not appear that such an assurance has been given. A person familiar with the Redskins’ planning said in recent days it was “too early” to know whether Shanahan’s job is safe beyond this season. NFL coaches often are given an extension to avoid coaching in the final season of a contract.

The Redskins are in the second season of dealing with their two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction imposed by the NFL for the manner in which the team structured players’ contracts during the sport’s season without a salary cap in 2010. Shanahan said that penalty has hurt the team. But the Redskins, he said, will be able to do more in the upcoming offseason and beyond.

“You don’t have the type of depth,” Shanahan said. “But you’re able to put a very solid football team together. And in the future, it will get better because we do have the ability to get more depth. We’ve got the ability to add some players on both sides of the football, and that gives you a chance to get better as a football team.”

Redskins players vowed after the loss in Philadelphia to continue to play hard during the remainder of the season. The Redskins host the San Francisco 49ers, the defending NFC champions, Monday night at FedEx Field to begin a three-game homestand.

“There’s not going to be any division in our locker room,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “There’s obviously going to be frustration, but we know where we’re at. We still have another opportunity next week. It’ll be tough on ‘Monday Night Football.’ But you just have to win games, play well and let things fall where they may.”

Said safety Brandon Meriweather: “I’m still confident. I love the guys I play with. . . . I know what everybody’s capable of and what I’m capable of, and I feel like we still have a great chance to do what we’re supposed to.”

Criticism of Shanahan’s performance from outside Redskins Park continued.

“I think we’ve got one year left on his contract and shouldn’t worry about an extension,” former Redskins running back Brian Mitchell said Monday. “He’s got a contract for five years. So I think he’s at least owed next year. And if nothing happens next year, then you don’t have to give him an extension. Go with someone else.”

Mitchell said the team’s problems are plentiful and coaching ranks high on that list.

“It’s a combination of things. But when I look at a lack of preparation at the start of games and coming out at halftime, I would have to say coaching has a lot to do with that,” Mitchell said. “You watch the play-calling, and in certain instances they look like world beaters, and other times they look very average. The guys can move the ball up and down on anybody, but then they turn and can’t move it at all. I think they have enough talent to win games. But I think they’re just not executing, and sometimes play-calling doesn’t seem to be consistent to me.”

Mitchell acknowledged that few coaches enter the final year of a contract without an extension. But he said Shanahan hasn’t earned more time on his deal at this point.

“Look at this: 6-10 one year, 5-11 the next year. They were 3-6 before they went on the run last year, and now they’re at 3-7. Why would I give that coach an extension?” Mitchell said. “I’d wait and see. It should be a six-week audition. Isn’t that the same thing he told his players last year? So if your players can live with it, then I think Snyder has every right to tell Mike, ‘You’re on a six-week audition to see what happens.’ Teams don’t normally do that, but you’re paying him $7 million.”

It’s believed Shanahan would be owed the remainder of his contract if he’s fired.

Shanahan said Monday he has scrutinized his own role in the Redskins’ losses.

“You try to put your football team in the situation that gives them the best chance to be successful,” he said. “When you fall short of that, you always go back and you look at everything. You look at your offensive game plan, defense, special teams. We did a lot of good things in that game. We fell a little bit short. I was pleased with the way our defense came back in the second half, some of the plays made, and I was proud of our football team, the way they fought in the fourth quarter. . . . Two games in a row, we fell short in the fourth quarter, and I’m disappointed that we did lose those games.

“But I also tried to explain to the team that if we had won those games, now everybody would be talking the other direction. So it’s a fine line. You’ve got to believe in yourself. They made a bunch of plays on both sides of the ball. But we’ve got to keep on getting better to win a football game.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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