Mike Shanahan’s final day at Redskins Park is symbolically bizarre

December 30, 2013

On his final day of work, Mike Shanahan pulled his black Audi onto the driveway at Redskins Park a little before 9 a.m. and sat in a jumbled mess. At the property’s entrance, a security gate blocked reporters’ cars from entering. As the vehicles formed a line, at the rear was Shanahan, delayed as he waited to go get fired.

This was how a bizarre day at the park began, and it was difficult not to tie the Redskins’ reputation into one symbolic series of hours. Across the NFL, teams parted ways with coaching staffs on what is annually known as “Black Monday,” the day after the regular season and a time of mass change. The Redskins were among those, firing Shanahan on Monday after four seasons — they completed a 3-13 year on Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, N.J. — and later releasing a statement that named the eight assistants who would not be retained, rather than the ones who would.

“A great organization,” Shanahan said during a five-minute, unscripted statement after which he answered no questions. “This is the best, if you look at what the franchise has done.”

Team owner Daniel Snyder and General Manager Bruce Allen did the firing during a 9 a.m meeting, and the team ordered pre-emptive measures presumably meant to reduce unnecessary attention — but in the process attracted far more. Days like this reveal many NFL franchises’ undeniable, over-the-top silliness and protectiveness of information that, in reality, no one is even all that interested in.

Reporters, for instance, weren’t allowed to stand in the parking lot between the media building and the team facility after Snyder and Shanahan arrived. The team assigned two public-relations interns to patrol the area, assigning them walkie-talkies and instructions to keep doors and window shades closed. Reporters therefore watched and shot video through uncovered windows and slits between curtain and sill, and when one of the shades came detached from a doorway, a team employee tried to reattach it with several strips of Scotch tape.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III, who developed trust issues with Shanahan months ago, wouldn’t speak with reporters before walking with backup Kirk Cousins through the players’ lot. Griffin packed his SUV and left, though hours later the team put him on a conference call to recite a statement but take no questions.

“I just want to say that Coach Shanahan has taught me a lot in the last two years of being with him,” said Griffin, whom Shanahan deactivated for the final three games of the 2013 season. “I want to thank him for drafting me to the Washington Redskins and giving me the chance to live out my dreams.”

Another Shanahan draft pick, running back Alfred Morris, also declined to speak Monday morning, saying he needed to leave immediately if he was to make it to Chick-fil-A before it stopped serving breakfast. A few players took responsibility for the disappointing season, saying the losses were their fault, not that of the coaches — though Allen left little doubt how the front office felt.

“Four years ago,” the GM said, “we thought we did the right thing.”

There was no team meeting Monday, and Shanahan mostly said his goodbyes Saturday night, before the season’s final game. A night before the Redskins’ season-ending eighth consecutive loss to the New York Giants, Shanahan told players that he was pretty sure of his fate, asking them to continue working hard anyway.

Indeed, Allen said Monday afternoon that the decision had been “near 99 percent” a week earlier that Shanahan would be fired, following a home loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Snyder, whose 14-year team ownership has been littered with days and seasons like this, didn’t address reporters Monday, only issuing a statement that began by saying that “Redskins fans deserve a better result.”

During Allen’s news conference, he answered questions diplomatically, though his answers should’ve generated no relief or optimism to Redskins fans, and referred to the team as one of the NFL’s “flagship franchises,” which he believed would attract many interested coaching candidates.

“This is the Washington Redskins,” he said of a team that hasn’t won the Super Bowl since after the 1991 season and has four playoff appearances and 136 losses since Snyder bought the team. Shanahan’s successor will also be the eighth coach, including interims, in Snyder’s 15 seasons of ownership.

As Allen’s conference was winding down, a television reporter with a history of asking confrontational questions raised his hand and was handed a microphone, at which point communications director Tony Wyllie signaled to end the meeting. The reporter, WUSA-TV’s Dave Owens, waved off the team employee trying to retrieve the microphone; Wyllie then walked over and, after a brief tug of war, pulled the microphone from Owens’s hand.

The hours passed, and the departing coaches packed their cars. Kyle Shanahan, who is Mike Shanahan’s son and is now the Redskins’ former offensive coordinator, shook hands in the parking lot with a group of familiar faces and returned to his office to gather the last of his things.

As Mike Shanahan prepared to leave, his Audi was moved to a curb near a side exit. Security guards patrolled the lot like Secret Service agents, presumably to prevent a reporters’ rush on Shanahan’s car — though, after his news conference, there was little interest in such an advance. As the guards waited, their eyes scanning the mostly empty lot, a team employee said the situation was no longer a PR issue; it was rather a security measure.

Shanahan eventually emerged, quietly getting into his car with no media ambush and no driveway gridlock, waving as he left Redskins Park — and all of its unpredictable appeal — one last time.

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