He is so certain about his own certainty there isn’t a sliver of space for self-evaluation or regret. No mistake can possibly be his. Except to play revisionist historian on the fly, the man moves only forward.
Known for being about as forthright as a CIA operative, Shanahan was remarkably candid when I interviewed him in his office at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn in August 2011.
“I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight,” he said after that 6-10 first season in Washington. “One thing I told Dan Snyder was, ‘If you don’t plan on me being here for five years to do this the right way, then you shouldn’t hire Mike Shanahan. But I’m going to do it the right way. And if you believe in my background and you believe in what I’ve done, then you should hire me. But if you’re going to ask me to take shortcuts, I’m not going to take shortcuts. I’m going to do it the right way. And he said he would.”
When Snyder hired Shanahan, he gave him complete control over football operations as executive vice president and head coach. Pat Riley, Rick Pitino, Bill Parcells, Don Nelson and now Andy Reid have all learned a valuable lesson, however. It’s almost impossible to successfully wear two hats in an organization. In short stints, they succeeded. But all eventually realized they couldn’t successfully shop for the groceries and do the cooking, too. As GMs, they had to think about the future. As coaches, they had to think about the next game. The jobs naturally crossed purposes, got in the way of each other.
A checks-and-balances system is needed. When no one evaluates the evaluator except a still-smitten-he-got-Mike-Shanahan owner such as Snyder, you don’t have merely a great coach and franchise architect; you have a king-maker who will sacrifice a lot of pawns on the field to make sure the palace walls aren’t broached, to make sure his way remains the one, true way.
“Do you worry about guys losing faith?” he was asked bluntly Monday.
“I hope not,” he said, almost reflexively. “If they are, I’d be disappointed.”
Shanahan’s biggest problem isn’t injuries, salary-cap hits or outsized expectations; his biggest problem is he always needs to be right.
He needs to project himself as all-knowing football sage at every waking second. Once he cedes some of that control, shows a morsel of contrition now and then admits when he’s wrong, once he shows more authentic self-deprecation — not the forced zings — he might find that the people around him begin to have as much faith in the Redskins coach as he clearly has in himself.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.