Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan needs the right parts, especially at quarterback

Jason Reid
Columnist January 1, 2012

Regardless of the mistakes Coach Mike Shanahan has made in his first two seasons leading the Washington Redskins — and there have been some doozies — Shanahan still is better at coaching than most. And no matter the Redskins’ lack of success, Shanahan will just work harder. He’s not the quitting type.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

That’s the foundation on which the Redskins should build — the combination of Shanahan’s X’s and O’s smarts and his intense competitive drive. Granted, that’s not a whole lot, but it’s pretty much all the Redskins have at this point.

Throughout the season, the Redskins’ performance stirred concerns about their lack of progress in Shanahan’s rebuilding plan, and they were horrendous again at times during Sunday’s season-ending 34-10 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

In losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Eagles to end the season, the Redskins flopped while completing their fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East division. Shanahan ended with a career-worst 5-11 record, which the Redskins made possible by losing their composure and committing key blunders on offense, defense and special teams at Lincoln Financial Field.

After finishing 6-10 last season, the Redskins regressed, which is the bottom line. I simply don’t see that significant improvement has occurred. Not the kind of strides that would provide proof of a brighter future around the corner.

Despite everything that has gone wrong since owner Daniel Snyder hired Shanahan to revive the franchise, however, Washington must stay the course. Shanahan has three years remaining on his contract, and for the length of it, the Redskins have to follow his lead and simply hope he has been right all along.

This organization has experienced too much upheaval. The Redskins need to ride it out with Shanahan.

Really, for Redskins fans, it’s about keeping the faith. The franchise has asked it of them time and time again. So the situation is familiar, albeit nonetheless unsettling.

“When you’re building a football team,” Shanahan said, “you take a look at the positives, of guys that can help you next year.”

Shanahan is convinced that the Redskins are pointed in the right direction. He sees significant progress in some areas of the roster. He has no doubts about Washington becoming a winner again.

That’s what Shanahan came to Washington to accomplish. With his career achievements and confidence, success, in his mind, is the only option. Even after the last two seasons.

“We’ve made some strides,” Shanahan said. “Our football team is a lot different than a year ago. That’s a positive.”

I’m convinced, too. Convinced, that is, that Shanahan, at his core , has no doubts about his ability to inspire a Redskins renaissance.

After speaking with Shanahan privately Friday following Washington’s final practice at Redskins Park, I almost forgot how bad the Redskins (11-21 in two seasons) have been under him.

Listening to Shanahan’s reasoned assessment about the effect that injuries, in his opinion, had in derailing the season, I briefly ignored the fact he boldly and incorrectly staked his reputation on ineffective quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck.

But anyone who fairly assesses Shanahan’s performance to this point could only conclude he has disappointed.

Without a doubt, Washington’s defensive front seven has improved markedly since last season. Shanahan approved the offseason moves that helped the group.

The Redskins seem to have something developing at running back with rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster, though more time is needed to determine whether either is capable of becoming a big-time performer on an elite team.

A team’s overall record, however, is the most important measurement of progress in professional sports. It’s all that matters.

The Redskins are way short on that yardstick.

Shanahan knows this. Better than most, Shanahan knows how the NFL works. In case anyone wondered, he explained things shortly after joining Washington.

Early during Shanahan’s first training camp in Ashburn, a reporter asked him if the Redskins were as bad as they seemed while going 4-12 in the 2009 season under former coach Jim Zorn. In this league, Shanahan essentially said, you are your record.

Which brings me to Shanahan’s record since the retirement of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway following the 1998 season.

Shanahan and Elway combined to lead the Denver Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl championships after the 1997 and ’98 seasons. In his 12 seasons without Elway, Shanahan has missed the playoffs eight times, including his past five seasons. He has only one playoff victory during that span.

Does that mean Shanahan forgot how to coach without Elway? No. Not at all.

In fact, some NFL people say, Shanahan’s system still could work as well as ever. And regardless of what occurs for the rest of his time in Washington, Shanahan will be considered one of the greatest play-callers in league history.

Clearly, Shanahan now needs what he has lacked since arriving in Washington: a franchise quarterback.

When Shanahan has worked with true franchise quarterbacks, he has been second to none as a coach. Without those rare guys, things haven’t been as good for him. Look at what he accomplished directing Elway and Steve Young, when he was an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.

Some would suggest any coach could thrive with quarterbacks like those. Of course, it’s not that simple. History is replete with examples of coaches who failed to succeed at the highest level despite working with star quarterbacks.

Shanahan put the pieces in place that helped Elway break through. Twice. He constructed an offense in which Elway had the greatest moments of his career. Shanahan owns those accomplishments.

Obviously, finding another Elway or Young is very difficult. If it weren’t, everyone would have those types of guys.

You think Shanahan would have stuck with Rex-Beck if he could have acquired a couple of future Hall of Famers in the offseason? Ah, no.

Shanahan needs a superstar quarterback. It’s as obvious as the frustration Snyder must feel watching Washington fail to qualify for the postseason in 10 of his 13 years as owner.

Although Shanahan is many things, stupid is not among them. He knows the Redskins are still missing several parts, including the biggest one. But it’s getting late for him to get them.

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