Shanahan made the biggest gamble of his career in trading four high-round picks — the steepest price in NFL draft history — to move up and select the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor. Snyder backed the risky move and, in doing so, mortgaged the franchise’s future based on the judgment of a coach who hasn’t led a team to the playoffs since the 2005 season.
Because of what they’ve risked together, Shanahan and Snyder are linked more closely than any other owner and coach in the league. If Griffin becomes a superstar during the next three seasons (the remaining length of Shanahan’s contract), Snyder and Shanahan will split the jackpot. The Redskins finally would have a franchise quarterback to direct their long-awaited turnaround and Shanahan could restore, at least in part, his once-strong reputation for developing quarterbacks.
If Griffin fails to reach elite status, however, and the Redskins remain mediocre, it’s highly likely that someone else would occupy the head coach’s office at Redskins Park once Shanahan’s deal expires. For Snyder, being proven wrong about Shanahan and, in turn, Griffin, would mark the biggest setback in a long list of failures.
Regardless of how the Redskins fare this season (from the looks of things in the preseason, they’ll probably struggle again), Snyder should stick with Shanahan because of their common interest in Griffin’s progress. Their relationship is much like a lot of marriages: For the sake of the kid, it’s best if Shanahan and Snyder stay together.
Throughout professional sports, owners and coaches share, or should share, the goal of achieving team success. A coach’s vision for a roster can’t take shape unless the person at the top of the organizational chart supports the plan on the field. Conversely, owners, many of whom attained their wealth as captains of industry, need coaches to guide them in an unfamiliar business in which a great year or a disappointing one can turn on the bounce of a ball.
With annual revenues reportedly in excess of $9.5 billion, the NFL is the lion of the professional sports jungle. Owners have so much invested in their franchises, it figures they would rely on the people they hire to lead the most important part of them: the team. And the best owner-coach partnerships result in season-ending trophy presentations.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has supported Coach Bill Belichick all the way to five AFC titles and three Super Bowl championships since the 2001 season. New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch have followed Coach Tom Coughlin’s lead to two Super Bowl wins in the past five seasons.
Belichick and Coughlin aren’t solely responsible for what the Patriots and Giants have achieved. No coach is. The Patriots and Giants have many talented people in their football operations (they’re better at scouting than most). But Belichick and Coughlin have clout with their bosses because they’ve produced at the highest level. If they ask for something — to acquire a player, change a team policy, whatever — they’re more likely to get it than coaches who regularly finish under .500.