With Mike Shanahan’s departure inevitable, Redskins need to hire a true general manager

Jason Reid
Columnist December 9, 2013

Mike Shanahan’s departure from the Washington Redskins appears inevitable. The team’s embarrassing performance and Shanahan’s poor relationship with owner Daniel Snyder are great reasons for Snyder to make a coaching change. He shouldn’t stop there.

For Snyder, the departure of Shanahan would open a door. He could finally structure the team’s dysfunctional football operation the right way. The smart move is clear: Before Snyder pursues Washington’s next coach, he should hire a true general manager who possesses the scouting chops to improve the talent on the field.

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

In four seasons with the Redskins, Shanahan, as head coach and vice president of football operations, has had total control over the roster. Bruce Allen, who holds the title of general manager, has played only a supporting role. On player-personnel matters, Shanahan mostly receives input from Scott Campbell, director of player personnel, and Morocco Brown, director of pro personnel. Shanahan doesn’t value Allen’s input, some in the organization say, because Allen isn’t considered a strong talent-evaluator. That’s a problem.

Although Campbell and Brown are respected within the NFL, neither could challenge, let alone overrule, Shanahan on roster matters. That’s the way Shanahan wanted it. He came to Washington to run the whole show. But Shanahan’s record with the Redskins is 24-37. Even if you account for the problems created by the two-year salary cap penalty imposed by the league, it is obvious Shanahan needed more help picking players. The Redskins need a better system of checks and balances in that key area.

Truth is, Shanahan shouldn’t have been given player-personnel authority. Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired Shanahan after the 2008 season in large part because of his missteps in building the Broncos’ roster. It was said then that the performance of Shanahan the player-personnel man undermined Shanahan the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach. Shanahan, however, brought much-needed credibility to the Redskins at a time they desperately needed it, so Snyder gave him everything he requested.

The Post's Mike Jones says Dan Snyder has decisions to make regarding Mike Shanahan's future, but Art Briles is not the answer. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Shanahan did push the right buttons in the draft and free agency before the 2012 season. He used the second overall pick to get quarterback Robert Griffin III (despite his sophomore slump, Griffin is a keeper), selected hard-charging running back Alfred Morris late in the process and signed veteran wideout Pierre Garcon to lead a receiving corps in need of new direction. No moves were more important in bolstering the roster that produced the Redskins’ first division title in 13 years.

But the team’s free fall to the bottom of the NFC East this season has exposed an alarming lack of talent and depth on the roster Shanahan assembled. It reminds us that the positions of head coach and general manager, generally speaking, are too big for one man — and this is especially true with a franchise like the Redskins that for so long has been characterized by front office ineptitude.

There aren’t enough hours in the day for head coaches to handle all of their on-field duties. Planning on offense, defense and special teams, making adjustments because of injuries, dealing with off-field concerns, fulfilling league-mandated media requirements — coaches have their hands full.

For general managers, the heavy lifting continues long after the draft ends and the highest-profile free agents are off the market. The best general managers constantly evaluate every player on the team and develop short- and long-term plans to improve the roster. It makes sense to split the jobs, which is why most teams do it.

The New England Patriots are among the exceptions. They’ve been the NFL’s model franchise while winning three Super Bowls under Coach Bill Belichick. At 11-2, the Seattle Seahawks are tied for the NFL’s best record. Coach Pete Carroll runs their operation. In Kansas City, the Chiefs have rebounded this year by following Coach Andy Reid’s lead. He has broad authority over football decisions.

Few teams in NFL history, though, have had to overcome the level of player-personnel mismanagement that has defined Snyder’s tenure in Washington. Without a strong, proven player-personnel boss in place, Snyder has meddled in the football operation. That’s how you wind up guaranteeing Albert Haynesworth $41 million.

The Redskins made so many wrong turns in the draft and free agency through the years that Shanahan inherited a situation worse than he initially realized. Shanahan’s successor will spend much of his first season trying to determine how to reshape the roster for his plans.

So what would Bruce Allen do if Snyder hired a powerful general manager? Allen plays a key role in the business operation of the Redskins. He’ll be with the organization long after Shanahan has moved on. Snyder could make Allen the team president. He already performs some of the duties of someone in that position.

In the NFL, there’s nothing more important than acquiring the right players. By declining to hire a general manager capable of doing that, Snyder has done things his way. After this season, he should try a better way.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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