Of the seven most prominent quarterbacks he’s worked with in that time — Steve Young, John Elway, Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman — two became Hall of Famers, five had Pro Bowl seasons starting under Shanahan for two or more years and only McNabb was a major disappointment.
As with any political convention, the numbers can be manipulated to arrive at any agenda-driven conclusion. Many of those touchdowns and yards were indeed piled up with an Elway-led offense in a zone-blocking era. But in researching Shanahan’s career, one stat stood out as impressively as any of the whopping offensive numbers: quarterback rating.
Whether it’s Elway and Young or Bubby Brister and Gus Frerotte, nine of the 10 quarterbacks who have started games for Shanahan the past 20 years had better quarterback ratings working under Shanahan than without him; Young and Plummer actually had ratings 15 points better; heck, John Beck was 10 points better — and he had to be benched last season.
Which proves one thing, of course: What was he thinking with McNabb, who went from face of the franchise in spring 2010 to pariah in, oh, a few months?
“When you bring a guy in and you talk to that player, you tell him if you want to be on the team for the next three years you’re going to have to prove it to me that you want to lead this football team,” Shanahan says, explaining why McNabb was jettisoned within a year. “Those are easy decisions.”
And Beck, whom Shanahan told me in his office almost exactly a year ago, “I know he can be that guy,” why didn’t he become a franchise quarterback?
“A lot of quarterbacks don’t have success because you don’t have the supporting cast,” he says. “I thought John Beck came in and did everything he could. I thought Rex came in and did everything he could. Then you got to make decisions on what you have to upgrade.
“So a guy like John Beck — if John Beck wasn’t a very good player he wouldn’t be on Houston’s team right now. Sometimes guys have ability and sometimes it takes guys a little bit longer.”
Translation: He wasn’t wrong on Beck; Beck either wasn’t ready yet or didn’t have the tools around him to flourish. So then, does Griffin?
“We brought a lot of character on this football team — it’s a totally different team from two years ago,” Shanahan says. “We got guys that are hungry that are preparing themselves. Hopefully it shows in wins.”
Asked if the criticism was fair given the mess he inherited, he replies, “I’ll be honest with you. . . . I’ve been in this profession long enough to understand that you better have thick skin when you’re losing; that comes with the territory. But it’s your job to get it turned around and you have to believe in what you do.”
A year ago when we spoke, Shanahan emphatically promised, “And when we do have this thing turned around, people will see it, and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s the way you do it.’ ” A year later, I asked him if he genuinely believes he’s getting closer.
“Oh, I know we’re getting there,” he says, more emphatically. “You can feel it in the locker room.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.