By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; A01
Former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan reached agreement with the Washington Redskins Tuesday night to become the team's next head coach and vice president of football operations, taking the position that many in the National Football League have for months presumed would be be his once the season ended.
Just two days after the team fired Jim Zorn following his disappointing two-year tenure, Shanahan agreed to a five-year contract and will be introduced at an afternoon news conference Wednesday at Redskins Park. Shanahan is expected to play a major role in assembling the team's roster -- a luxury also afforded former head coach Joe Gibbs -- and reshaping the franchise's future.
The Redskins would not confirm the multiple reports Tuesday evening, and Shanahan's agent, Sandy Montag, declined to comment. But ESPN broadcast a photograph of Shanahan shaking hands with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, which it said was taken before they headed out to celebrate.
"Very excited," Shanahan told NBC-4 following dinner Wednesday night at The Palm. "Great to be in the nation's capital."
The last time the Redskins hired a head coach, the team spent more than a month searching for the perfect candidate. This time, they wrapped up their search in less than two days. Shanahan flew into Washington on Monday, just hours after the Redskins fired Zorn, and began meeting at Snyder's house to discuss organizational structure and philosophy. The discussions were productive, and Shanahan summoned his agent Tuesday morning to Washington to hammer out final contract details, according to an ESPN report.
Under terms of his new contract, Shanahan has agreed to a deal that is expected to pay him approximately $7 million per year. The Broncos fired Shanahan following the 2008 season and owed him $14 million on his previous contract. They have agreed to pick up approximately $3.5 million each in 2010 and 2011, according to a Denver Post report.
As word spread early Tuesday evening, the news was greeted by Redskins players as an important step forward for the organization.
Running back Clinton Portis called it a "great idea," and linebacker London Fletcher said Shanahan "instantly becomes the face of the franchise."
"I definitely think he's the type of leader and he has the type of leadership qualities that we need in a head coach," said quarterback Jason Campbell. "I think he's the type of person who we need to get everybody around here on the same page."
Shanahan, 57, comes to the Redskins already with two Super Bowl championships on his résumé. In 16 seasons as head coach, including 14 with Denver, Shanahan compiled a 154-103 record.
Though he's expected to interview members of Zorn's current coaching staff, Shanahan will likely bring with him a new group of assistants and coordinators, including his son, Kyle Shanahan, currently the Houston Texans offensive coordinator. Speculation has centered on Cincinnati's Mike Zimmer to become the new defensive coordinator, though some believe Redskins' secondary coach Jerry Gray, who interviewed to replace Zorn last month, might also receive consideration. Gray would have strong support from players and from some members of the front office.
A league source also said that Bob Slowik, Shanahan's defensive coordinator in 2008, would likely join the Washington staff, though not as a coordinator. The source said Shanahan had not spoken yet with Zimmer.
Several people intimately tied to the Redskins' organization said earlier in the day that Shanahan's hiring would signal an important direction change for a franchise that has floundered in recent years, missing the playoffs in eight of 11 seasons since Snyder took over as owner.
"I think they're reorganizing things," said Gibbs, the Hall of Fame coach who served two stints with the Redskins. "I think as a Redskin fan, we're all hoping that this will be over with, that the Redskins will return to being a real solid contender every year in what I think is one of the toughest divisions."
Former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann looks at the past couple seasons of Redskins football and sees similarities with the years that directly preceded Gibbs's second turn as Redskins' coach. In 2004, Gibbs inherited a team that had just turned in a 5-11 season. Worse, Theismann said, the organization had lost its way.
"That was the one thing that coach Gibbs did when he joined the Redskins, he brought that sense of pride and discipline and accountability back to the entire organization -- not just the players, but it stands for everybody in the building," Theismann said.
Before Shanahan accepted the job, he spoke with Gibbs, according to league sources, and the Hall of Fame coach vouched for Snyder and encouraged Shanahan to take the job.
In Shanahan, Theismann feels the Redskins have locked up a coach who can again right the ship -- just as Gibbs had done six years ago -- because the two coaches share much in common.
"They're demanding to the point where they want you to be the best that you can be," he said. "They're going to do everything they can to support you, but they're not going to tolerate your ineffectiveness as an individual to try and get the job done. That has been somewhat of a tolerant situation over the last couple of years."
That means the toughest task facing Shanahan might not involve the roster or selecting a starting quarterback or preparing for this spring's draft.
"I think his challenge will be changing the culture that has now seeped into what the Washington Redskins have become," he said. "And I think he's going to be capable of doing that."
It's going to involve juggling a lot of different personalities, from the owner's office to the locker room. But players say he's earned their respect before even setting foot in Redskins Park.
"You know he's a great leader," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall. "But to have that name, Mike Shanahan, associated with the Redskins is big for us, it's big for the fans, and it's just great news."
Shanahan, regarded as one of the league's top offensive minds, has accepted a job that isn't limited to wearing a headset on Sundays or drawing up creative plays. He's expected to work with general manager Bruce Allen similar to the way he had with former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist. In Denver, Sundquist oversaw the draft and player acquisition, but Shanahan had final say on every roster move.
"He knows how to run an organization," said John Lynch, a retired Pro Bowl safety who played for Shanahan from 2004 to '08. "I think he'll be good in Washington."
Shanahan is likely to make the search for a new quarterback a priority. Coming off a 4-12 season, the team holds the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft. According to a league source, while Shanahan will likely use that pick for a quarterback, he would still bring Campbell back to Washington for one more season. Campbell will likely be a restricted free agent, which means the Redskins can match any other team's offer.
Lynch is not the only player who worked closely with Shanahan to express such optimism for the Redskins' new coach. Champ Bailey played five seasons for Shanahan after the Redskins traded him for Portis in 2003, and spoke to the Denver Post on Monday.
"If anyone can get it turned around, he can," Bailey said.
Jason Reid, Barry Svrluga, Les Carpenter and Dan Steinberg contributed to this story.