Mike Shanahan will remake the Redskins in his own image

Locals express their opinions about the Redskins choosing former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan to take the reins in Washington.
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010

DENVER -- In the days after he was fired as the coach and executive vice president of the Denver Broncos last winter, Mike Shanahan took an office not far from the team's complex. He staffed it with his longtime personal assistant and set up the room as if he was still a coach, installing television screens and a tape machine.

He devised a way to have piles of coaching-quality game films delivered to the office and dedicated five to six hours of each day to evaluating players, breaking down offenses and searching for new ways to respond to the latest defensive trends.

"He wants a place where he could shower, get dressed and go to work," said his longtime friend Les Shapiro, a radio host in Denver. "It's easy to bang around the house and wear sweats. He wants to work."

To those who know him, the office is the essence of Shanahan, the Washington Redskins' new head coach and executive vice president: a man so obsessed with detail that he draws plays on napkins even when dining out. Most coaches take vacations when they leave the NFL. Shanahan instead acted as if he never left, traveling to Florida to study Urban Meyer's spread offense and to New England to watch how Patriots Coach Bill Belichick ran his operation.

Such obsession led to two Broncos Super Bowl victories. It made him such a beloved figure in Denver that he recently opened a steakhouse and is still affectionately known around town as "the Mastermind." But his thirst for power and a confidence in his own coaching brilliance led him make bad player decisions, ultimately fracturing relationships inside the Denver front office. He won only one playoff game in the 10 years after the last Super Bowl, helped get the team fined twice for salary cap violations, then was fired after an 8-8 season in 2008.

An intensity burns in Shanahan, 57, that is unique even in a league of megalomaniac coaches. Not a tall man at 5 feet 9, he is compulsive about the smallest components and demanding of perfection in everything, creating an air of rigid formality.

"There's no casual with Coach Shanahan," said Paul Kirk, the Broncos' former media director who now runs the Denver-based public relations firm ProLink Sports. "You come prepared and you don't make excuses."

As Broncos' coach, the powers given him by team owner Pat Bowlen were so wide-ranging and controlled so much that he installed video cameras in every team meeting room so he could watch position meetings on a multi-window screen in his office just to make sure each coach taught the proper principles.

"He wasn't snooping on you but he wanted to make sure everybody was using the same language," said Tim Brewster, a former Denver assistant coach who is now the head coach at the University of Minnesota. "Mike would say: 'Tim, at the meeting today you said this. Is that how we talked about doing it?' "

The amazing thing about it, those who know Shanahan say, is that he was zealous enough to actually watch the meetings day after day.

"I think he ran the Broncos and I think he will run the Redskins," said Michael Lombardi, an analyst for the NFL Network who was a consultant for Shanahan in 2007.

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