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The Redskins-Shanahan marriage begins with great promise

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010; D01

When new Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan emerged from a door and entered an auditorium Wednesday afternoon at the team's Ashburn training facility, he joined General Manager Bruce Allen in heading for a table adorned with two burgundy Redskins helmets. All the elements of Redskins introductory news conferences past were there: owner Daniel Snyder, the television cameras broadcasting live, the former players milling in the background.

Absent, though, were the Redskins' three Super Bowl trophies -- symbols of the franchise's best days, but clearly, in a new era, meant to be part of the past. Shanahan, who signed a five-year deal to coach the team Tuesday night and was introduced Wednesday, has won two Super Bowl trophies of his own, and the message upon his arrival was unmistakable: His intention is to add to his total, and to that of his new franchise, in Washington, where such success came a generation ago.

"I want to thank Dan for the opportunity to be his head football coach," Shanahan said, looking at Snyder, who did not address the gathering and sat in the front row of the packed room. "I promise you, I won't disappoint you. I'm going to give you everything I got.

"One of the reasons that I am here is that I've never met a guy that is more positive, more passionate about the Washington Redskins. His desire to do things the right way, to give me every opportunity to be successful -- that doesn't happen very often in the NFL, where you go to a place and that person is going to give you every chance to win the Super Bowl. That's why we're in this game."

Shanahan is the seventh coach in Snyder's 11-year tenure as owner, and the Redskins haven't truly been in the mix for a championship during that time. The last of the Redskins' three Super Bowl titles came after the 1991 season, and Shanahan, who replaces the fired Jim Zorn, won his with the Denver Broncos following the 1997 and '98 seasons. He was given the titles of executive vice president and coach -- joining Allen, who was hired last month as executive vice president and general manager -- in the franchise's radically different leadership structure.

"We were looking for a man who was passionate about football," Allen said, "passionate about the Redskins' history, someone who had a good winning record, and someone who could lead our team on and off the field, lead our coaches on and off the field to the greatest heights. Ladies and gentlemen, we got our man."

Publicly, the key figures said the machinations of the deal, reportedly worth $7 million annually, worked quickly. Allen said he called Shanahan on Sunday night, shortly after the Redskins lost their season finale in San Diego to finish 4-12. Allen fired Zorn in a brief meeting before sunrise Monday. By that afternoon, Shanahan had landed at Dulles International Airport, and Snyder, Allen and Shanahan met into the night at Snyder's Potomac home. By Tuesday evening, the principles were dining at the Palm in Tysons Corner, celebrating.

"This was a very easy process," said Sandy Montag, Shanahan's agent. "This was not a hard deal to do."

Throughout the NFL this past season, there has been the impression that Shanahan was in the process of becoming Washington's coach, particularly after Zorn's fate became apparent. Wednesday, Shanahan said he and Snyder established a relationship a decade ago, when they met at a Pro Bowl. They frequently spoke at NFL owners' meetings, Shanahan said, and "talked pretty consistently over the last 10 years."

Shanahan denied meeting Snyder in Denver, where Snyder's private plane flew after a Sept. 27 loss at Detroit. But the conversations between current owner and prospective coach continued, even as Zorn's team struggled.

"We did talk throughout the year, like we have over the last 10 years," Shanahan said. "Like I said, that guy is the most passionate -- has more passion for this organization than anybody I've ever seen."

Allen, too, said he kept in touch with Shanahan over the course of last offseason, after Allen had been fired as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Shanahan had been fired by the Broncos. Allen and Shanahan knew each other from years of competing in the AFC West, where Allen served as an executive with the Raiders. Later, when Allen was in Tampa Bay, he worked with Shanahan's son Kyle, then an assistant with the Bucs, who will become the Redskins' offensive coordinator.

"When we were both out of work, we had several conversations about what we were seeing in the NFL," Allen said. "It was a very unusual time to pick each other's brains on what we saw with different teams."

Though Shanahan was criticized at the end of his tenure in Denver for failing to get the Broncos to the playoffs for three straight years -- including a collapse over the final three games in 2008 that cost him his job -- his record with the Broncos trumps anything the Redskins have accomplished during the same time period. In Shanahan's 14 years with the Broncos, he had nine winning seasons, seven with 10 or more victories. Over that same time period -- from 1996 to 2008 -- the Redskins had five winning seasons, two with 10 victories.

"This man has proven to be one of the most consistent winners in the history of the NFL," Allen said.

When news spread among Redskins players of Shanahan's hiring Tuesday night, most were ecstatic. Middle linebacker London Fletcher, for instance, called him the "face of the franchise," and cornerback DeAngelo Hall said Shanahan was a man "people are going to respect off his name alone."

On Wednesday, that endorsement was backed up by some of Shanahan's former players.

"Mike Shanahan's a Hall of Fame-caliber coach," said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, an offensive lineman who played for the Redskins and under Shanahan in Denver. "How can you go wrong with that? There's no question, from a credibility standpoint, I think that's the number one thing, you instantly [as] a franchise garner a certain amount of credibility from a guy who's been there, who's done that, who's won two Super Bowls and consistently won in that league."

Shanahan said he would take time to evaluate both players and staff before making decisions. But he spoke with confidence, like a man who didn't need credentials earned by others wheeled into a room to show off.

"It's going to be a strong, disciplined football team," he said, "I can guarantee you that."

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