Outgoing Redskins coach says Portis 'could've worked harder'

Stump Mitchell says he regrets not being able to get Clinton Portis, above, to reach his potential.
Stump Mitchell says he regrets not being able to get Clinton Portis, above, to reach his potential. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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By Jason Reid and Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

As Stump Mitchell leaves the Washington Redskins' coaching staff for a new job, one unsightly mark obscures what he accomplished during two seasons as running backs coach.

Mitchell is the first Redskins assistant to notify the team that he won't be returning next season and says he has accepted the head coaching job at Southern University. He was planning to make the long drive to Baton Rouge, La., Monday night with the knowledge that he never got running back Clinton Portis to achieve his potential as a Redskin.

"That's the only disappointment that I'll have. The fact that I couldn't persuade Clinton to do it a different way," Mitchell said Monday. "I want Clinton to be the best back in the league. But in order for that to happen, you have to prepare for it. But I don't know if that's what Clinton wants to do."

It'll be a matter for a new position coach, reportedly Bobby Turner, one of Shanahan's long-time assistants in Denver and long considered one of the league's top running backs coaches. The Redskins have offered Turner the title of associate head coach, according to the Denver Post, a key reason the Broncos decided to allow him to interview in Washington after initially declining the Redskins' request. Turner was an assistant for 15 years in Denver, where he coached six running backs, including Portis, who posted 1,000-yard seasons.

Portis's future in Washington could be one of the most pressing decisions that new head coach Mike Shanahan and Turner must make. Portis is coming off a concussion that ended his year midway through the season and is dogged by serious questions about his abilities. By Week 1 of the 2010 season, Portis will be 29 and he has had just one 100-yard rushing game in his last 13.

Asked if Portis's practice habits and offseason conditioning have held him back, Mitchell said: "That's a slam dunk. Clinton could've worked harder."

"He's got to do that," Mitchell continued, "and [owner Daniel Snyder] has to understand that that's what has to be done. In order for the Redskins to be successful, that's what Clinton has to do. He has to change the way he's done things in the past in order for them to be successful as a team."

Mitchell made clear his comments didn't stem from any animosity -- "I love Clinton," he said, "trust me" -- and noted that he thinks Portis can again perform like the running back who posted 1,500-yard seasons in his first two years in the league.

"Those days are not behind Clinton, if he prepares, in my opinion," Mitchell said. "Others may see it differently."

Portis has worked with just two running backs coaches since joining the Redskins in 2004. Mitchell's concerns echo those voiced by his predecessor, Earnest Byner, before the 2008 season.

"He does have some growing to do as far as his approach to practice, preparation, conditioning, being able to work through injuries during practice -- all of those things, at least when I was there," said Byner, now the Tennessee Titans' running backs coach. "I knew him as a guy who needed to have a different approach to the game. . . . Everybody should be held, everybody should hold themselves, to a certain standard. You get a lot of people who don't, you also need to understand how that dynamic affects the entire picture, not just the individual."

At his introductory news conference last week, Shanahan made no commitments to Portis or any other players, but made clear that he thinks proper offseason conditioning is vital for a veteran running back.

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