Next to Joe Gibbs, Mike Shanahan doesn't look out of place

Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, left, and new Coach Mike Shanahan appeared together at Redskins Park on Wednesday.
Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, left, and new Coach Mike Shanahan appeared together at Redskins Park on Wednesday. (Ricky Carioti/the Washington Post)
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By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, March 18, 2010

As Mike Shanahan and Joe Gibbs stood side-by-side at Redskins Park on Wednesday, they reminisced about the only time they had met as head coaches, back in 2005 when the Redskins lost, 21-19, to the Broncos in Denver.

"We were trailing, had to go for two points; it was raining, just classic, both teams battling their guts out," Gibbs said. Then the former Redskins coach remembered the outcome of the game. "I'm not sure I ever beat you in anything," Gibbs said to Shanahan.

"I still remember those 28 points in the second quarter," said Shanahan, referring to the Redskins' victory in Super Bowl XXII over a Broncos team on which Shanahan was an assistant coach. (And yes, it was 35 points.)

That was the scene the Redskins staged for their fans and media: a mutual-congratulation feast meant to link the best of the team's past with its highest hopes for the future. That's valid. Recently, the Redskins have shown signs of wanting to change their ways and mend some fences.

But more explicitly, placing Shanahan beside Gibbs shows how hard it is to fix a team that has become a major mess. Gibbs won three Super Bowls, but when he came back to town in '04, even he couldn't accomplish the task.

Gibbs inherited Steve Spurrier's 5-11 disaster, and in four years, despite the money owner Daniel Snyder threw at problems, Joe still had a losing record. Gibbs got almost every player he asked for as well as new coordinators on both sides of the ball. By the end, all he had to do was orchestrate. But still, when he retired abruptly after '07, he left behind a half-repaired team.

Once an NFL team has been truly broken, as the Redskins were the past two years under Jim Zorn, former general manager Vinny Cerrato and Snyder, it takes years to mend.

These days, the Redskins are trying to re-brand themselves in the minds of their disgruntled fan base. Who better to be general manager than Bruce Allen, whose father led the team to its first Super Bowl? Shanahan had the best résumé of the glamour coaches who returned to the NFL this year, so grab him. Gibbs's arrival Wednesday, for a banquet for his Youth for Tomorrow charity, was another benediction on the Redskins' latest fresh start.

"Like all of us who are Redskin fans -- and I'm Fan No. 1 now -- I'm all excited," said Gibbs. "Dan did a great job in hiring Mike. He's a proven product in the NFL.

"I wanted to let Mike know what I thought he had in Dan. He has a burning desire to win. He's one of the owners that pays a price. I never had any excuses."

So, back to you, Mike: Perfect owner, great city, insane fans, unlimited budget, no excuses (and a 4-12 team). Have fun.

"You embrace those standards that Joe set," said Shanahan, adding that Redskins fans "expect perfection."

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