By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; 12:07 AM
Who do you think is going to win the contest of wills between Albert Haynesworth and Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan? The guy who once played a football game with a ruptured kidney and didn't go to the hospital until he filled a sink with vomit three times and urinated bright red blood - or the guy who felt a little faint and headachy and spit up when he got out of the hot tub? The guy with the Super Bowl rings and a record of refusing to put up with malcontents who don't get with the program? Or the guy with the energy and motivation of an aspic, whose most animated feature is his mouth, unless it's those snakes in his head?
Haynesworth has flunked every test of fitness and dedication that Shanahan has issued so far - and the tests weren't that hard. He was merely asked to do the following: get in real shape, run some shuttle sprints, practice consistently, and divert some of his colossal commitment to himself toward a group effort. He couldn't do any of it. He flunked the sprints, developed a condition called rhabdomyolysis probably because of severe muscle strain or dehydration, and played exactly two partial, undistinguished, half-effort preseason games with the second team before he threw a tantrum in which he accused the team of minimizing his ailments and basically said, "I'm so special I don't have to earn it." His exact words were, "I'm a ninth-year pro. I don't think I should have been out there in the third quarter." You know what I think? A ninth-year pro should have figured out how to train and hydrate by now without a team trainer handing him a bottle with a nipple.
Before Haynesworth makes a cringe-worthy fool of himself in public again, perhaps he should read the biography of his head coach. This is a man so committed that as a college quarterback he nearly killed himself playing in the spring game at Eastern Illinois, when he stayed on the field despite a spearing hit that shoved his kidney behind his spine and split it open. Shanahan passed out, his vital signs quit, his heart stopped beating for half a minute, and a priest gave him last rites. When the doctors finally told him he would live after five days being unconscious, he was less happy to survive than crushed to learn his career was over.
Shanahan's insistence that Haynesworth get himself into "football shape" isn't some head game he's playing. It's not some ruse to recoup Haynesworth's $21 million offseason bonus check, or some petty little punitive measure by a martinet. It's a matter of non-negotiable, foundational values to Shanahan. To know that, all you have to do is read just a few pages of Shanahan's book, "Think Like a Champion." In fact, just read the dedication. It's to his wife, Peggy. You might expect a love note. Instead, it thanks her for her "commitment, dedication, and sacrifice." Apparently the head coach's wife has more of those qualities than the highest paid member of the Redskins defense. Shanahan can't stand for that - and he won't.
Shanahan is not asking Haynesworth to play until he bleeds internally. He simply asked him to do those fundamental things NFL champions do: shape up, and buy in. Haynesworth is trying to cast Shanahan as an over-demanding Machiavellian, and no doubt Shanahan has some of those qualities, as all NFL coaches do. But that's not the real dynamic here.
Haynesworth's illness last week, which caused him to sit out practice with nausea and dizziness, is nothing to minimize - it was potentially dangerous and a good thing it was caught. But it's also a sign that Haynesworth didn't report fit, and perhaps that he cut corners. Shanahan's on-field training camp workouts have been demanding but not unreasonable, and he has clearly tried to give players adequate rest and protection.
Talk to Shanahan's former players and they'll tell you he is uncompromising but not uncompassionate. The players he has issues with are those who lack deep-seated commitment. His methods are calculated to expose them, and push them, but they aren't calculated to run people out the door. Those who yield to him and follow his program have usually been rewarded with rings and Pro Bowls, without suffering a loss of dignity. Look at Clinton Portis. Or Shannon Sharpe. Or Trevor Pryce.
Haynesworth should take the trouble to read in Shanahan's book about his conflict with Pryce, his star defensive tackle in Denver. Pryce, a first-round draft choice for the Broncos in 1997, drew Shanahan's ire when he was continually late, which Shanahan considered "completely disrespectful." Shanahan fined him to the tune of about $15,000, but Pryce continued to be a problem. Then Pryce missed a team flight in a snowstorm one Saturday in October of '97 for a road game with the Buffalo Bills. Denver was socked with about 22 inches of snow. Other players managed to fight their way to the team facility through the storm. Shanahan watched them come in the doors crusted in ice. Some guys even rode on snowmobiles to get there. Everyone made it except for Pryce, who didn't answer his phone, and missed the flight.
At the end of the season, Shanahan told Pryce if he didn't change his ways he'd be out of a job. But Shanahan didn't stop there. Every single day during the offseason, Shanahan had coaches call Pryce and harass him. "What time are you going to be here Trevor?" a coach would say. The next day the phone would ring off the hook again. "Why weren't you here today Trevor?" Finally, according to Shanahan, Pryce got it. "He realized it was easier to do the work and be accountable than put up with the constant pressure and the barrage of phone calls from our organization. . . . He became a professional."
There are a couple of morals to that story. One is that in Shanahan's value system, highly paid stars ride on snowmobiles through two-foot snowdrifts to get to work, and anything less shows contempt to teammates. The other is that Pryce won a Super Bowl ring and made four straight Pro Bowls from 1999 on. That's what can happen when a player decides to do things Shanahan's way. Those who don't find themselves off the team, and sometimes out of the league.
One thing Shanahan can't do for a player is prevent him from committing career suicide. Haynesworth had a reputation as a terrible diva by the time he left the Tennessee Titans, and only the silliness of the Redskins owner brought him here at such a price and empowered him. We've all wanted to believe in a better Haynesworth, but it's become apparent that he is discontented and complaining, and is bent on ruining his value in the league. He's the worst cliche of a head case - he demands respect instead of earns it, and lately he has cast himself as that most pitiable of things, a perpetual victim. We are supposed to see him as the casualty of the corporate machine, fighting to protect himself from the cold-hearted mechanistic coach, who tortures him with treadmills? Please.
A nine-year veteran as talented and well-compensated as Haynesworth should be a locker room leader, a setter of habits and maker of manners. Instead he has preferred to play the petulant locker room brat. It's not too late for Haynesworth to become the responsible, self-determined, durable professional the Redskins need him to be. But the only way it will happen is Shanahan's way. Haynesworth has tried it his way, and all it did was make him sick.