'Mike Shanahan Show' offers little to entertain Washington Redskins fans

By Leonard Shapiro
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 9:40 PM

Mike Shanahan has provided a glimmer of hope for long-suffering Redskins fans with his no-nonsense, I'm-totally-in-charge approach heading into the season- opening game against Dallas on Sunday night. Judging from the deadly dull debut of his weekly coach's show on Channel 4 last Saturday, that may also be the mantra for his television work, as well.

We were spoiled over many years of Redskins head coaches being quizzed on WRC-Channel 4 by the late George Michael, who never had any qualms about bantering with, needling or annoying the likes of Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier or Joe Gibbs. At the same time, he also was asking pointedly tough questions when the occasion called for serious inquisition. With Sonny Jurgensen also frequently in that mix, those sessions were often both enlightening and entertaining.

The same could not be said for the premiere of Shanahan's show on the so-called official station of the Washington Redskins, despite the luminescent presence of at least one of the two co-hosts, Lindsay Czarniak. The WRC sportscaster lights up any television screen she happens to grace, even if she did seem just a tad intimidated in the presence of the team's new head coach on the opening show.

Czarniak's partner on the "Mike Shanahan Show" is Larry Michael, the team's radio play-by-play voice who is on the club payroll as the executive producer of the Redskins Broadcast Network, with paychecks signed by Daniel Snyder. As the team's executive vice president and head coach, Shanahan also is one of his bosses. It's a situation that hardly seems conducive to vigorous questioning from Michael on the coach's TV show, particularly when major issues arise or, heaven forbid, the team starts losing football games.

I have always respected Michael's play-by-play skills going way back to long before he became an employee of the Redskins. I also was highly critical of the team when it pushed local institution and fan favorite Frank Herzog out the door. But that had far more to do with the way that dismissal was handled than anything concerning Michael's competence in doing the same job.

Truth be told, Czarniak surely could handle Shanahan's show by herself, or with another sidekick from her own station (Dan Hellie), or even a former player with no current ties to the football team. It would be nice to have Shanahan loosen up a little, smile more and yes, occasionally even show a flash of temper. Otherwise, in the current format, it's one of the longest 30-minute snoozefests in local TV history.

There are other ways to liven it up. An occasional three- or four-minute feature on a player, assistant coach or other staff member would be nice. Once the games start to mean something, maybe they'll show more highlights. A chalk talk from the coach to explain a key play would be illuminating, as would the occasional behind-the curtain, "Hard Knocks"-like glimpse at Shanahan in action during practice or a team meeting.

Then again, Shanahan seems to come from the old-school head-coach method of media relations. I found it somewhat ironic that the Channel 4 set had Shanahan sitting in a chair in front of a montage of old photographs, with similarly tight-lipped George Allen's face clearly visible just over his left shoulder.

Allen, a coach I covered as a Redskins' beat reporter for six years, was a master of non- or even occasionally dis-information. After a summer of watching Shanahan sound bites on local sportscasts and reading transcripts of his news conferences after games and practices, he's definitely a close-to-the-vest guy who watches every word, often communicates in classic, clichéd coach-speak and very rarely lets his guard down.

Last Saturday night's debut show began with Czarniak and Michael lobbing Shanahan some softball questions right from the start. The first, from Czarniak, wondered whether he had been able to "accomplish the standard you set out to establish" when he first took the job.

Did she or anyone else think the coach was going to say no?

In a preseason when Albert Haynesworth became a huge story for all the obvious reasons, not one question was asked about him in the show's opening 10-minute segment. After the first commercial break, Czarniak finally did ask Shanahan why he had played him so long against Arizona in the final preseason game.

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