Mike Shanahan's benching of Donovan McNabb is completely dumb

The Washington Post's John Feinstein breaks down the team's loss to the Detroit Lions.
By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 1:40 AM

Sometimes very smart people do very dumb things. That's the only way you can explain Mike Shanahan's benching of Donovan McNabb . Shanahan, by any measure, knows what he's doing when it comes to coaching professional football, which is why he owns two Super Bowl rings.

But benching McNabb is completely dumb. Bringing in Rex "Pick Six" Grossman to relieve your starter, a guy you traded for, is stunningly dumb. Telling people that you went to Grossman because he knows the two-minute offense better is even dumber. And believing it, if you actually do, is the dumbest thing yet.

It can't possibly be smart to stand up after a game and tell the entire football world that with a game on the line - the Redskins were down six points at the time - you have no faith in your starting quarterback but that you trust a guy who essentially hasn't played in two years, a guy who behind a dreadful offensive line has the same chance of thriving as crabs in a barrel. If you have Kerry Collins on your bench, okay, make the change. If you've drafted a young QB-in-waiting, like the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb, and you want to see what your future starter is going to do in a pressure situation, fine, bench McNabb. Even if you have Jeff Garcia, do it. If you've got Michael Vick trying to make a comeback, go for it. But that's not the Redskins' situation at quarterback, is it?

It's okay to make a dumb mistake. Who hasn't made one? Even the greatest basketball coaches in history sometimes step to the microphone and say, "I blew that one, fellas." Football coaches? Not so much. Something in the culture apparently forbids them from doing what Shanahan should have done Monday, which is simply say, "I got it wrong. I blew it. It was the heat of the moment, Donovan hadn't played well at all, and I overreacted by going to Rex." That's what Shanahan should have said, which would have served his team well going into the bye week.

Instead, Shanahan offered up more nonsense, some junk about Grossman being in better cardiovascular condition, a fairly lame defense, if you will. Hell, if fabulous cardio is the No. 1 criteria for being the quarterback of the Redskins, Shanahan ought to be in Kenya looking to bring back a distance runner.

He also said something about strained hamstrings. If it turns out McNabb is more injured than we have known, then I will be first in line to give Shanahan his due, but that's not what we're looking at here.

Look, I've long ago declared my bias toward McNabb and I'm not going to spin away from it now. McNabb, though, hasn't played all that well and has said so. He wasn't particularly effective Sunday in Detroit, either. And indications are now that the Shanahans, father and son, don't much like the way McNabb prepares for games. Mike's assertion makes it sound like McNabb is some dummy, an ominous characterization he'd better be careful about, lest he run into some cultural trouble in greater Washington, D.C.

It's entirely possible that the reason the Eagles traded McNabb was that they sensed he was on the downside, approaching 34 years of age. Shanahan, of course, is completely free to say McNabb's not what he thought he was getting and that he wants another quarterback. It happens.

On the other hand, with McNabb at quarterback the Redskins have already won as many games, four, as the team did all last season. Tony Dungy, who knows a thing or two about handling quarterbacks and locker rooms, closed the door on any argument in favor of benching McNabb Sunday night when he said on NBC's "Football Night in America," "This is not about the two-minute drill. You're in a situation where you can win the ballgame with one drive and you're saying Donovan McNabb is not the guy to be in there on that drive? Whether he knows it or not he's sending a bad message to his team about McNabb."

I'm not about to become revisionist and say that Shanahan wasn't a good hire. I thought he was at the time and still do. But the one reservation I had then is really nagging me now. Shanahan, like any terrific coach, has great belief in himself, in his philosophies and schemes. He's been at this a long time and he's allowed to make a mistake now and then without the whole world crashing around him. But sometimes, in any profession, the best people go way past confident to arrogant.

Mike and Kyle Shanahan may have film on Grossman and the two-minute offense but I've got satellite TV in my house, too. I don't need the coaches' tape to recognize six going the other way, which is what Grossman has specialized in for years. No amount of justification is going to make subbing Grossman for McNabb the right move or even a smart move.

So now, halfway through the season you've got Shanahan having humiliated Albert Haynesworth, a guy who could be under the right circumstances the Redskins' most valuable defensive player, and now the quarterback he himself had to have picked.

If the Shanahans think Grossman is so superior in cardiovascular preparation and in the running of the two-minute offense that he gives them such a great chance to win, then go ahead and put Grossman out there full-time as the starter. I dare them. They're bluffing.

They're not that dumb at all because it will cost them their jobs, justifiably. But they sure had a bad day at the office Sunday, whether or not they're willing to admit it.

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