Redskins' Donovan McNabb and Kyle Shanahan work together amid struggles
Monday, November 15, 2010; 12:50 AM
When the Washington Redskins' offensive players settle into a meeting room to go over the game plan for an upcoming opponent, Coach Mike Shanahan - who has a reputation as an offensive mastermind - is most often absent. The man running those offensive strategy sessions, the one responsible for installing the game plan and conveying how to execute it, is Kyle Shanahan, the 30-year-old son of the head coach and the Redskins' first-year offensive coordinator.
"It's his meeting," Mike Shanahan said.
Kyle Shanahan is not, players and coaches say, just a pawn for the head coach, a pliable figure to be molded in his father's image and carry out his father's bidding. He is in his seventh year as a coach in the NFL, his third as a coordinator. Though Mike Shanahan made the now-infamous move to sit quarterback Donovan McNabb in the waning moments of an Oct. 31 loss at Detroit, it is Kyle who has as much influence on McNabb as anyone in the Redskins' organization, regardless of whether he shares a surname with his boss.
"I expected to come here and be the offensive coordinator," Kyle Shanahan said. "Don't think I would have if I wasn't going to be that. And he's letting me be the offensive coordinator."
Since McNabb was pulled from the Detroit game - down by six points with 1 minute 50 seconds left - there has been increasing focus on McNabb's relationship with Mike Shanahan, the man who traded for him in April. But McNabb's more intense, day-to-day interactions come with Kyle, the youngest offensive coordinator in the NFL and one of only three - along with Minnesota's Darrell Bevell and Seattle's Jeremy Bates - who are younger than the quarterback who runs the offense.
The pairing of McNabb and Kyle Shanahan has not yet resulted in success. Entering Monday night's crucial game against the Philadelphia Eagles, McNabb's former team, the Redskins rank 19th in the NFL in net yards per game. Only four teams have scored fewer than the Redskins' 13 touchdowns from scrimmage.
"We haven't been clicking as well as we want to and as well as we need to," McNabb said.
Even before McNabb's benching, both Shanahans and the quarterback described the offense's development - or lack thereof - as a "process." Now, though, there will be increased scrutiny in how that process is progressing. As McNabb said last week, "We've hashed out a lot of things." But both coordinator and quarterback are balancing two contradictory forces: The need to be patient as McNabb gets more comfortable with a system that's new to him, and the need to excel immediately.
"I want to win," Kyle Shanahan said. "I think that's what we're paid to do. I think I'm realistically patient. But I'm a pretty competitive guy, and I should be. I want things now."
The son comes aboard
When Mike Shanahan took over the Redskins in January, one of his swiftest moves was hiring the offensive coordinator away from the Houston Texans. When he was the head coach in Denver, Shanahan thought it was important that his son - a former walk-on wide receiver at the University of Texas - prove himself elsewhere before he came to work for his father. Kyle Shanahan's Texans led the NFL in passing yards and ranked fourth in total offense in 2009, and Mike Shanahan deemed him ready to move on.
That does not mean he hired him without some trepidation.
"You think you have an idea," Mike Shanahan said. "But until you work with your son, you really don't know for sure."