The Redskins couldn't make Albert Haynesworth care
Get this straight: there is no "managing" Albert Haynesworth. There is no way to make this guy perform. No amount of coaxing, or cute psychological ploys, can make him play hard for the Redskins. No concession can soothe his swollen ego, and no scheme will make him happy. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan was absolutely right to suspend Haynesworth without pay for the last four games of the season. It was that, or become his doormat.
This week, Haynesworth turned in one of his worst practices to date. It was so bad that Shanahan called him into his office. "We've got to pick up the pace," Shanahan warned Haynesworth. "To give yourself a chance to play well on the weekend, you have to have a better practice." Now, you might expect one of the highest paid defensive players in the NFL to bear down, what with the playoffs on the line. Instead, Haynesworth was unresponsive. The next day, guess what? He didn't practice at all. He said he felt sick.
The Haynesworth apologists will say there are two sides to this story. But there aren't. There is only one: Haynesworth is the very definition of "conduct detrimental to the team." He's a daily affront to every dedicated player in the locker room, out to do the least amount of work while collecting the most amount of money. He cheats on his contract and he cheats his teammates. Indolence is written all over him, and so is insubordination.
"Let's be honest, this is an easy decision," Shanahan said in a phone interview Tuesday evening. "This isn't even hard. When I get rid of a guy, I do it because it's in the best interest of the team, and I consider everybody."
Haynesworth's agent, Chad Speck, claims the reasons the Redskins have given for the suspension "are vague and without merit." Actually, we've seen the reasons, time and again, all over the big screen. We've all seen Haynesworth riding carts off the field with a towel on his head, or resting on one knee. We all saw him lying face down in the grass and refusing to get up against the Philadelphia Eagles, while the play was still going on. We saw the picture of him in the Tap Room late Thursday night, when he was well enough to have a drink.
We heard him railing against his coaches, because they don't "use" him right. It hasn't mattered whether the coach is Shanahan or Jim Zorn, whether the defensive coordinator is Greg Blache or Jim Haslett, whether the alignment is a 3-4 or a 4-3.
The list of things Haynesworth won't do is long. He won't attend voluntary offseason workouts. He won't attend mandatory minicamp, either. He won't play in the base 3-4 defense. He has told Shanahan he doesn't want to play in the nickel package on first or second downs. "And the reason he doesn't want to play in those situations is, he wants to play in passing situations, not running situations," Shanahan says. "I've never had a player say anything like that to me before." In fact, if Shanahan yielded to all of Haynesworth's refusals and preferences, he would play no more than 12 or 15 downs.
Shanahan's critics believe he is too much of a "my way" coach, and that he should have found a way to compromise with Haynesworth. But Shanahan says he has been trying to work with Haynesworth since the offseason, when he sat down with him to watch videotape of his performances from the previous year. "I wanted to give him every opportunity to be great," Shanahan says. What Shanahan saw on film was that in one out of every three plays when Haynesworth was on the field, he gave subpar effort. "You aren't giving the effort we need to win," Shanahan told him frankly. "If we're going to win a championship, I have to get you playing much harder than you played."
If Shanahan has been uncompromising, Haynesworth's flagging half-hearted effort all season has hardly met him halfway. In eight games this year, Haynesworth had 21 tackles and 21/2 sacks.
Redskins observers can judge for themselves whether Shanahan has asked too much of Haynesworth. What's more important is the judgment of other Redskins players. And it's not good. Trent Williams played on Sunday with a hurt shoulder. Phillip Daniels practiced all week even though he was sick. Haynesworth was well enough to go out late Thursday night, yet too sick to practice Friday? And then - miracles! - well enough to want to play on Sunday? They don't buy it. It's not often you hear teammates unload on a fellow player, but to listen to Haynesworth's teammates, they sound sick to death of him.
"If I can come out and do this, don't tell me you can't do it," Daniels said after the Giants loss. ". . . If you ain't all in, you don't need to be here. I'm tired of going through season after season where we lose games we should win, guys not doing the right thing, guys not putting the effort in. I'm tired of that."
"In the NFL as a player, you want to be respected by your teammates, that's all you can ask for," Vonnie Holliday told ESPN. "And right now, he doesn't have that respect because a lot of times it seems like he's playing for himself. He doesn't buy into the team concept."
From the moment he arrived in Washington, Haynesworth has expected to be cooled with palm fronds and fed another grape. He has been consistently uncooperative, refused to practice hard, argued with his coaches. And we all know the reason why, deep down. He doesn't care. He would be just as happy if the Redskins cut or released him next season, so he can move on down the river, like Cleopatra's barge, to plunder another community.
"I've been doing this a long time and one thing you know is you want players committed to your team," Shanahan says. "Playing for each other, and not for themselves. Playing to do the best they can to help the team win. They're all different. Some won't practice when they're feeling bad, and some will. Some will give you everything on every play. And it's my job to make sure to put best team together, people who are committed to each other. The teams I've been on that won Super Bowls, that won championships, they have one thing in common. They knew how to win, and the team was made up of the right people."