Donovan McNabb was the toy Kyle Shanahan never wanted

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 12:54 AM

Whether you've behaved like an apostle of the coach or an apologist for the quarterback the past four months, we can all agree on one thing: Mike Shanahan's most substantial personnel decision has become a colossal mistake, costing the Washington Redskins draft picks and a botched, wasted experiment of a season.

Yet as they limp into Dallas on Sunday, I am beginning to seriously debate what that egregious mistake was for Shanahan: Was it trading for Donovan McNabb or hiring his 30-year-old son, Kyle, as offensive coordinator? Was it not doing due diligence on McNabb or just flat-out nepotism?

One fact is certain. Dad bought the wrong toy for young, headstrong Kyle.

That's why Rex Grossman is starting Sunday, why a locker room is divided and McNabb will soon be insultingly demoted to third string.

It all went bad in Ashburn because a father forgot to take his gifted child by the storefront window when he did some post-holiday shopping for a quarterback earlier this year.

If Mike Shanahan had, he would have found out it's doubtful Kyle Shanahan ever wanted a player like McNabb in the first place, that the moment he and Bruce Allen, the general manager, acquired McNabb without input from the new offensive coordinator, a shotgun marriage bound for divorce had been arranged.

From Kyle's days as a coach in Houston, he always thought of McNabb as a guy who telegraphed his throws, never reading coverage well enough to settle on the third, fourth or fifth receiver. When McNabb wasn't nimble enough to freelance like he had earlier in his career - and Kyle was too stubborn to just run bootleg and play-action plays for an improvisational, six-time Pro Bowler - all of the Redskins' offensive coordinator's fears had been realized.

Donovan wasn't his prototype QB. Not even close.

Actually, many of those fears came to fruition in training camp. And his father was doing his best to shield his son from criticism early, saying all the right things while having to simplify schemes as early as the second game of the season against Kyle's old team, the Texans.

I was told by a team official during the bye week that Grossman might actually start against Philadelphia, that that's what Rex was telling his former teammates in Houston.

That they waited this long only seems to have deepened the crevice between both sides.

The result: Instead of resuscitating the Redskins in the first year of Shanahan's tenure, instead of bolstering his own Hall of Fame candidacy and paving the way for his progeny to take the reins in a few years, My-Way Mike has to re-gift a disrespected Donovan and all but admit his error in judgment.

And he has to hope beyond hope that the mistreatment of McNabb doesn't cost the Redskins free agents down the road, players who would gladly take someone else's money knowing they will be at least respected as established professionals instead of practice-squad fodder.

None of this would have happened if Mike had just asked his kid what he wanted in the offseason.

And Kyle would have told him: "Thanks Dad, no. I'll take the Tonka truck instead. Or a quarterback like Matt Schaub who listens to and respects me and goes through his progressions like a Madden video quarterback should."

But at least the kid admires his father now for making what he feels is a gutsy decision - and what most of Washington and beyond believes is about as alarming as any coaching move they have seen in Washington since Jim Zorn called a fake field goal after the Giants had been shown the play before a timeout.

At least Kyle will have the chance to evaluate all those banged-up receivers he feels McNabb missed the past 13 weeks, or the offensive linemen he feels had to change their technique because of McNabb's flawed footwork.

Don't think for a minute that the coaching staff sees a godsend in Grossman, whom Kyle actually roomed with in Houston; it's about finding out what the Redskins have with three games left, because, yes, this disconnect between what Mike and Kyle wanted behind center also killed the goal most NFL rosters meet in the preseason.

Kyle is now in for some serious "If you weren't the son of" treatment.

"I've heard that my whole life," said John Thompson III, who eventually followed his father as head coach at Georgetown. "The only reason he made the high school team was because his father is the coach of Georgetown. The only reason he got into Princeton is because his father is the coach of Georgetown. The only reason he's playing . . .

"That's just how it is. I'm sure this isn't the first time [Kyle] has heard that. It's been my whole life no matter what I do. At some point somebody's going to say, 'That's just because he's the son of . . .' "

From the moment he hired Kyle, Mike Shanahan had to know, inevitably, it would come to this: that in the choice between blood and business, blood would always win out, that upsetting the locker room at work does not carry the same weight as ruining Christmas dinner at home.

Unless they ended up a bona fide playoff team, any major discord between the player and the progeny would end with his son winning out, getting what he wanted.

In that way, after yet another ruinous season - yet another delay in the Redskins' return to respectability, Donovan McNabb never had a chance.

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