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Washington Redskins offseason: With Mike Shanahan at helm, coaches and players believe culture has changed

The Washington Post's LaVar Arrington, Dan Steinberg, Rick Maese and Jonathan Forsythe discuss the Redskins' draft priorities beyond quarterback and debate whether the team can trade Albert Haynesworth in the offseason.

In Washington's case, there was a protocol issue, too. Each week, for most of his two seasons as the Redskins' head coach, Jim Zorn met for lunch on Fridays with Snyder in the owner's office. Vinny Cerrato, then the organization's top football executive, frequently joined them. The discussion was almost always simple: What was the game plan for that week? How could they attack a specific opponent? Who might be featured on offense?

In December 2009, when Snyder hired Bruce Allen as the general manager - replacing Cerrato - those lunches ended, at Allen's behest. The thinking, Snyder said last year, was that Allen believed the proper line of communication was from head coach to general manager to owner. Though Shanahan, Zorn's replacement as coach, is effectively the top football executive in the organization - he carries the title of executive vice president as well - the flow of communication remains the same. Snyder, Shanahan said, isn't consulted on personnel decisions, much less game plans.

"He told me when I got the job that, hey, he wanted to hire a guy that would go out there and make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization," Shanahan said, "and that we will make some mistakes, but don't be afraid. And if you do make a mistake, hey, don't be afraid to admit it and move on. Don't try to cover it. That's the way I told him I've been, and he said, 'Hey, that's the way I want it.' "

There is little debate that the signature mistake of the Redskins' 2010 season involved McNabb - whether it was trading two draft picks to Philadelphia for him, or declining to tailor the offense to better suit his skills, or somehow failing to get him to perform to the level that made him a six-time Pro Bowler with the Eagles. Shanahan considered the decision to bench the 12-year veteran for weeks. He did not, he said, seek the owner's input.

"You know what?" Shanahan said in his office on Dec. 17, the day he announced Rex Grossman would replace McNabb. "I haven't talked to him about this. I've talked to Bruce, and Bruce has communication, but you're so busy during the week getting ready for football that unless he's walking by or out at practice, you don't get a chance."

Haynesworth, though, was an exception. Because Snyder and Cerrato had pursued Haynesworth prior to the 2009 season - signing him to a contract that included $41 million in guaranteed money - Shanahan said he felt a "responsibility" to speak with Snyder about how he handled the defensive tackle.

But the driving force behind Haynesworth's rift with the organization was undoubtedly Shanahan. During that initial meeting, Haynesworth told Shanahan that some of his lackluster play came because he was banged-up or sore.

"You can recover quicker," Shanahan said he told him. "You can play a complete game. If you're in shape, you'll be the best player at your position in the league. But you've gotten away with not being in great shape."

From Haynesworth's chafing against the Redskins' move to a 3-4 base defense - which led him to skip all of the team's offseason workouts - to Shanahan's refusal to allow Haynesworth to practice until he passed a conditioning test, to, eventually, the suspension, the marriage between coach and player did not work. But even as the season slipped away with four straight losses in November and December, several prominent Redskins said they believed in the direction of the organization - something they hadn't been able to say in the past.

"It's totally different this year," tight end Chris Cooley said following a Dec. 5 drubbing against the Giants. "We're absolutely in the right direction. I have no question in our coaching staff and their ability to lead this team."

"It's a no-nonsense kind of ship," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said as the season ended. "I don't think a lot of us was out to dinner and hanging out with him, so we didn't really learn a lot about him personally. But just the way he is as a coach, man. It's a performance business. . . You got to warrant either that money you're getting or whatever, or you're gone. That's the bottom line. I think a lot of guys' eyes were opened."

Headed into next season, the Redskins will almost certainly need a new quarterback to replace McNabb. They must find a solution along the defensive line - either by getting Haynesworth to perform or finding a willing trading partner. They have several other personnel holes on both sides of the ball, and only one draft and one free agency period to fill them if they are to make the playoffs in 2011.

But as the season wound down, Shanahan sat behind his desk, from which he can see a whiteboard that reflects the constantly churning depth chart of the entire Washington organization. He was asked if he is closer to winning a championship than on the day he arrived, on the day he sat down his most expensive player and told him things would be different.

"Oh, there's no question," Shanahan said quickly. "I've got an owner - that's his goal. And he's given me the opportunity to do it the right way. . .

"The organizations that I've been in that have been in trouble over the years is when they don't admit their mistakes. They make a mistake, and they keep on trying to cover for it for three or four years, telling people how smart they were for doing it. Well, if it's not working out, it's not working out."

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