Ask Boswell: Mike Shanahan, Redskins, Gilbert Arenas suspension, MLB Hall of Fame and more

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, Jan. 7 to talk about the Redskins hiring Mike Shanahan as head coach, Gilbert Arenas's suspension, the BCS championship, the latest baseball Hall of Fame selections, the MLB offseason and more.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives

Boswell Column Archives


Arlington, Va.: Mr. Boswell:

I think Gilbert Arenas is great. I love his play, love that he's a goofball, love that he's different from so many milquetoast professional athletes, and I wish that he would have a long and successful career with the Wizards. I'm also a gun owner. And despite my previous statements, there is absolutely no such thing as a joke involving a gun, loaded or unloaded. It's not funny. (Imagine what would happen if you did the same in the Washington Post offices.) If I'm Stern, I'm suspending Arenas and Crittendon for the remainder of the season. And if I'm managing the Wizards, both of them are off my team.

Tom Boswell: I hear you. As one NBA cach was quoted this a.m. in the Post, Arenas just pulled off "the ultimate screwup."

Not the ultimate crime or bad action, just the ultimate in making a normal situation -- somebody is mad at you about a card game -- into an unnecessary crisis, then, after the stuff hits the fan, doing absolutely everything wrong so that an outcome worse than anybody could have imagined is achieved. "The Photo" in the Post from Philly of Gilbert pretending to shoot his teammates is the most amazing example of a $100-million athlete, living in a parrallel universe from the rest of us, exploding his own career.

I doubt he'll ever play another game for the Wiz. I would never want him back. And this is from somebody, who along with my college senior son, havereally, really enjoyed Arenas and though he was a delightful quick-witted goof. In person in interviews, he'd very quick and bright. This runs deeper. Mike Wise nailed another fine column on Gil Psych 101 the other day.

I'm afraid I'm a bit ultra-sensitive about gun issues. I grew up in N.E., D.C. where they were a problem from the time I was a child. I was an NRA rifle instructor at one point, teaching kids how to use guns safely and my grandfather loved to hunt quail, etc., in Delaware, so he always taught me gun safety. Of course, Gil's problem isn't "gun safety," it is the inability to demonstarte an iota of common sense or a particle of self-restraint. That is part of the Superstar Syndrome.


Norfolk, Va.: Boz-

Shannahan indicated that he would examine personnel first, then match the philosophy accordingly. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Redskins' offensive line is built for power football and not for a zone blocking scheme. What do you think he's going to do? Try to completely overhaul an offensive line that's obviously ill-suited to his beloved offense? Not one of the five starters is suited!

Tom Boswell: The problem may be even deeper than that. Aside from Dockery, who do you have to build with who'll be a quality player in '10-'11. Rabach will be 33 in September. Thomas says he's comng back, but he said that this year and lasted five minutes. Gibbs inherited a fine power blocking line in Jansen, Samuels, Dockery and Thomas. That's always been the Skins style. And when you add a Heyer you sure aren't going for "nimble." Part of the reason Shanahan went for smaller, quicker offensive lines in Denver was that the mile-high altitude wore out ultra-big linemen. I asked him about that yesterday. He said his O-line drafting/trading starategies wouldn't change at sea level, though plenty of coaches think it's a big deal. "But I am breathing a little easier," he joked.

It's a big switch from the types of linemen -- both size and technique -- in Dener to the NFC East. Even before Mike was head coach, in the Redskins last Super Bowl win, remember how the huge Gibbs line blew the Broncos off the ball so Timmy Smith could run wild and Williams had tons of time to pass.

On the other hand, Shanahan is football-brilliant. And O-line is one of the things he's best at. So, in the Redskins biggest area of total weakness, he's probably the best available coach to deal with it. Also, Joe Bugel will presumably retire, so Shanny can do it his way.


Annanandale, Va.: I'm not convinced that Shanahan and Allen are right people for the job, especially if Shanahan is the one that picked Allen.

I would rather have gone with the next Mike Tomlin or other young hot shot and see what happens.

At least Shanahan gets to pick his own assistants. After Gibbs it was a disaster in hiring coordinators and not having coach have input. Not too many coaches would agree to that scenario.

Tom Boswell: Snyder has never picked a coach who was younger than 54 (Zorn). All the others were 57 or older when they became coach. Snyder doesn't run in those "young coach" circles. He has effectively ignored the potential head coaching pool from 30-to-55 years old. That eliminates a ton of talent. Of course, if Shanahan doesn't work out (though I think he will do fine), maybe Dan can try a 29-year-old coach next.


Simpsonville, S.C.: Mr. Boswell,

do you think we will see the end of Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall now that Mike Shanahan has arrived to bring discipline to the organization. I realize they are just two of our problems, but they are ME-first players with big mouths and small interception numbers.

Tom Boswell: Those are two players who, along with Santana and of course Portis and Haynesworth, have a star attitude. Smoot and Cooley are, maybe, in between -- like the spotlight and play to it hard, but not really "me" guys in my book. Thomas and Davis also had too much of it for rookies, but got better last season. The other side of the locker room, so to speak, is epitomized by the "adults" and high character types, most of whom Gibbs brought in, like Griffin, Fletcher, Campbell, Betts, Daniels, Carter, Samuels, Thomas, Rabach, Sellers, Randle El, Orapko (old beyond his years). It was quite a split-personality locker room. Once Portis disappearedit is no coincidence that the team played vastly better for the next five games, until they just wore out physically (and emotionally from all the controversies). That's easier to see in hindsight. But the improved play as soon as Portis was subtracted is now another reason not to worry about getting rid of him if he doesn't 100 percent buy into the New Boss and tone his act down almost entirely. Portis' 10,000-word rant on the John Thompson Show -- see Steinberg's bog for transcripts in about three parts -- was one of the most damaging self-destructive revelations of poor team character that I've ever seen. And he drags Snyder down with him. Portis denies charges on Mr. Snyder's behalf that have barely even been made public -- that he talks to the team after wins, but never loses, that Portis sits with him and talks during practice, that they met and discuss what Portis thinks about the team, that Snyder high-hats players who aren't stars and barely acknowledges them. It's amazing to see Portis defending his owner against stuff, some of which, even I hadn't heard. And I thought I'd heard every Snyder (and Peter Angelos) story in existence.


Gainesville, Va.: Tom, What is your opinion of Jerry Gray vs. Mike Zimmer (Cincinatti defensive coordinator)? Should Shanahan seriously consider Gray for DC given all of the interview drama in the last two weeks or should he make a complete break from the Zorn staff and go out and get a guy like Zimmer? I, for one, like Zimmer's aggressive defense as opposed to cornerbacks playing 10-12 yards off the ball and linebackers taking 10 yard drops on a 3rd and 5. We need a defense that gets the opposing offense off the field on 3rd down and causes turnovers. Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: First, Blache is gone. DeAngelo Hall said so the other day: "Greg doesn't want to coach any more." I think Gray will keep his current job but not be defensive coordinator because the Skins "owe" him for interviewing behind the current of a sitting coach. It's been done before and what was his choice? "No, I won't do it." Also, Gray's position players really like him and think he does a good job. Of course, considering how ofetn the Redskins got beaten deep this year, Shanahan may not agee. This is the technical level of schemes and X-and-Os where Shanahan is as good as anybody in this generation. If he can't evaluate Gray as a coach -- strictly on the merits -- then nobody can.


Charles Town, W. Va.: Boz,

Love the chats, thanks for doing them. My questions center on Shanahan and the draft. We keep hearing that he'll most likely take a quarterback with the 4th overall pick. My question, though, is about the left tackle prospect Okung from Okla. St. What kind of scheme do they run there -- is it a zone blocking scheme? Is Okung more of a zone blocking LT or a traditional LT? Would he be a fit in Shanahan's offensive system?

If not, I think taking a quarterback would make much more sense unless Okung would be a perfect fit for what he likes in his linemen.

Tom Boswell: Usually, I'd say that, with three "name" QBs in the draft that this is the time to use the No. 4 to get one of them. But almost no scout projects Tebow as a top NFL quarterback. Like many, I think Clausen, despite having lots of talent at WR, just lost far too many games at Notre Dame to be seen as a big winner in the NFL. I'd be glad to be wrong. As for Colt McCoy, his 8-sack (and 3 INT, I think) game against Nebraska and his last-seconds bonehead play completed the picture for me. And I'd already written here that I thought he WAS Heath Shuler. The Cornhusklers threw him around like a rag doll. Think of how tough the best NFL QBs are are at shaking off the first rusher, moving in the pocket, escaping (largely through strength by just ripping away from the first guy). McCoy is listed at 205. He sure didn't play that big. Contrast with Campbelkl, 6-5, 235, fighting his way free to scramble. So, despite his speed, McCoy scares me as a No. 4.

So, I'd be very serious about Okung. And some think that, when K.C. won on Sunday and the Skins moved up from No. 5 to No. 4, that it pout them in position to get Okung. Now, how does he fit Shanny's ideas? Monster LTs are hard to come by. Lets not get too technical. The question is, do you take a top LT -- knowing that they seldom fail, it's just aquestion of whether they are good or great -- or take a shot at a QB. Just another of Shanahan's tough choices.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Bowden and Acta are gone. Vinny and Zorn are gone. Gilbert Arenas and Clinton Portis are talking they're way out of town. And don't forget D.C. United's coach is outta here. What's in store for D.C. sports in 2010?

Tom Boswell: When my son was a small child, he got mad one day and said, "I want the old people out and I want some new people in."

Looks like a lot of people are getting their wish.

Net-net, the recent craziness has helped the Skins and Nats. Shanahan is huge upgrade on Zorn. Allen, even if he is primarily a facilitator for Mike, is far better than Cerrato who the perfect transmission mechanism of the Snyder dysfunction gene. And if Snyder backs off as much with Shanny as he did for four years with Gibbs, that's a big plus, too. I think the Skins get back to 7-8 wins very fast next year. But after that? I tyhink they have a long painful and problematic rebuilding program ahead of them. Good lord, look at their needs within the next two years. Three offensive linemen, including a LT. A whole new set of running backs, a Top 10 QB (unless Campbell nudges up that high) and, just as they kick the most scary problems they have lots of key players probably getting old by '11 -- Fletcher, Moss, Carter, on and on. If this year is any indication, by '11 will Haynesworth be able to run all the way to midfield for pre-game introductions?

A friend who's a huge long-time Skins fan said to me this a.m. that the Skins didn't want to say "rebuild," but that's what they need.


Arlington, Va.: Has Gilbert played his last game as a Wizard? If ever there was a time to blow up this team, now would be that time.

Tom Boswell: Actually, I'd like to see how the Wiz play for awhile without Arenas, but with Miller and Foye on the court. If defense was their biggest problem, followed by offensive flow, then Arenas was their very worst defender and, despite his assists, was a part of the offensive-chemistry problem, too. Wihtin a month, simply by subtracting Arenas and having the whole team -- I hope -- look in the mrror, they may be much better.

However, considering the rip by Flip on the defense of the whole team and their ridiculous willingness to go along with Arenas and grin at his "finger guns" trick, you may have to look a this bunch and say, "Blow 'em up. They have enough proven invidiual talent to be tradeable. And how could any group of players that we end up with fit together any worse -- on and off the court -- than this wack bunch.


Hall of Fame: Tom, what did you think about the results of the Hall of Fame voting? Why didn't Roberto Alomar get in on the first ballot? And why would five writers not vote at all? Is the system broken? What could be done to replace it?

Tom Boswell: If ex-Expo Andre Dawson belongs in the Hall, then Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn should be cheering this morning because that means, if they play out long full careers, they'll be in the HOF, too.

Which makes you wonder if The Hawk really belongs. I enjoyed him. I'm happy for him. If I still voted, I wouldn't have voted for him. His career is IDENTICAL to Dwight Evans. Both had eight Gold Gloves in the OF. They played the same years. Dawson had 2,882 RBI-plus-runs in 2627 games, Evans had 2,854 in 2606 games. But vans was a key player on top Red Sox teams, Dawson played for losers. (Not his fault.) Both drove in 100 runs four times. Dawson stole 300 bases, but Evans had vastly more walks and a better OPS .840 to Dawson's mere .806.

To Dawson's credit, his offensive numbers were almost identical to HOFers Billy Williams and Tony Perez -- and I mean identical -- but they had no gold gloves or steals.

Dawson's line is .279-.323-.482-.806. Zimmerman, who just turned 25, is .284-.347-.478-.825. And, after a break out season, Zim's #'s will probably get better. If he plays until he's 38, he'll have Dawson numbers -- or better -- across the board and, after his first GG this season, will probably have a pile of defensive awards. Just saying, everytime a marginal canidate like Dawson makes it, the door gets cracked open wider for others.

The Hall vote also underlines why Dunn should care so much about becoming an adequate 1st baseman. If he does, it may put him in Cooperstown in 20 years. The rule of thumb for decades has ben to double a players stats on his 30th birthday if you want to know where he will end his career statistically. It doesn't alaways work. But it does a lot. By that measure, Dunn, who turned 30 after the '09 season, would end up with 632 homers, 3,114 rbi-plus-runs, a .903 OPS and 1,826 walks (in the top four ever). There is no way a player with those numbers -- if he has a half-decent defensive position -- does NOT get into the Hall. Of course, that means Dunn has to stay in shape for many years, hard for a huge dude. But he's been very durable his whole career. Anyway, if he needs motivation to hit the gym or take another 1,000 balls off the bat at first, this Hall vote ought to rovide it.

Two other points: Alomar missed by a few votes because of the spitting incident. Otherwise, he's instant first-ball Hall. Good, that's a fitting punishment. He'll make it next year and shouldn't have to wait any longer.

The push for Blyleven drives me crazy. I follwed his whole career. His reputation was that, more than any other top stuff pitcher, he would find a way to lose or not to win. He's just not a HOFer, in my book. He only won 20 games one time and more than 17 only twice! And he pitched in the era when top starters got 4-5 more starts a year and 20 wins was easier. BB had nine seasons with 36-to-40 starts and averaged 38 in those years. When Chuck Tanner got him in Pittsburgh the word went around that Chuck had decided, over BB's protestations, to take him out of late-and-close games because he'd never had the stomach for it. "Take him out before he can lose." Tanner never said it in public. But BB's winning opercentage gets better.

Again, I'm tougher than most on HOF voting. Maybe too tough. I remember sitting on a TV set on national TV -- three feet from Don Drysdale -- explaining why Don shouldn't have been voted into the Hall of Fame that day! I think Charlie Gibson got me into that pickle.


Washington, DC: Boz--

Do you think that the new Nats front office would be willing to spend $21 million over five years on Aroldis Chapman? If so, do you think they are still in the game to get him?

Tom Boswell: No. And I don't think they have ever been in that game.

When scouts saw him recently, Chapman was impressive, but nothing remotely like Strasburg. I think he topped out at 93-94. Detwiler throws that hard! I know, what are his other pitches, how's his "movement," how much better will he throw when he's older, etc. I think a team that loves to spend, and doesn't mind taking chances, will get him. That's not the Nats.

While somebody is spending $20-M for an untested Chapman, I hope the Nats will spend $12-$15M for a proven Garland, Washburn, Padilla (last seen throwing 97, mean, protects hitters and pretty durable), Pineiro, etc.


Bristow, Va.: Mr. Boswell, love reading your stuff! My question centers around the theme that the players referred to over and over again in their comments about Shanahan and that is leadership. When Joe Gibbs came back, he had instant credibility and authority. Now that Shanahan is in place, he too has instant credibility and authority but what about guys like Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh or John Harbaugh or Baltimore or a Rex Ryan of the Jets, who won in Baltimore but not as a head coach.

How did these guys get the respect and credibility that Jim Zorn was not able to get? You don't have to be a mean, nasty SOB or a yelling, screaming tyrant to get someone to respond or respect you so what gives? Where did Zorn miss the boat?

Tom Boswell: Look at Steinberg's "The Sideline" on page D2 this a.m. (Dan is smokin' these days and in snark heaven.)

He quotes Chris Wilson saying the thing he'll remember most about Zorn is his awkward speeches. I always wondered, "This guy must give the goofiest pre-game pep talks in history." Wilson said that Zorn started out a speech saying, "Who's ever been whitewater rafting and I think only maybe two hands went up. Both hands were white. Fred Smoot said, 'That's why it's called WHITEWATER rafting.'"

I laughed until I almost cried.


Annapolis, Md.: On baseball, what do you think of the Yankees parting with some of their big name contributors: Matsui, Damon and Cabrera? It seems like they are getting rid of some of their most steady performers over the last championship season. Why are they doing this? What is their plan?

Tom Boswell: Adding Granderson and Vasquez is a big upgrade. It's been a good off-season for the Yanks, awful for Yankee haters. Vasquez has had 200+ strikeouts the last four years. He's perfect fit after CC and AJ. Granderson is everything Melky will never be in CF. Damon has a rag arm and is getting old. Their "plan" is to get even better. And they already are. By spring training, they may be even better.

But the Red Sox, after adding Adrian Beltre the other day -- great get at third and a fine hitter, even if he'll never have another 48 homer year. Escaping big Safeco Field in Seattle for Fenway should get him back to 25 homers in a hurry. And maybe 30. That was a steal. And it lets Youkilis go to 1st.


Atlanta: Tom, Any more rumors about a possible director of player personnel to head scouting for the Redskins? As everyone is saying, this was a weak point of Shanny's in Denver. Perhaps his year of reflection has made him realize he can't do it all.

Tom Boswell: Everyone assumes Shanahan will be the No. 1 personnel person. That was never Allen's M.O. I asked yesterday if they hoped to copy the Gibbs-Bethard-JKC model in decision making. Oh, they loved that idea. "Great comparison." I hope so. The only probelm is that Beathard really stood up to Joe on the draft __even if it drove him crazy. And they sometimes went to the Old Man so he could adjudicate. Not "make the pick," just say something like, "Well, sorry, Joe, it's Bobby's turn to get the last word this time."

It's hard to believe Shanahan's drafting can really be as bad as his reputation for bad drafting. I'm hoping that the Genius Coach, Moron Personnel Man is an exaggeration in both directions. Until they get much better personnel, nobody is going to coach these guys above 8-8 or 9-7, even by 2011.


Reston, Va.: What are your thoughts on Sam Bradford? You listed Tebow, McCoy and Clausen as the name quarterbacks to be in this year's draft but hasn't Bradford been discussed as a potential Redskins' pick as well?

Tom Boswell: After his season-ending shoulder injury, nobody knows quite how he'll come back or what his durability is. But he's certainly in the Clausen and McCoy mix and ahead of Tebow with scouts. "Somebody" may get one of these four in the second round -- and I'm not sure that any of them is significantly better prospect than the others. In other words, none of them is even a semi-sure-thing.


Sec 114, Row E: If the Nats sign Vicente Padilla - maybe he and Gilbert can get together and do some gun safety seminars... Padilla shot himself (a grazing) earlier in the offseason.

Tom Boswell: Even since Padilla refused to pitch a second inning of relef at the All-Star game -- causing the infamous "tie" -- I haven't been a big fan of his. He wouldn't completely fit the current Nat profile as Rizzo described it yesterday when introducing Matt Capps: "Young. Character. Guts on the mound. Hard-nosed. Not afraid. A winning attitude."

I asked a Nats exec last season how many times, in the last three years, a Washington pitcher had "protected" a Nats hitter. "Once, maybe," he said. That will change. The Nats haven't had a bench-clearing fight since Frank Robby left town. You shouldn't go that long without standing up and stretching your legs.


Stafford, Va.: Are the Dodgers doomed financially with the bitter divorce of the owners? Even though the team tries to put on a good face, they are not making any free agent moves aside from washed up or broken down players. Your take?

Tom Boswell: Looks like the divorce has (temporarily) paralyzed them.

In the end, Chavez Ravine is one of the world's biggest ATMs. The Dodgers will live to spend again.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. Boswell,

Is Jason Campbell's skill set compatable with Coach Shanahan's version of the West Coast offense? Because it sure wasn't with Coach Zorn's.

Tom Boswell: I don't think it's a particularly good fit. Anything West Coast emphasizes the word "quick." Campbell isa fine scrambler and, given time in the pocket, I think he'd be a good vertical passer, too. Right now, he might be a little shell-shocked on those patterns. But he does not have a quick relase (at all) and has only improved to being a moderately quick reader of defenses.

Would the scripting of the first 15 plays of the game and the first eight of the second half -- a Shanahan trademark -- give Campbell (or any QB) an extra comfort level? (No, the script isn't locked in stone if a game situation -- 3rd-and-inches -- contradicts the next play on the list.)


Roanoke, Va.: Can we finally say the Caps are D.C.'s favorite team after all the thugs, whiners and losers in the other sports consistently get outclassed by Canadian farm boys?

Tom Boswell: The day may even come when the Caps can be the lead story in the sports page again. Good thing their season is only half over. Still time to give them their due.

The Skins and Wizards have certainly left the door wide open for the Caps and Nats to increase their "mind share" in the DC market. Of course, the Caps have already done it, but f they make a long Cup run, I think the city will just go nuts, well beyond last year.

At a much lower level, but still of long-term imporance, if the Nats don't look at '10-'11 as a unique window when they can reclaim a great many of the fans that they squandered in '06-'07-'08-'09, then they are out of their minds. If they reach .500 by '11, and they might, they'll probably be as good as either the Skins or Wiz, and better than one of them. They also, by then, may have a very appealing set of core players who do not have the issues that plague the other local teams. Zimmerman, Strasburg, Morgan, Dunn, Lannan, Marquis, Pudge and, by '11, probably Zimmermann, maybe Maxwell, Desmond, a break out year for Dukes. Could be appealing. They need to maximize this opening. It's an ill wind...

See you next week. I just wanted to note, in closing, that in the last week I think it's become clear -- if it wasn't already -- that the Post sports section has never put out a product this good. And maybe not anywhere close to this good. The business may have problems, but the journalism you're seeing this days has gotten better. The blogs, bog, chats and much faster response to breaking news with same-day columns -- sometimes within an hour or two -- are all new, exciting and make us better. As for the tradtional forms -- like Les Carpenter's superior feature on Shanahan this a.m. and Mike Wise's A1 scoop on the details of the Arenas scandal -- we're doing that as well as ever. Though you may not notice it, you're also getting better graphics, headlines, front-page keys, stats and blog excerpts from our editors. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." We're free-wheelin' it these days, and a lot of people are putting in a lot of hours. Hope you enjoy it. Of course, I think it would have taken a normal person 2-3-4 hours to read what we've produced -- in the paper and on the web -- in just the last 24 hours. And I don't think any of it would have been a waste of a fan's time. See you next week.


Shanahan the personnel guy: A beat writer who had covered the two Super Bowl years with Shanahan says that he takes chances in his picks and didn't always do his homework on players. For instance, not even bothering to speak with Cutler first before drafting him. Let's hope he's learned his lesson.

Tom Boswell: Shanahan has drafted some bad actors and total busts. There are only 24 hours in the day. He's a workaholic. But he's also a control freak. Now that's a problem. He may have to cut some corners. Character evaluation, especially on a team with as many "culture" and "chemistry" problems as the Redskins, is not the place to scrimp on time.


Boise, Idaho: OK, I'm way off topic, but being from Southern Md. I hope to be included.

What do you think of Boise State's chances to play for the title next year if they go undefeated?

This would mean beating Va Tech or Ohio State.

I see Kyle Wilson as the perfect 4th round pick for the Redskins if he's still out there.

Tom Boswell: BSU finally has the right schedule to take a run at No. 1.

And I just love them. After the hook-and-ladder, the Statue of Liberty and, now, the pass out of punt formation on 4th-and-9 from their own 29 in the 4th at 10-10, they own me!

We didn't even touch college football with the BCS championship on tap!

I thought the Boise State win over TCU was a big victory for the constantly-battered BCS system. Turns out TCU shouldn't have been in the No. 1 mix. onifght's game is the right one. The BCS gets a good enough No. 1 a high percentage of the time to suit me. I know I'm alone on this. I think college football gets more attention and debate all season because of the BCS fuss than it would if we had an 8-team playoff and nothing to complain about. Also, I've never liked the idea of a college playoff system that drags on and on with 20-year-olds piling up more and more hits to the head.

Gimme Alabama. But I want to get one last long look at McCoy so I can change my mind if I'm wrong. Outta here!


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