Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has a lot riding on Coach Mike Shanahan

The Washington Post's panel of football insiders discusses Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's approach to the notion of rebuilding.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 12:19 AM

Imagine a high-stakes poker game with Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan bankrolled by team owner Daniel Snyder.

Last week, Shanahan, Washington's top football official, essentially raised the ante on his belief in the direction the franchise must take when he suspended defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth for the remainder of the season. Snyder backed Shanahan's costly move - which could result in little return for Snyder on his almost $36 million investment - in part because it appears Snyder has no choice.

Snyder has a lot riding on Shanahan. He believes the two-time Super Bowl winner, despite his poor start, is the right man to return the once-successful franchise to prominence. If Shanahan succeeds, the Redskins will again achieve elite status, which they haven't experienced for the better part of two decades. If Shanahan fails, however, the Redskins could slip further into irrelevance, continuing to alienate a frustrated fan base and risking more damage to their still-strong brand.

"Coach Shanahan definitely is trying to" accomplish a lot, said cornerback and defensive co-captain DeAngelo Hall. "Because of what Coach Shanahan has done [in his career], you had that hope that maybe it could happen really fast, but no one said it was gonna be easy."

After 13 games under Shanahan, the 2010 Redskins resemble the last-place teams former coach Jim Zorn guided the previous two seasons. Losers of three in a row, the Redskins (5-8) have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.

With a 1-4 mark thus far in the second half of its schedule, Washington is in its third late-season slide in as many seasons. The team has a second-half record of 5-16 during that span.

In the NFC East this season, the Redskins are a game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys (4-9), whom they face on the road Sunday. If the Redskins were to finish last, it would be their third consecutive season in the division basement.

"Changing the culture of a team takes a long time," said punter Hunter Smith, a 12-year veteran who was released Tuesday during his second season with Washington. "I played in Indianapolis. Indianapolis had a culture of losing and befuddling calamity and things like that. It took a few good players, it took a coaching change and building a culture of winning.

"That's just what has to happen here. Coach Shanahan is a winner. He's a proven winner. There's some great character on this team. But it is a microwave culture, and this is gonna take a little bit more of a crockpot approach."

Snyder gave Shanahan player personnel control and a five-year contract, believed to be for $7 million per season, to put the Redskins on top again. Joe Gibbs went to four Super Bowls, winning three, during his first stint as coach of the team.

If Shanahan produces a couple of wild-card berths and one playoff victory, the level of success attained during Gibbs 2.0, that probably won't sit well with fans who "ain't really had a lot to be happy about for a long time," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "With Coach Shanahan here, now they expect it."

And it is all on Shanahan.

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