OPTION PLAYS | Coaching and culture
Washington Redskins offseason: With Mike Shanahan at helm, coaches and players believe culture has changed
Friday, January 7, 2011; 12:12 AM
On the day Mike Shanahan was introduced as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, he met with the players he inherited as a group. He had watched the team from afar, but knew most of them by reputation only. Some of those reputations weren't good, and Shanahan wanted them to know he had arrived to rid the franchise of those who didn't work and prepare professionally.
After the meeting, Shanahan grabbed defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, perhaps the most gifted player on the team. Shanahan's arrival one year and two days ago altered countless personal situations on both sides of the ball: Quarterback Jason Campbell would be traded, defensive end Andre Carter would become an outside linebacker, to name just a couple.
No player, though, had to prepare for as fundamental a change as did Haynesworth. As the Redskins shifted to a new defense, Haynesworth had to learn a new position. But on that first day, Shanahan wanted Haynesworth to know: His work habits would have to change, too. Shanahan flipped on some film, and the two men watched each of Haynesworth's plays from the 2009 season.
"I talked about every one of the lows," Shanahan said. "And I said, 'Hey, I got to get you in shape. There's no way you can be in shape if you're playing like this. There's no possible way.' "
Thus Shanahan began his tenure at the helm of the Redskins by challenging the team's most expensive player on his first day on the job. The narrow view of such a meeting would be that the coach needed to get more out of one of his most talented players, and that much was true. "It was just about getting him into football shape," Shanahan said, sitting in his office late in the season.
But the way Shanahan handled Haynesworth - both early on, and over the course of the season - had ramifications throughout the organization. At the conclusion of a year in which Shanahan suspended Haynesworth without pay for the final four games of the season and benched quarterback Donovan McNabb for the final three games, there may be questions about the wisdom of such moves. But there is little question about who is pulling the levers and pushing the buttons at Redskins Park.
For more than a decade, Washington fans have wondered and worried about how much input owner Daniel Snyder had on football decisions. Now, Shanahan has at least created the impression - particularly among his players - that his word matters above all others.
"To be able to shelf a guy and say, 'Okay, I'm in control, I'm going to get things right around here,' " said running back Clinton Portis, who played under Shanahan for two years in Denver. "I think it's more [a case] of him coming in, cleaning out and trying to filter and get his guys in, and showing that he's running the show and what he say goes. It's either get with the program, or get out."
The program, in terms of wins and losses, didn't produce results in 2010 - a 6-10 record, a third straight last-place finish in the NFC East, a postseason without the Redskins for the ninth time in 11 years. But Shanahan is convinced that, through the turmoil, he and his coaching staff have begun to fundamentally shift how the organization works. Shanahan said he fined more players for minor infractions such as lateness for meetings than he ever had during his 14 years in Denver.
"Next year, it'll go down by 90 percent," he said. "The second year, they get used to, 'Okay, this is how we operate.' You have to be accountable or else you won't be here. People get used to that mentality, that mind-set."
But that is an elaborate process, particularly for a franchise such as Washington, which joins only some of the league's youngest and traditionally moribund franchises - Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston and Jacksonville - as the only teams to go without a division championship from 2000 to 2010.
"You got to turn the whole organization around," said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who overhauled the New Orleans franchise when he became head coach there in 2000. "There's a lot of people in that organization - including secretaries, administrative people, people in the building - that are negative because you've been losing so many years. . . You got to start over and bring people in that want to build a winner, or you got to change people. It's not just the players."