Mike Shanahan, in other words, failed in Washington.
That’s what made his performance during last week’s six-segment, hour-plus tell-all appearance on ESPN 980 particularly remarkable. While reviewing what went wrong over four failed seasons in Washington, Shanahan found plenty of culprits. Daniel Snyder was meddling. Albert Haynesworth didn’t want to try. Donovan McNabb was washed up. The roster was old. Dr. James Andrews was unreliable. Robert Griffin III was headstrong. Robert Griffin III was pouty. Robert Griffin III was misleading. Robert Griffin III was vain.
But you know who didn’t bear much responsibility, in Mike Shanahan’s retelling, for that 24-40 record, that .375 winning percentage? Yeah, you can probably figure it out. It was the same guy who was asked at his introductory press conference whether he had final say over personnel matters.
“Do I have the final say? Maybe you could say that,” Shanahan responded. Sure, but it was the kind of final say where if anyone made a mess, Shanahan’s hands stayed clean.
Let’s start with McNabb, whose one season in Washington was an aimless, meandering waste of time. Whose fault was it that McNabb arrived in the first place?
“The decision was made, and I think mainly from Dan” Snyder, Shanahan explained. “Even though Bruce orchestrated the trade, I think Dan was the guy that really wanted Donovan the most.”
Shanahan was fairly complimentary toward McNabb’s play that season. But then he got to the worst moment of 2010, when the coach benched the quarterback late in a one-score game against Detroit. Everything about that decision backfired. Shanahan botched the postgame explanation, first saying the benching was about Rex Grossman’s familiarity with “the terminology of what we’ve done, how we’ve run it,” and later saying it was about McNabb’s “cardiovascular endurance.” Grossman’s first play after replacing McNabb was a fumble returned for a touchdown, ruining Washington’s chances in any terminology. The remainder of the season was submarined by questions about McNabb’s future. More than four years later, couldn’t Shanahan make a basic admission: I was the head coach, and I screwed that up? Haha.
“When he was in the game, [McNabb] was not doing the things [we wanted] — or at least calling the plays consistently,” Shanahan said, still litigating the particulars of that loss. “When you’re running the two-minute drive, you cannot be making mistakes. And there [were] too many mistakes made.”
McNabb, to be sure, was not the only culprit. If Mike Shanahan smashed a dozen eggs, he’d blame the chicken. Witness:
The roster Shanahan was handed
“In six out of the seven previous years — I think from 2004 to 2010 — it was the oldest team in the National Football League,” Shanahan said.
“We did some things in the 3-4 to put him in techniques where he could rush the passer first, and take advantage of his talents,” Shanahan said. “But he wasn’t mentally ready for that for some reason. For whatever reasons, he didn’t really get in great shape and play at the level we expected him to play at.”
The McNabb/Haynesworth duo
“You know when a guy is not giving you everything he’s got,” Shanahan said. “And I told everybody, I said ‘Hey, wherever they go, they will not last a year.’ And they didn’t.”
The NFL and its salary cap penalties
“The thing that really bothered me is when you get every contract that’s approved in the two previous years, and you’ve got the commissioner that signs off on it,” Shanahan said. “And then you find out [about the penalties] an hour before free agency starts.”
RGIII’s offense at Baylor
“The thing that you didn’t know, because of the type of offense that they ran, was he didn’t have any really two- or three-level throws,” Shanahan said. “He wasn’t a pocket passer, because everything was determined off the running game, more of the option type of attack.”
The decision to trade so much for Griffin
“Giving up two No. 1s and a No. 2 for him, I said that really puts us in a hole for the future,” Shanahan said. “I went over the strengths, at least the things I felt good about. I did not feel good about giving up two No. 1s and a No. 2, and they all knew I felt that way, because of the unknown.”
Look, maybe Shanahan is 100 percent correct on all these points. Maybe he was given an old roster, an indifferent Haynesworth, and unfair penalties. Maybe Baylor’s offense held back Griffin, and maybe Shanahan warned his colleagues about giving up too much. But this is what second-graders do. Everything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault. Every admonishment comes with a “but….” That’s annoying from an 8-year-old; it’s absurd from a grown man who’s paid millions to run a football operation.
Perhaps no one came in for more blame during Shanahan’s Brief History of What I Didn’t Do Wrong than Dr. James Andrews, the toque-wearing Sphinx at the center of so many RGIII knee debates. The doctor didn’t always help Shanahan’s cause in 2012 and 2013, giving frequent and conflicting interviews about Washington’s most famous joint, and Shanahan repaid him last week, tossing him under one ambulance after another.
Remember when Griffin got hurt against Baltimore in 2012, then re-entered the game, then limped around and came out again?
“I look over at Dr. Andrews, and he looks at me and gives me the thumbs-up sign,” Shanahan said. “As a head football coach, you don’t even think about making decisions relative if a guy stays in a game or a guy’s out of the game. You talk to the doctors, and if a doctor says somebody can go, he goes.”
Remember when Griffin returned later that season wearing a knee brace?
“That knee brace basically guarantees that we won’t hurt the LCL,” Shanahan recalled Andrews saying. “He won’t be able to move it in a certain direction, so there won’t be a chance of re-injuring it.”
Remember when Griffin was hobbling around FedEx Field in the playoff game against Seattle?
“I go in there at halftime and I talk to the doctors and I say, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing this a while, and I said my gut is something’s wrong with Robert,'” Shanahan said. “That’s my gut. And Dr. Andrews says ‘Mike, there’s no difference with him right now than at the start of the game. His knee is as good now as it was then.’ … I thought [Griffin] had earned the right, from what he did previously, to play in the game. But it was totally the doctor saying that there is nothing that’s different about the knee now than it was at the start of the game. So that was by Dr. Andrews.”
Remember when Griffin was still hobbling in the third quarter?
“I said, ‘It looks like you’ve got one leg left,’ ” Shanahan said he told Griffin. “He said ‘Coach, just watch me the rest of the game, I’ll show you that my leg’s fine, I guarantee you.’ … So that’s when I go over to the doctor again, and they said ‘No, we’ve examined him, there’s no difference in his knee.’ Same thing that happened at halftime.”
Okay, maybe the doctors told Shanahan that. But if a doctor tells me my nose isn’t running while snot is pouring down my face, I’m still going to grab a tissue.
And we still haven’t even gotten to the many things Griffin did wrong according to Professor Shanahan: He was moody after missing a start in Cleveland, not forthcoming during that Seattle playoff game, presumptuous during a meeting after the season, passive aggressive the following preseason and reluctant to buy-in throughout 2013.
“I don’t blame this just on himself,” Shanahan said, because every error has at least a couple culprits not named Shanahan. “I think he was getting a lot of feedback from a lot of people. He was determined that, ‘You know what, I’m kind of done with this offense. And I might go with a couple different plays to appease people, but I’m gonna show everybody I’m a drop-back quarterback, and this is the direction I’m going.’ And that’s what he really believes. So I knew my time was short-lived with that type of mind-set.”
You see, it was a fait accompli. Don’t blame Shanahan for a 3-13 season filled with leaks, infighting and back-stabbing; he already knew his time was short-lived. He just told you that! In fact, over 80 minutes of audio, Shanahan took responsibility for exactly one mistake over his four years in Washington.
“Something I didn’t do a very good job of teaching [Griffin] is how to slide and how to throw the football away,” the coach said. Which was big of him.
Now this isn’t a defense of Snyder, who at a minimum seems to have been involved in personnel matters, something he promised he no longer is. Neither is it a defense of Griffin, who already has butted heads with Shanahan’s successor. It isn’t a defense of Andrews, whose media appearances never helped matters, and it isn’t a defense of McNabb or Haynesworth, who both stunk like week-old whitefish salad.
Still, Mike Shanahan was paid an awful lot of money to turn around this franchise. He left with a terrible record, a half-broken quarterback, few young building blocks, and a roster that didn’t seem much better than the one he inherited.
“I just feel like the worst coach in America,” Jim Zorn said, on the way to his .375 winning percentage in D.C.. Shanahan finished with the same winning percentage. The difference is, he still feels like one of the best.
(With apologies to Steve Czaban, who wrote the same thing. Read it here.)