Here Mike Shanahan comes again, figuratively stumbling toward a Maryland Live craps table around 3 a.m. Eyes bloodshot, complexion as red as the last $5 chip in his hand, the Lobster on another prolonged losing streak, the third straight year his team has entered its 10th game of the season with a 3-6 record.
He’s tired. He’s beaten down. After last season’s surreal hot streak, he’s no doubt beating himself up for having squandered the windfall.
The hell with it already, he surmises, demanding the dice. He needs one more rush, the mere possibility that another insane, out-of-nowhere continuous roll is on his fingertips.
If he could just run the table again. . . “Come on 7!”
You might not like a lot of things about Shanahan. You might abhor his clock-management skills, which occasionally resemble Fred Davis’s at the end of halves.
You might not like the fact that he rarely, if ever, assesses the progress of his son, Kyle, whom he hired as offensive coordinator when he came to town in 2010.
You might not like the fact that in the face of earned scrutiny and criticism, he ratchets up the defiance to another level. As I’ve often said, the man is so certain of his own certainty, you wonder if the inability to genuinely evaluate his own progress hurts him in the end.
But there’s one thing you can’t question about Shanahan: He loves the fight. He will take the bunker over a fortress on a hill any day of the week. He wants you to count him out, say the season is over. Because if he has shown anything over the course of his NFL career, if he has proved anything in Washington, Mike Shanahan has shown himself to be fairly decent with his back to the wall.
Last year cemented that reputation. No one saw seven wins in a row coming. But you could see the don’t-tell-me-we’re-done thoughts encircling Shanahan’s head long before that.
After nine games in 2010, Washington was banged up physically and psychologically when Shanahan took his roster to Tennessee to face the heavily favored Titans. Coming off the horrendous Monday Night Massacre to Michael Vick and the Eagles, surely Shanahan’s squad was destined to be blown out. Somehow, that depleted unit won in overtime, Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth drama be damned. It’s still the most memorable moment from that lost season: For 60 minutes, Shanahan got his players to believe again.
The fact that three of his four teams have started out so badly is an indictment, of course — not just of the coach and franchise architect but the players and the entire organization. But then, they are what they are again headed to Philadelphia: waiting to go on a momentous roll.
“I think I made the comment last year, along the same lines that you always see when you have a little adversity how hard people practice, how hard you play in the game — especially when you’re 3-6,” Shanahan said after practice Wednesday.
Except for a 4-5 start to open his first season in Washington, 3-6 is all Shanahan has known. The difference this season: If the coach is in evaluation mode, so too is owner Daniel Snyder, who has yet to give any clear indication whether he will extend Shanahan’s contract beyond 2014, the final year of a five-year deal that makes him the third-highest paid coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and Sean Payton.
Asked about his contract Wednesday, Shanahan said, “I’ve got a contract for next year. I’ve got a contract this year. I’m concerned for our games. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been in this profession a long time. Your focus is on your job, and I say that with all due sincerity. It’s something I do not think about it.”
Like he said: Give him the dice.
No one knows what Snyder is going to do. No one knows how much say the quarterback is going to have, if any. No one knows what the future holds at all, other than that there are seven games left this season.
“Only time you talk about a contract, whether a player or a coach, it’s always after the season,” Shanahan said. “Once we get started, you don’t talk about it because we’ve got to focus on each game and if you don’t focus on the game, you’re taking away from what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Two months ago, the Eagles were supposed to be the gauge for what 2013 might hold. After all the repeat-as-NFC-East-champ hype and the worry whether Robert Griffin III would play and how good he would be, Washington was in immediate trouble.
Where has the season gone? Ten weeks later, it’s beat-the-Eagles-or-bust to very possibly keep the season alive. Visions of home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs have dissipated to the reality that Griffin and company are on the brink, looking up at a rookie coach in Chip Kelly and a backup quarterback in Nick Foles.
All that remains are the memories of last season and the undying hopes of a lifer, down to his last, oh, $7 million or so, his torso bent over that craps table, warming the dice, readying for his last roll — again.
“The only thing I think we can draw on [from last season] is try to be 4-6,” Mike Shanahan said.
So you’re saying you have a chance?