Throughout his career, Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has excelled while working with superstar quarterbacks. Those partnerships contributed to Super Bowl championships, helping Shanahan develop a reputation for being an innovative tactician.
Shanahan hasn’t had an elite quarterback in his two disappointing seasons in Washington. And that’s why he should go all in to get Robert Griffin III. For Shanahan to have a chance to make the three remaining years on his contract worthwhile, he needs someone who could become great at the sport’s most important position.
He needs RGIII.
Some coaches are capable of having sustained success without top-tier quarterbacks. Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs comes to mind. Gibbs set the standard for developing a winning formula regardless of who played quarterback. He won three Super Bowl titles with three starting quarterbacks, none of whom is in the Hall of Fame.
During Gibbs’s first stint with the Redskins, they were perennial contenders despite many changes at quarterback. Season after season, Washington’s entire team — offense, defense and special teams — all came together under Gibbs.
Shanahan, it seems, isn’t the type of coach capable of making a championship run with a Trent Dilfer-type at quarterback. Hall of Famer John Elway retired from the Broncos after the 1998 season, which ended in a second consecutive Super Bowl victory. Since then, Shanahan hasn’t had a future Hall of Fame quarterback on his roster, and he has only one playoff win. Shanahan needs an extraordinary quarterback.
Shanahan isn’t unique in this regard; few coaches could win consistently with mediocre quarterbacks. It’s just that Shanahan’s results are spectacularly better when he teams with stars.
Potentially, Griffin is one. Griffin is an accurate passer. He’s highly athletic. He’s elusive. And he possesses work ethic and smarts, which Shanahan requires in his pupils.
Quarterbacks move around a lot in Shanahan’s system. Griffin would be an ideal fit. Also, a fast quarterback would certainly help Washington’s weak offensive line. With a 40-yard dash time of 4.41, Griffin is a quarterback with wide receiver speed.
During his college career, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor showed steady improvement in decision-making. In his first season, Griffin completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes. He was at 72.4 percent last season. Griffin’s touchdown passes increased from 22 during 2010 to 37 in 2011. He had almost 800 more yards passing over that span. All the above points to Griffin’s growth in reading defenses.
With so many great edge rushers in the NFL, slow-reacting quarterbacks often wind up on their backs or on the bench. Griffin’s quick reactions were a big part of his college success. Obviously, the NFL game is much faster. Undoubtedly, Griffin would need time to adjust. But with a little experience, everything should start to slow down for Griffin. Once that happens, he would be set to fully attack Shanahan’s complex playbook.
Shanahan’s scheme has been productive in the past with the right people at the controls. Rex Grossman, who has spent three seasons in Shanahan’s offense, has complete command of it. Yet he still tied for third in the league with 20 interceptions. That’s life with Rex.
NFL people I speak with say Griffin, unlike Grossman, is disciplined. He steadily advances through his progressions and gives plays time to develop. He has the arm strength to make all the throws and his speed sets him apart.
That’s a lot to work with, and few are more qualified than Shanahan to teach the art of playing quarterback in the NFL.
As an assistant coach with the Broncos, Shanahan counseled Elway, who was turnover-prone in his first few seasons out of Stanford. Elway became one of the greatest quarterbacks ever (he’s No. 1 on my list), and Shanahan played a major role in his development.
When Shanahan returned to lead Denver late in Elway’s career, the synergy of Shanahan’s vision and Elway’s skills resulted in consecutive Super Bowl titles.
When Shanahan was the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator, he helped another Hall of Famer-to-be, Steve Young, finally break through and win a Super Bowl. Once again, teaching and talent were a winning combination.
Elway and Young could do everything Shanahan asked of them. No throw was too difficult; no play too complex. They also thrived under pressure. It would be ridiculous to compare Griffin with two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. He hasn’t accomplished anything yet. No one knows for sure how Griffin will respond late in a game with the outcome undecided.
But Shanahan has proven he’s among the best at building around athletic, physically gifted quarterbacks.
Preparing for his third season, Shanahan can’t rely on Grossman or fellow journeyman John Beck.
The Redskins reportedly are willing to offer a lot, including multiple first-round picks, to move up in the draft to select Griffin. Because a move this big would have an impact on the franchise for years to come, for better or worse, it wouldn’t be surprising if owner Daniel Snyder had significant input on the decision.
Snyder is paying Shanahan $7 million annually over a five-year contract; thus far, the result has been consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC East. In his third season, Shanahan needs to begin to deliver, and to do so, he needs the ingredient that has always been key to his success and that has been missing in Washington.
If the Redskins acquire Griffin — likely paying a steep price to do so — they would surely make a long-term commitment to his development. Regardless of the Redskins’ performance the next two seasons, Shanahan, presumably, would remain in his position to groom Griffin.
Hoping to write a glorious closing chapter to his coaching career, Shanahan came to Washington to rebuild the Redskins. He still has time to make it happen.
But to finally get going, Shanahan has to get RG III.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.