Last year, when the Redskins stood at 3-6, with the fan base in full “woe-is-us, fire everyone” mode, after a devastating loss to a poor Carolina Panthers team, the players still seemed to have a weird, incomprehensible swagger. While everyone else seemed to be in full blown panic mode, the Redskins themselves seemed calm cool and collected. And then they railed of 7 straight victories like it was nothing, with all the confidence in the world, even when things were at their darkest.
This year, the Redskins sit at 3-6, the fan base is in full on “woe-is-us, fire everyone mode”, after a devastating loss to the 1-7 Minnesota Vikings, and there doesn’t seem to be any of the swagger, any of that confidence. There only seems to be simmering resentment, hurt feelings and a palpable air of pissed-off around everything.
Mike Shanahan has basically never had what one could call a “normal” offseason. In 2010, he was hampered by the expiring CBA and restricted free agency killing efforts to rebuild a 4-12 team with few draft picks to rely on. In 2011, the lockout shortened free agency, and a poor quarterback class left us with Rex Grossman and John Beck. In 2012, he got his franchise quarterback, only to be robbed up important cap space at the very last second.
In 2013, with no first round draft pick and an ailing quarterback who would miss most of the offseason. Mike Shanahan chose to keep as much the same as possible from when the Redskins won the division. Cutting players like Josh Wilson, London Fletcher, Santana Moss, Chris Chester and Josh Morgan would’ve relieved cap space, but he kept him. He re-signed guys like Kory Lichtensteiger and Logan Paulsen and Tyler Polumbus and Fred Davis. He patchworked where had to. He spent his first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft on a corner and two safeties that would likely be thrust into starting roles early. He tried to keep as much continuity as possible.
The coaching staff remained largely unchained, including Jim Haslett, who’s defensive unit had stunk up the first half of the season, but cobbled together a decent second half. The only coach that changed was Ike Hillard, the wide receiver coach, who moved on to Buffalo, who was replaced by Mike McDaniel, who has spent much of his young career coaching running backs, not wide receivers.
Often times what happens to teams who explode one year and fall off a cliff the next is one of two things happens; either you change too much and lose the identity you established, or you don’t change enough, and the identity you established becomes tired and stale, and the same old messages start to fall on deaf ears.
We have reached a crossroads in Mike Shanahan’s tenure as the Redskins head coach that I don’t think can be overcome. No matter what angle you look at it, it’s hard to imagine that Mike can both drastically change the team enough to make a difference, and keep enough the same that it’s not some football form of culture shock.
Aside from Trent Williams, the Redskins don’t have a single, reliable offensive linemen. Tyler Polumbus has improved but is FAR from ideal. Kory Lichtensteiger’s play has falling off a cliff. Will Montgomery went from being to only pass protect and not run block, to being the best at his position at both, to not being able to do either in 3 seasons. Chris Chester is 30 and his play has suffered. Shanahan drafted three linemen in 2012; none of them seem like they’ll play anytime soon. The team views Tom Compton as a left tackle only. Adam Gettis still lacks functional strength. Josh LeRibeus has eaten his was out of what probably would’ve been a surefire starting job.
At wide receiver, other than Pierre Garçon, everything else is a question mark. Leonard Hankerson is a solid if unspectacular number two who will need a lot of strong coaching (i.e not someone who has spent more time coaching running backs than receivers) if he ever wants to be more. Aldrick Robinson is fast and can’t catch anything. Josh Morgan’s numerous surgeries have removed his explosiveness. It’s hard to imagine Santana Moss has much more gas in the tank.
The d-line is all over the place. Barry Cofield has established himself as one of the leagues better nose tackles. Chris Baker flashes. Jarvis Jenkins flashes. But neither performs consistently. Kedric Golston could’ve been cut half a dozen times if not for injuries. Stephen Bowen is always knicked up just a little bit.
London Fletcher’s play has fallen off a cliff. He hit the age wall fast. Perry Riley is great coming down hill and sucky moving backwards. Keenan Robinson has gotten hurt for the second year in a row.
And the secondary is still in flux. D-Hall’s playing the best football of his career, but there’s no guarantee that’ll continue if he’s re-signed. Josh Wilson is average ish, Richard Crawford and Phillip Thomas will be coming off a tough injuries. Amerson and Rambo are bright spots but still raw, as is current practice squad cornerback Chase Minnefield. Reed Doughty will likely be here until the End of Times, but it’s hard to think the same of Brandon Merriweather,
Four years into Mike Shanahan’s rebuild, we, basically, still have to rebuild or at the absolute least tweak most of our units. We even have to rebuild special teams.
The coaching staff is a mess. Jim Haslett’s streakiness has reached the boiling point. Bob Slowik can’t coach his way out of a paper bag, and his inability to do so has hampered the development of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. No one on special teams seems to like Keith Burns.
And the relationship between the offensive coordinator and quarterback (and now, the rest of the offense it seems) is in shambles. Chris Russell reported that if there was a steel cage match, it’s be RG3, Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder versus the Shanahans. My take is something less extreme; essentially, Mike Shanahan is trapped between trying to please his quarterback and ownership, and trying to protect his son.
Dan Snyder has a tough choice to make over the next seven games. Even if the Redskins do, once again, miraculously turn it around, can he honestly give Mike Shanahan an extension?
He can’t let Mike Shanahan play next season as a lame duck. It’s hard to attract free agents with a lame duck head coach, and Shanahan could feel extreme pressure to succeed, which could result in the kind of big name free agent spending spree he’s avoided much of his tenture here. If the team somehow finishes 8-8, or 9-7, hell, even if they finish 10-6 again and win the division, you want to think that you shouldn’t have to keep doing sprints to the finish line in order to make up the playoffs.
Much of the coaching staff and the personnel needs an overhaul. Mike faces the prospect of having to fire his son and find a new coordinator that both jives with his philosophy and that with his ever more political, ever more opinionated franchise quarterback. He faces huge questions about schematic changes defensively.
Basically, if Mike Shanahan stays head coach, he has to rebuild most of the roster again, and this time he’ll have an even shorter leash and shorter time table to do it.
I don’t think Mike Shanahan will be coach of the Washington Redskins next year. It’s got nothing to do with how I personally feel about Mike Shanahan. I think, given the circumstances of his tenure, he’s basically been dealt a bad hand every year he’s been here. But lots of coaches are dealt bad hands. It’s how you overcome those things that makes the difference.
Given how daunting the task ahead is, and given that Robert Griffin III has as much, if not more pull, and given his importance to the team as opposed to Mike’s, I don’t think Shanahan, short of some insane, Giants-esque run to the Super Bowl, is coming back. And I’d hate that, because I do believe he’s a great head coach. But he just might not be the right coach for this team, at this moment.
Which sucks, considering all the work he’s put in to make the team seem less like a laughing stock.
A new head coach allows a fresh start and may breathe a little more air into the team. If the Redskins could find a head coach who also didn’t want to be the general manager, maybe that’d allow our scouts even more freedom to do their job (though arguably they get listened to more with Mike Shanahan than they did with Joe Gibbs, Mike still has the final say). That’d allow the coach to focus more on doing his job (i.e COACHING) while Bruce Allen handled the football operations.
Maybe a new head coach would allow his coaches total autonomy over their units, leaving the defense to the defensive guys and the offense to the guys. Maybe they wouldn’t view certain positions as “entry level”.
It’s a tough head space to be in. It’s not that I want Mike Shanahan gone. I actually don’t.
It’s just that I think if we want to get to the promise land again, he might have to go.