How NOT To Build A Competent NFL Coaching Staff; The Mike Shanahan Way

| December 14, 2013 | 1 Comments

OFFENSE

 

Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster: Here’s some stats for you; Chris Foerster has been an NFL offensive line coach for 20 years, give or take a few years when he was either a tight end coach, an assistant o-line coach, or offensive coordinator. Here’s how his o-lines have faired;

 

1996 Tampa Bay Bucs: 30 sacks

1997 Tampa Bay Bucs: 32 sacks

1998 Tampa Bay Bucs: 28 sacks

1999 Tampa Bay Bucs: 42 sacks

2000 Tampa Bay Bucs: 37 sacks

2001 Tampa Bay Bucs: 47 sacks

2005 Baltimore Ravens: 42 sacks

2006 Baltimore Ravens: 17 sacks

2007 Baltimore Ravens: 39 sacks

2008 San Francisco 49ers: 55 sacks

2009 San Francisco 49ers: 40 sacks

2010 Washington Redskins: 46 sacks

2011 Washington Redskins: 41 sacks

2012 Washington Redskins: 33 sacks

2013 Washington Redskins: 39 sacks (so far)

 

So, in 15 years as a straight up o-line coach, Foerster’s offensive lines have averaged about 38 sacks a season. Even accounting for poor quarterback play or not having the best talent, that is a pretty damn bad. There’s no track record of Foerster elevating a group above their talent level, no history of him creating a dominating line that instilled fear in anyone. There’s only a decade plus of mediocrity and downright awfulness.

 

Mike hired an assistant who’s lines had given up 95 sacks the previous two seasons, including 84 quarterback hits in 2009. The only reason Foerster is even here is because Shanahan more or less destroyed his relationship with his longtime o-line coach Alex Gibbs. He was the second choice of second choices, and not even a good second choice at that. To add a little more what the frackery to the mix, Foerster had spent much of his coaching career teaching man-blocking schemes, not the Zone Blocking Scheme that Shanny has married and built his offense around. So not only was he a poor choice for an o-line coach, he wasn’t even a fit for what Mike wanted to do.

 

 

Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach Bobby Turner: The running back whisperer. Turner could turn me into a 1,000 yard rusher. Luring Turner back to be on his coaching staff again is probably the best move Mike made in regards to the coaching staff.

 

Tight Ends Coach Sean McVay: One of the assistants that Bruce Allen managed to sneak on the staff, McVay had previously worked for Allen as a quality control control in Tampa, and then for Jim Haslett as a WR and QB coach for the Florida Tuskers. McVay joined the staff as an offensive assistant for the Redskins 2010, working primarily under the tight ends coach Jon Embree. When Embree left to become the head coach at Colorado, McVay was thrust into the impromptu role of tight ends coach.

 

It took a long, long time for Mike Shanahan to officially name McVay the tight end coach, as he poked around the league to see what other assistants were there, but was finally named tight ends coach in 2011.

 

In 2011, Fred Davis posted career highs in receptions and yards. He was on target for 54 catches, and 742 yards before injury ended his season early. But Logan Paulsen stepped in admirably and proved to be a solid tight receiving tight end in his own right in 2012. And Jordan Reed was a revelation at the position this season, as he is the team’s second leading receiver with 45 catches and 499 yards with 3 TDs, despite missing several games.

 

I think there might only be a few assistants that could make the transition from this coaching staff to the next, and McVay is one of them.

 

 

Wide Receivers Coach Mike McDaniel: I see a lot of people talking about how receivers coach is always an entry level position, and how it’s unusual to hire someone with experience to the WR coach position, and that’s an excuse as to why Mike has 3 receiver coaches in four years.

 

Allow me to say that’s bullcrap. There are just as many receiver coaches with experiences as there are without, if not more in the NFL. Mike’s inability to either find one with experience, or let an inexperienced one have time to settle in and adapt, is half the reason why the Redskins receiving core is so damn uneven.

 

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spends a lot of time teaching the receivers personally, which leaves the wide receivers coaches in an inconvenient place; it’s hard to teach your own receivers your own way when the offensive coordinator bullies his way into your turf.

 

But at the very least you could that Keenan McCardell and Ike Hilliard were reasonable candidates because that’d played receiver in the league. McCardell may not have been ready, and his group did take a step back in 2011 … but it’s not like he had a whole lot of talent, with Hankerson being regulated to the bench for much of his rookie season (and then getting hurt), Niles Paul only being used as a blocker (seems familiar), and Aldrick Robinson on the practice squad. McCardell had to try and turn guys like Anthony Armstrong and Terrence Austin into players, while veterans like Jabar Gaffney, Santana Moss and Donte Stallworth were never going to be much better or worse than what they already were.

 

Ike Hilliard oversaw a budding group of young receivers, plus the addition of an emerging Pierre Garçon, and all the receivers seemed to improve gradually over the course of the season, taking positive step. But then, for reasons only know to the powers that be, Ike was allowed to walk and join Doug Marrone’s staff in Buffalo. Now Buffalo has a young group of developing playmakers…

 

And we have Mike McDaniel. A guy who never played in the league, who’s only experience in the NFL was first as a coaching intern in Denver under Shanny in 2005, then as a coaching assistant in Houston under Gary Kubiak for 2 seasons. After that, he went on to become the running backs coach for the Sacremento Mountain Lions of the UFL until the team basically shuddered, only to be thrust into the role of wide receiver coach here in Washington.

 

And all the receivers have promptly gone backwards. Aside from Pierre, there’s no a single consistent receiver in the bunch, and they often make the same baffling, stupid mistakes over and over again. 95% of the time when you see a player make the same mistake over and over, that’s coaching. The development of Hankerson and Robinson were crucial to the Redskins and RG3′s success, and Mike entrusted that job to an first year coach who had never held the position before.

 

Quarterbacks coach Matt LeFleur: What, exactly, does Matt LeFleur do? As I said before, when I see the same players keep making the same mistakes, that falls on coaching in my opinion. As it pertains to Robert, his mechanics have actually gotten worse since he’s time at Baylor in my opinion. Part of that is just coming back and learning the position, but his inconsistent footwork dates back to last season. The same goes with Kirk; I see Kirk doing the same things over and over again that should get him picked or intercepted. Kirk may be a better passer technically, but the same issues I noticed with him coming out of Michigan State, and in his limited action in 2012, and in preseason, are still things I see.

 

I don’t know what LeFleur does. I really don’t. He’s practically non-existent. Kyle and RGIII (or Kirk, or Rex) are always the ones looking at the pictures on the sideline. (That means Kyle works with the wide receivers AND coaches the quarterbacks AND coordinates the offense.) Another inexperienced guy, LeFleur’s spent on a two seasons as an offensive quality control for the Texans before being promoted to quarterback coach here. At least he played quarterback in college though, which does give him some frame of reference.

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive Backs coach Raheem Morris: Bruce Allen basically rescued Raheem after he was fired by the Tampa Bay Bucs, again looking out for one of the assistants he brought into the league. (Being really good friends with Kyle didn’t hurt either.) He was also bought in to basically force Bob Slowik out of his job, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Raheem had a shaky 2012, but I think he’s actually done a fairly decent job in 2013.

 

David Amerson, whom I was wary of before the draft, is coming along nicely and developing into a good all around corner. He’s gotten the best one could expect out of guys like Reed Doughty and Brandon Meriweather, who helped anchor the back end. And DeAngelo Hall is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Of course there’s always Josh Wilson, but you can’t win them all, right?

 

He may be too chummy and too loud to be a head coach, but he’s a solid position coach whom the players all like and gets along with all the assistants. I think Raheem Morris will be another coach who could probably return next season.

 

Defensive line coach Jacob Burney: Burney is a guy who both doesn’t do a terrible job or a really good job. The d-line has been inconsistent all four years he’s been here. They are great at stuffing the run, but none can rush the passer. Some of that is the hodge podge of defensive line talent he’s had to deal with, all of whom exist somewhere between a 3-4 and 4-3 guy. His track record in the NFL is neither stand out or terribly bad. He’s just sort of an average coach who does an average job with an average group of guys. Neither great or particularly terrible. Just sort of…ya know…there.

 

Linebackers coach Bob Slowik: Shanny’s right hand man, a guy who, despite being genuinely awful at his job, just keeps clinging to life. He was terrible as a defensive backs coach, and he’s even worse as a linebackers coach. Before Shanny essentially handed Slowik the job, Slowik had only ever linebackers once, for two seasons, 1990-1991. He’s spent the rest of his time being a mediocre defensive coordinator and a bad defensive backs coach.

 

Lou Spanos was the linebackers coach before Slowik. Spanos learned under Dick LeBeau for 14 seasons, rejuvenated London Fletcher developed Perry Riley into a starter, helped Rak make the transition to a 3-4 OLB and kick started Ryan Kerrigan’s career. Spanos was an invaluable assistent to Jim Haslett, and in all honesty, Spanos probably should’ve gone on to be the defensive coordinator following the 2011 season, when Haslett’s defense fell of a cliff at the end of the season.

 

But Spanos was allowed to leave to be defensive coordinator of the UCLA Bruins, where the Bruins were 5th in the Pac-12 in Total Defense. And after it finally seemed someone was able to force Bob “I am terrible at my job” Slowik out of his job, Shanny handed him the linebacking core, a move that was so bad, one of things that kept London from re-signing here quickly in 2012 was that he hated working with Slowik.

 

The linebacking core is brutal, Rak and Kerrigan’s growth is stunted, Perry is average, and London’s on his way out. I don’t know if that’s all on Slowik, but it sure as crap is partially on him.

 

 

COORDINATORS

 

Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett: Jim Haslett has never really been good. Sean Kennedy at Hampton Roads has already listed all the reasons why Haslett is, without question, terrible at his job.

 

The reason why he’s here is pretty simple. Mike Shanahan did interview guys like Romeo Crennel and Mike Zimmer during that offseason. The problem was, Mike wouldn’t grant his defensive coordinators autonomy over their defenses. Mike Shanahan wanted the right to hire the defensive assistants (like, let’s say, Jacob Burney and Bob Slowik, both loyal Shanahan hands), and he also wanted the right to tell the coordinators what defense to run.

 

Because Crennel and Zimmer aren’t dumb, they both balked. Jim Haslett, however, having been exiled to the UFL for two seasons, gladly acquiesced to Mike’s request, despite the fact that he hadn’t coordinated a 3-4 defense in years. But he had a job again, so who needs integrity.

 

Haslett’s personality rubs guys the wrong way, and players will privately say that they often don’t feel properly prepared for games. Haslett said he watched 70 tapes of Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense, and yet when the Redskins stepped on the field on Monday Night Football, the Redskins seemed completely unprepared. In 2012, despite Haslett saying he knew that Mohammed Sanu could throw the football, no one else did, and Jay Gruden said after the game that he knew exactly what defense Haslett would call to counter act the Wildcat. At the beginning of the season, it seemed a weekly occurrence that opposing offenses players would bluntly state they had nothing to fear from the Redskins defense.

 

Busted coverages are normal. The communication is terrible. Haslett will immediately stop using something that’s working if it gets burnt once, seemingly unaware that sometimes, the offense is going to win. His blitz concepts are predictable and weak. Formations that work and pressure packages that work are disregarded and shelved, never to be seen again on a weekly basis.

 

I’m not saying all the talent that Shanny has given to Haslett and made him work with is great. It’s not. A lot of it’s mediocre. But Haslett … he’s just not good. He’s never been good. He’ll likely never be good. He certainly won’t be great. And yet, despite several ample opportunities to fire him, Mike has, for reasons only known to him, kept Haslett hanging around.

 

Probably because Jim’s the only guy who will let Shanny meddle in his affairs.

 

 

Special Teams Coordinator Keith Burns: You have to understand the depths to which the Redskins special teams unit has fallen that it makes fans long for Danny Smith. I mean, sure, Danny Smith had trouble developing a kicker or a returner, but at least his units appeared competent. His coverage teams were always solid. They made some bonehead penalties every once in a while, but at least they seemed liked they knew what they were doing, and like the would run through a brick wall for Danny Smith.

 

Keith Burns is so loathed in Redskins Park that half the problem with special teams is that no one wants to play for him. A player got into a physical altercation with Burns; that’s how bad it’s gotten. Burns is the guy who, with a unit struggling mightily, in a winnable game, in front of national television audience, called a fake punt. Not only did he call a fake punt, but no one even knew the fake punt was coming. The team can barely stop kick and punt returns without squibbing it, and he called a fake punt.

 

At least when Zorn called Swinging Gate twice on back-to-back plays, he did it in part because of a miscommunication and in part because he was giving Dan Snyder the finger. What’s Burns’ excuse?

 

Keith Burns was a player on Mike’s Super Bowl teams and then an assistant on the Broncos after he retired. Mike basically handed the keys to the special teams unit after Burns spent 6 seasons as a Special Teams assistant. Six. As an assistant. And one has to remember, that spans 3 coaching staffs. And, coincidentally enough, John Fox tried to take none other than Danny Smith from us. So it’s not like the guy was an in demand coordinator.

 

I’d love to think that Burns just blew Shanny’s mind when he interviewed him, but it seems more likely Mike got a job for a former friend and player. Burns has been an unequivocal disaster, period.

 

Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan: I need to say this; I honestly think Kyle Shanahan is a brilliant offensive mind. I think he’s got a great future ahead of him, I think he’s incredibly instinctive, and has a really good game field. I don’t not think Kyle is terrible, or dumb.

 

I do think Kyle is high strung, and locked into a system, like his father before him. There is more to being a coordinator and head coach in the NFL than knowing the X’s and O’s. You have to know how to deal with people, and how to adjust on the fly.

 

Often, it feels like Kyle Shanahan doesn’t know what to do what the defense doesn’t give him the exact looks he wants. His quickness to abandon the run is slightly exaggerated, but his quickness to abandon the traditional run game and run the read-options — despite RGIII’s request not to — have not been.

 

He is able to scheme anyone open, but one wonders how great a teacher and communicator he is. When Kyle was named the Texans offensive coordinator in 2008, Matt Schaub characterized him as “high-strung”. I think that’s true. And high-strung individuals can be tough to get through to. And when you have a system that you think works, and you have numbers to back up the fact that anyone, no matter how much they hate the system, can be productive, it’s easy to fall back and say “I don’t need to change.”

 

Kyle might be the best assistant on the staff from a technical, X’s and O’s standpoint. But from a standpoint of dealing with people and coaching his players, and adjusting to adverse situations on the field and off it, I think he falls short. He clearly has an idea in mind for the system he wants RGIII to run, but his inability to find a middle ground between the two if frustrating and disappointing, and his unwillingness to adapt is aggravating.

 

Kyle needs to go. He needs to be separated from his father and do some career rehab, and he needs to do a little souls earching. Because if he were named a head coach anywhere in the NFL today, I think he’d be tremendously under-prepared for the job, if his tenure as Redskins offensive coordinator is any prologue to his future.

 

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1 comments
NorthVaJim
NorthVaJim

Thank you for this detailed artcle. Since most of us have minimal background knowledge on these coaches, it is hard for us to judge whether all said is fact or opinions. But it is clear from the play of the roster the Skins suffer from poor coaching in amost every area. I still remain baffled by the fact that shannahan was so successful in his earlier career and has been such a disaster with us. If, as the article contends, this disaster stems in part from continued poor staff choices, that really nails down the need to fire our boy as soon as the season is over. The one thing that remains a mystery is whether, if Shannahan isvfired, Allen remains part of the solution or part of the problem.

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