There are few people more unqualified to offer advice to Robert Griffin III than Donovan McNabb.
It’s not altogether surprising that Washington Post columnist Mike Wise went to McNabb to ask his opinion on the Redskins signal caller; it’s not like Wise is going to get a legitimate interview with RGIII any time soon, so it’s pretty much down to getting juicy quotes from a disgruntled former player and photobombing press conferences wearing t-shirts with Native American imagery. (So, so brave that one is.)
And it’s not surprising that McNabb once again took the opportunity to jab Mike Shanahan in the ribs. This is, of course, the man who boldly claimed that Mike Shanahan would not be a good fit for Robert. (On camera, no less.)
“Are you going to cater the offense around his talent, and what he’s able to do, or are you going to bring the Houston offense with Matt Schaub over to him, and have him kind of be embedded in that whole deal?” McNabb asked, before showing off a graphic of all the quarterbacks who (supposedly) failed underneath Mike Shanahan.
There’s two funny side notes to that quote. One, Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan actually did cater the offense around RG3′s talent, as well as incorporating elements from Houston’s offense. And if you didn’t know, he was pretty successful in doing it.
The second funny side note, is that McNabb said he wanted the Redskins to do the exact opposite, one year and just a little over a month later.
“Now they’re incorporating this ‘read option,‘ and all this other mess that coaches are being ‘creative‘ with and want their name tied behind it, because they have the ability at quarterback.” McNabb told Bloomberg Radio in April of 2013. He went on to say, “You know, instead of trying to develop this kid to be a quarterback in the NFL, a pocket passer [emphasis added] who can do the three-, five-step seven-step drop and be very effective with it, now we’re so entitled with this read option, this Pistol offense, that we’re making it into OUR offense. And that’s what the fans are seeing. I think for RGIII, as well as for Shanahan, it’s important that they begin to evolve that offense to take pressure off of him.”
I wish McNabb would keep his story straight, so it was easier for me to remember which point of his I’m trying to disagree with.
It still seems like the now-retired (not-by-choice, mind you) quarterback has sour grapes over what happened in Washington. Which naturally makes him an impartial observer of Robert Griffin III’s continued development.
It seems like only a few weeks ago, the local beat reporters were grumbling about the lack of access to RGIII and the fact that they hadn’t gotten to speak to him at length since January. But that was then, and now that he has spoken, they seem to be implying that he shouldn’t be talking as much.
Donovan McNabb agrees. “But if you’re coming off ACL surgery, you don’t need to be having a press conference at OTAs. Every week? Really? It becomes a circus, a sideshow. It takes away from the focus of what those sessions are supposed to be about: the team.”
“So when I look up on TV and see him up there talking all the time about how great he’s doing — or doing jumping jacks or someone else talking about his supernatural healing powers — I wonder to myself: Is this about selling tickets to the fans or what?
“I don’t blame him. They’re letting him do it. But at some point, it can be counterproductive. You can set yourself up for more criticism later.”
Now, let’s conveniently ignore the press conferences, the multiple photoshoots, and the entire ad campaign the Redskins built around Donovan McNabb when he signed here that apparently didn’t take away from OTA’s and clearly wasn’t about selling tickets.
On one hand, I sort of get what McNabb is saying here. While I’ve always firmly believed RGIII would be ready for Week 1, showing him practicing does add a degree of hype that will lead to a let down if Kirk Cousins is the Week 1 starter and RGIII does miss games. If the team doesn’t get out to a solid start, it’s entirely likely that nationally we could have a Derrick Rose “I-thought-he-was-healthy” case on our hands.
On the other hand, Robert has been doing these sort of light work outs off to the side for weeks now. RGIII has been throwing for a while now. Anyone that follows his Twitter knows that he has been. As for cameras filming him throwing, again; the press-at-large has been grumbling about the lack of access to RGIII for the better part, both in interviews and on tape.
So the choice between the two becomes “creating a potential issue down the line from people seeing RGIII practice and getting higher expectations”, and “creating an issue by either 1.) not letting RGIII practice while cameras are rolling, throwing off the rhythm of OTAs and his rehab or 2.) not allowing cameras to film RGIII at all, which again, creates an issue”.
And somewhere in the back of my mind, I can imagine the story “Media not allowed to film RGIII, what are the Redskins hiding about their quarterback’s rehab” being a story. The thing about Robert Griffin III talking every week is that it allows the Redskins to control their messaging, rather than having an information starved press corp try to scrape meaning from every tweet, every two second appearance out in public.
Separate from that, the ultimate problem with McNabb’s statement is that it is laced with the same bitterness in his “Shanahan won’t adjust to RGIII” and his “they’re not teaching him how to be a pocket passer” comments. Even while trying to show his apparent “concern” for RGIII, he can’t help but make a dig about the Redskins trying to sell tickets because they let cameras roll while RG3 practice. They don’t come from a place of authenticity; there is nothing genuine come from a guy who may be one of the more disingenuous former athletes mascaraing as an analyst out there.
Part of it was the pounding he took from the fans and the press (and occassionally from teammates) in Philadelphia. As Kevin Ewoldt pointed out in his brilliant piece for Hogs Haven, that abuse he took, from the moment he was drafted to the moment he was traded, created a robotic personality that said all the right things and avoided controversy.
McNabb became a national media darling because of it, but the Philly fans hated it. I never understood it until after McNabb left Washington. Philly enjoys actual emotional human beings. It’s why they couldn’t stand Andy Reid. Buddy Ryan never won a championship, but he fit the blue collar sensibilities of the town. Dick Vermeil never won a championship, but he wore his emotions on his sleeve. The icons of Philadelphia sports all seem to be emotional human beings, relatable and passionate.
To Philly, McNabb was phony and aloof. A guy who says he didn’t know that ties weren’t in the rulebook not so much because he was dumb enough to not realize that, but because he constantly feared saying the wrong thing. Better to admit you didn’t know ties were a thing than to admit you played in one of the worst games in NFL history and stalemated.
Its why it’s paradoxical that McNabb shared his concerns that Robert Griffin III would become a robot. “…there were times he sounded like a robot, programmed to be whoever they wanted him to be,” McNabb said. “It’s important for him he lets people know what he thinks is best for him.”
It’s the pot calling the kettle black while criticizing the kettle’s ability to boil water.
Nearly every time RGIII has been interviewed, everyone, from beat reporters to national reporters, remark on how personable and genuine he seems in press conference. Even during the draft, most remarked on his ability to answer the same questions over and over again and yet personalize each one of them.
Robert Griffin III sounds like many things, but a robot is not one of them.
And there are the continued implications that the Redskins don’t have RGIII’s best interest at heart. Once again, that sting of bitterness winds it’s way through everything McNabb says.
McNabb was an abject failure for Washington. I don’t think anyone could dispute that. But it doesn’t seem like it had to be that way. McNabb’s practice habits weren’t new news. Kyle Shanahan didn’t want him at quarterback. McNabb’s departure from Philly wasn’t met with outrage are sadness; McNabb got traded to a division rival and the Philadelphia lockerroom collectively yawned.
“I was a teammate of Donovan McNabb’s in Philadelphia,” Tim Hasselbeck said on Mike and Mike in the Morning in 2010. “One of the things that drove them crazy in Philadelphia was the lack of tempo at which he practiced. . . . It was always something where you’re leaving the quarterback meeting and it would be, ‘Hey, listen, the head man wants a little more tempo today.’ Nearly every single day. That’s been the deal with Donovan McNabb. I know exactly what Mike Shanahan is talking about.”
And yet despite all that, Mike Shanahan still traded for him, hoping to light a fire under his butt. And instead of working harder, putting his head in the playbook, studying the offense inside and out, and being an example of excellence in the film room and in practice, and proving his former team wrong, McNabb stayed exactly the same. It’s possible he got even worse. There was no reason McNabb couldn’t have been successful in Washington, other than the fact that he had little drive or will to succeed here, and Mike’s stubborn insistence that McNabb “do the little things” right fell on deaf ears, as McNabb clung to the way things had been done in Philly. The same ways, mind you, that led to him getting traded to Washington in the first place.
McNabb talks about RGIII spending time off the field getting to know his teammates (either forgetting or not knowing the fact that RGIII invited the whole receiving core to Baylor as a rookie, while also ignoring that whole “rehabbing from a knee injury” thing), like McNabb did with his infamous “Hell Week” in Arizona.
But the fact is, “Hell Week” was a PR stunt. It sounded better than it was. It was great for hurting Malcolm Kelly’s hamstring before camp, but other than that, nothing about “Hell Week” transferred over to the actual practice fields in Philly or in Washington. McNabb may have gotten to know his teammates, but the focus wasn’t on being the best. “Hell Week” was a lot like certain celebrities starting charities; it’s sort of for a good cause, but mainly it’s for creating great publicity.
McNabb was traded by Philadelphia, and his teammates said nothing. His was benched for Rex friggin’ Grossman in Washington, and not only did his team not defend him, the actually seemed excited about it. He was cut by the Vikings (the team he wanted to go to in the first place) after going 1-5. Vikings offensive coordinator even jabbed Mike Shanahan, saying he didn’t understand how you could ignore input of someone the caliber of McNabb, and then the Vikings cut him after 6 games for a rookie. The Vikings best player, Adrian Peterson, basically shrugged.
McNabb could’ve been great wherever he wanted. Mike Shanahan gave him a second chance in Washington, and he thanked Mike by being lazy in practice. By being the last guy out on the practice field. By either being unable or unwilling to learn the playbook. By refusing to wear a wristband for the fear it would make him look dumb. He came to camp looking slimmer, but his “cardiovascular endurance” was still poor.
McNabb says in regard to RGIII, “It’s important for him he lets people know what he thinks is best for him”, but rather than talk openly about his problems with the Redskins after getting benched, he bashed Kyle Shanahan through his agent Fletcher Smith. Then turned around and lied in Kyle’s face over not knowing what his own agent was talking about.
And instead of being forthright with answers when reporters asked him, McNabb sat in his car…and then drove away without answering a damn thing.
The team that surrounded McNabb in 2010 was not good. Probably not even close to good. And hindsight being 20/20, trading for him was a mistake. But McNabb was complicit in that mistake, exacerbating the issue until the coaches had no choice but to bench him.
Rex Grossman may not be very good, but the players in the lockerroom respected him for his work ethic and demeanor a lot more than they did McNabb. The three games Rex played at the end of the season was like watching a different team. For whatever reason, that team played harder for Sexy Rexy than they did the 6-time Pro Bowler who had been to 5 NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.
When McNabb got cut by the Vikings in 2011, there was no one in a rush to sign him, even though some pretty big holes opened up that he could’ve stepped into. In 2012, his refusal to take a spot as a veteran back-up (despite his insistence that teams were interested in him) basically cost him his career. And this year, he’ll return to Philly to retire. And he’ll get a nice golf clap. But it’s hard to believe Philly’s heart will be completely in it. Lord knows McNabb’s wasn’t at times. And worse, I don’t think he really gets why his career ended the way it did.
Donovan McNabb has been held in regard as a source of authority on the on the Redskins since he got cut. His words carry a certain weight that his actions on and off the field while wearing the burgundy and gold don’t. In fact, while time has yet removed the wound McNabb gave to Shanny, painting his as the stubborn, unchanging jerk and his son as an example of nepotism, it has proved the Redskins were right, if only because his Vikings run ended so miserably.
To be fair, it started miserably too, with a 7-15, 35 yard performance versus the Chargers in 2011. But despite a decent looking statline, the McNabb-led Vikings had a case of “Steve DeBerg Syndrome”; the offense, and McNabb, were playing just well enough to lose. Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave both emphasized that McNabb had to work on his mechanics; a point that Mike and Kyle harped on with McNabb, though they didn’t do so publically. McNabb, as he did in Washington, bristled at that thought. McNabb led a stagnate offense that couldn’t score touchdowns in Washington, and then did the same in Minnesota. Through the first 6 games with the stubborn Mike Shanahan and his mean son Kyle, McNabb completed 58.1% of his passes for 1,561 yards, 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. In his six games with the Vikings, with an offensive coordinator that was allegedly far more open to McNabb’s suggestions, Donovan McNabb completed 60.8% of his passes for 1,026 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
And to add to that air of phoniness, after both those failures, McNabb re-adjusted his image. He made it a big point to wear a giant wristband after the Redskins said he wouldn’t in Minnesota. Then he had a puff piece on ESPN about how he was “getting back to the basics” and fixing his mechanics in 2012.
RGIII is the anti-thesis of what McNabb was when he came to Washington. RGIII wanted to be here. While some guys are the “first one in and last one out” because they show up and hang out at the building for a little while before getting to work, then hang out a little more after practice and hang around before going home, RGIII is literally the first one working and the last one to want to leave.
Robert’s leadership on the team has never been questioned. The team voted him team captain not because they felt like they had to because of who Griffin was, or because he was the quarterback and the quarterback is supposed to be team captain, but because he worked his ass off to earn their respect, acting less like a first round draft pick and more like an undrafted free agent.
RGIII doesn’t do commercials to increase his celebrity, but to earn enough money that he can live off so he can keep his game day checks in the bank for when he retires. He meets with the press once a week for 20-40 minutes, which McNabb may object to, but is certainly better than having a radio show stamped with your name on it, and then continiuing to do it even after you get benched.
RGIII’s heart and passion are never in question. Donovan McNabb’s are always in flux. He joins an unfortunate group of athletes who had all the talent in the world, but lacked the drive to be the absolute best. There is a difference between saying you want to be the best, and striving to actually be the best.
When you’re as good as McNabb was when he was younger, it’s easy to coast on your athleticism. It’s easy to be good because your “good” would be other athletes’ “great”. But when you get older, and the wheels go, and the natural talent fades, the great ones — the truly great ones — take it to the next level. They train harder, they study harder, they practice harder. And they transcend that which they thought was previously possible.
The good ones stagnate. They don’t know hard work because they never had to work hard, even if the face of adversity. And eventually, the more that natural talent fades, the less effective they become, until they’re left not with a grand exit, but a disappointing dismissal.
McNabb has a lot of advice for RGIII. And I’m sure RGIII would tell Donovan he appreciated it, if he ever wanted to hear anything Donovan has to say.
But perhaps McNabb should spend less time doing interviews with Mike Wise, and more time working on a time machine. Maybe then he could go back and give himself this advice.
RGIII doesn’t need it. But a younger McNabb sure could.