Could Mike Shanahan Just Shut Up?

Mike Shanahan is on the prowl again. After another offseason of fruitlessly trolling for jobs in dysfunctional places like San Francisco, the former head coach is back in the headlines. Is he talking up his success in Denver back in the late 20th century when he won back-to-back Super Bowls with John Elway? Is Shanahan citing his 2005 trip to the AFC Championship Game with Jake Plummer in Denver? Is he even talking about winning the 2012 NFC East title in Washington, his last notable achievement?

Joe Gibbs Washington Redskins

Well, sort of. Shanahan only makes news these days when he decides to trash the principal author of that 2012 division title run, Robert Griffin III. The latest is a story in The Undefeated, an ESPN spinoff site devoted to African-American sports issues (“the black Grantland” as it was initially hyped). The author of the piece, Jason Reid, is on the Redskins beat for The Washington Post and has been a Griffin critic and Shanahan backer.

The conclusion of the article—the demise of RG3’s career in Washington—and by extension Shanahan’s—is all the quarterback’s fault. Shanahan informs us that Griffin, acting more or less as a lackey for owner Daniel Snyder demanded that the “50 Series”, the package of read-option plays that made RG3 the Rookie of the Year and the best young quarterback in football, be junked and the offense go to a traditional NFL drop-back style.

Griffin, according to his former coach is said to have audaciously written the words “Unacceptable” on the blackboard as he presumably spoke to his coaches as though they were grade-school students sent for discipline.

We should note that Griffin has said previously the story is an “urban legend” and then let it go. RG3 is clearly trying to move on from his Shanahan years and was trying to do so even when still in Washington. The words “urban legend” are diplomatic, but they can be translated thusly—RG3 is saying Mike Shanahan is lying through his teeth.

But Shanahan won’t cease and desist and is banking on the more he tells the story, the more of a ring of truth it will have. Whether it’s true or not is an interesting soap opera—personally I believe Griffin, the son of honorable military parents who had never been in trouble at any level before meeting Shanahan, who had publicly clashed with both Elway and Plummer prior to this.

But interesting or not, it’s not particularly relevant, because we do know that RG3 desired that the offense be altered to de-emphasize the read-option, be more traditional and presumably extend his career. That the quarterback might not have “demanded” it in the way Shanahan spins is not relevant to one very overlooked point in this whole drama.

The point is this—Mike Shanahan was no mere football coach of the Washington Redskins. He had total control of all football operations. He had contractual authority to decide who was drafted, who played, and if Snyder interfered, the owner would be in breach of contract.

That’s why Shanahan’s posture of helplessness in the face of the owner and quarterback is simply absurd. If Mike Shanahan didn’t want to trade up to draft RG3 in the first place he should have told Snyder no. If he didn’t want to change the offense, he should have told Snyder and Griffin no.

George Allen Redskins

I understand that’s not the easiest conversation to have with your boss, but if you don’t want to have the occasional difficult conversation then why on earth are you making $7 million a year? If you’re just going to be a lackey, we can get Jim Zorn back as head coach. Or heck, I’ll do it for a hundred grand a year.

The thing I find most annoying is that Shanahan is the guy who should have been fighting the battles I was advocating for as a Redskins fan. I didn’t like the trade to move up in the 2012 NFL draft and was on record in March of that year saying so. When RG3 persuaded me otherwise, I wanted to build off the read-option and continue using Griffin’s strengths and have said so over and over again in this space.

But I don’t hold a young quarterback responsible for making an accurate read of his strengths and weaknesses. I don’t even consider it a good thing for a quarterback to not want to throw from the pocket. What I expect is that a head coach with two Super Bowl rings on his resume and contractual control of the football operation will give some pushback and do what he thinks is right.

Whatever you think of Robert Griffin III, he gave the Washington Redskins everything he had. Mike Shanahan shirked his responsibilities and wouldn’t stand up for what he believed. At its heart, that’s my beef with Shanahan—he basically quit on his football team and all the interviews in the world aren’t going to change that.