The soap opera that is the 2013 Washington Redskins hit another level on Sunday. Early in the day, prior to the team’s complete no-show in a 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, reports surfaced that head coach Mike Shanahan had his office cleared out prior to last year’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks and was ready to quit. The reason was that he felt the favoritism team owner Daniel Snyder bestowed on quarterback Robert Griffin III was creating an atmosphere unconducive to winning.
Then came the events of the playoff game, when Shanahan left a clearly injured RG3 in the game, the quarterback eventually tore his ACL and the coach felt he couldn’t really leave under those circumstances. I found the whole media report dubious at the outset, but in a press conference after the Kansas City debacle, Shanahan pointedly did not deny any of it.
As a partisan Redskins fan, I’ve already weighed in with a long piece that details my thoughts on the RG3-Shanahan relationship as it unfolded since the spring of 2012 when the team sent three first-round picks, a second-round pick and the Lincoln Memorial to St. Louis for the right to move up and draft RG3.
I won’t rehash the 5,000-plus words here, except to distill them to a single soundbite–whatever the quarterback’s faults, I believe he’s committed to winning. Whatever the coach’s strengths, I believe he’s at a point in his career where other priorities are in the way.
In spite of this, I was actually reaching a point of resigned peace regarding Shanahan and open to having him come back in 2014. My reasoning was that if we cut RG3 slack for all the side effects of the injury–the lack of an offseason and the need to rapidly transition to a more dropback-oriented passing scheme, and to do it without the benefit of that offseason–then fairness demands we cut his coaches the same slack too. And I’ve never believed that franchises benefit from blithely firing coaches. I’d rather stay with a guy a year too long than fire him a year too early.
This media report has sent me over the edge though. All the media chatter is on the Shanahan-RG3-Snyder dynamic, but my gut reaction on hearing it is one that has not been addressed–in cleaning out his desk before the playoff game with Seattle last season, what the hell was Shanahan thinking? That the team was going to lose? If he wanted to leave, fine. I have no issue with any man not wanting to work for Snyder. But shouldn’t the head coach have been thinking that his resignation was still a few weeks away?
The charges of owner favoritism are indisputably true, and just as indisputably, irrelevant. Troy Aikman was tight with Jerry Jones, Tom Brady is tight with Robert Kraft, and as Shanahan well knows from personal experience, John Elway was tight with Pat Bowlen. I don’t find it a particularly edifying part of NFL life, but the notion that this is something new or that you can’t win with it sounds like a head coach looking for an excuse.
Now let’s get to my second gut reaction and it’s simply this–when you do what Shanahan has done and put your own son as the offensive coordinator, don’t you lose all rights to complain about favoritism? What really affects the Washington Redskins more–the fact Snyder sends his limo to pick up RG3, or the fact that Shanny’s kid is calling all the plays?
When you watch RG3 play football, I don’t see how his competitiveness isn’t the first thing that jumps out at you. I understand that a quarterback turning back upfield rather than going out of bounds isn’t the smartest thing to do. I get that taking a flying leap into two defenders to get a crucial first down (as he did against San Diego) or barreling head-on into a two more defenders at the goal line in Minnesota isn’t worth the long-term risk to his career.
But as one who is simply a fan, I see these things and see a player that will do what it takes to win a football game, even at the expense of his long-term earning potential. I reiterate that I completely get this long-term earning potential is directly tied to the team’s long-term prospects, and he needs to learn find different ways to channel that competitiveness. But at least for three-plus hours on Sunday, I feel like I’m watching a player who simply wants to win.
Now let’s take Shanahan. I don’t doubt that in a general sense he wants to win. But can he honestly look anyone in the eye and say that of all the available offensive coordinator prospects, it’s just an incredible coincidence that his own son is the best choice?
Wanting to coach with your son is a noble thing. But it’s an abuse of power–and dare I say favoritism–to do it at the NFL level. If Shanahan wants to walk away from the money and glory of the NFL, take a Division III coaching job, then it’s appropriate to hire his son. If he wants to stay at the highest level, then the right thing to do is hire the most talented coordinator possible.
And now that we know the truth about Shanahan’s mindset before the playoff game, it’s hard for me to separate that from his blasé indifference to RG3’s health. As I noted in my earlier column, I did *not* come down on the coach for his decision-making on the quarterback in that game. But I did wonder what game he was watching if he didn’t know RG3 was hurt. Now I wonder if the head coach simply didn’t care.
Shanahan’s indifference, and the fact he has obviously quit on this team, all the while collecting $7 million, have put him in a category once created by Bill Simmons, editor of ESPN’s Grantland–it’s The People Who Make Us Feel Like We’re Idiots For Caring About Professional Sports. Whatever you want to say about RG3–and I don’t deny he loves the presence of a TV camera–he’s never made me feel that way.