Like Rip Van Winkle, Hog Heaven awoke from a deep slumber to find a new king of the realm. So how excited should we be about the anointment of Mike Shanahan as head coach of the Washington Redskins?
Of the five coaches hired by Danny Snyder, Shanahan’s in the middle of the pack. Here’s my ranking from bottom to top:
5. Steve Spurrier, 2002-03, 12-20 Regular Season, 0-0 Playoffs I was never sold on Spurrier and not because of some arrogance of personality. It’s the rare coach in the Super Bowl era who can move from the college ranks to the NFL and can find success.
Some mighty fine NCAA coaches tried, Lou Holtz (3-10, Jets), Dennis Erickson (40-56, Seahawks, 49ers), Dan Devine (25-27-4, Packers) and the pathetic Bobby Petrino (3-10, Falcons) to name a few. Nick Saban, as fine a college coach as you can get, could only muster a 15-17 record with the Dolphins.
We all understand that college players have a comeuppance when they run with the men of the NFL. So do college coaches when hired to lead those men. It seems that coaching in the pros require different set of skills than coaching school boys. Maybe Pete Carroll (33-31, Patriots, Jets) will make a go of it in his third attempt in the pros with the Seattle Seahawks, but I’m skeptical.
Spurrier was a particular problem. He gave every indication that he really didn’t want to be a head coach. He plainly said he would not put in the time that matched his peers. He did not want to make the off-field decisions head coaches make. Spurrier wanted the Redskins to hire a general manager for that. Talks with Bobby Beathard broke down.
Nope. Spurrier only wanted to see if his football concepts worked at the pro level. He tired of the role when he found that he was becoming “NFL-ized.” The Snyder hype machine sold a bill of goods. Unfortunately, too many people, including Snyder, bought it.
Are college coaches never successful in the NFL? Jimmy Johnson (80-64 Regular Season, 9-4 Playoffs, 2 Super Bowl wins, Cowboys, Dolphins) was fabulously successful. But Johnson was the beneficiary of the most incredibly stupid trade in NFL history. The Minnesota Vikings gouged their roster and mortgaged their draft future in a grab for Dallas running back Herschel Walker. The Cowboys built the core of three Super Bowl teams in the aftermath of that deal that led many to conclude that Johnson, Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner were better coaches than they are.
The funniest part of this story is that Mike Lynn, Vikings general manager, never consulted head coach Jerry Burns to confirm if Walker was “the guy” the offense needed. Burns never altered his finesse offense to take advantage of Walker’s monstrous ability as a power rusher. So many parallels to Danny Snyder’s approach to the Redskins….
4. Jim Zorn (12-20 Regular Season, 0-0 Playoffs) Everything about the Jim Zorn hire was silly. That goat rodeo of a coaching search saw a slew of candidates walk away from Washington’s (potential) offer. Everyone is too polite to say why.
Steve Spagnuolo preferred to remain defensive coordinator for the Giants for a year until he could accept a “better” offer from the Rams. Pete Carroll delayed his return to the pros for two years until a “better” offer from the Seahawks. Jim Caldwell already knew he was in line for the Colts job when Tony Dungy left. (The Colts really were a better offer.)
So the Redskins’ executive vice president in his first shot at running a team turned to the newly hired offensive coordinator, Zorn, whom nobody else wanted as coordinator, to run the whole team.
Zorn was the only head coach candidate who got to name his own offensive coordinator. He turned to Sherm Smith, who was never before a coordinator. The Redskins wanted the West Coast Offense for the passing game while retaining Joe Gibbs’ power running game. Oddly, they released Gibbs’ running back coach, Ernest Byner, to bring in Stump Mitchell.
The outcome of the Jim Zorn era was a foregone conclusion. We just refused to see it. Not that I blame Zorn for much of it.
If Danny Snyder had any real football conviction, he would have stuck by Jim Fassel to coach this team. Fassel provided the coaching strategy that Snyder followed after leaving Fassel behind. Fassel was the boring pick, but he would have provided the leadership Zorn needed as coordinator, that the Redskins tried to fix with Sherm Lewis. And Fassel would have been a stronger leader for the veteran players through the travails of 2009.
Jim Fassel has yet to hook up with another NFL team. He led the Las Vegas Locomotives to the first UFL Championship. By odd coincidence, Washington signed his kicker, Graham Gano, in December 2009.
3. Mike Shanahan, (146-98-0 Regular Season, 8-5 Playoffs, 2 Super Bowl wins) Shanahan is third on this list because he’s yet to win a game as Redskins head coach. The two men ahead of him on this list also had distinguished pro backgrounds but were so-so with Washington.
If the post-Redskins performance of Norv Turner and Gregg Williams prove anything it’s that Danny Snyder hires very good football people. Something (named Danny Snyder) happens to them when they get here.
Maybe Snyder really intends to keep his hands off football operations this time. We won’t know that for two or three seasons. We have to see whether Snyder melts down again when the Skins face adversity. It’s football. There’s always adversity. It’s part of the test of champions and it stresses every part of the organization.
Shanahan was available because he was fired after going 24-24 in his last three seasons with the Broncos. Denver owner Pat Bowlen knows football better than Danny Snyder. Skepticism is healthy when it comes to the Dannyhan era.
Now, if Shanahan can get us Champ Bailey back, it would change everything.
2. Marty Schottenheimer (8-8 Redskins, 200-126-1 Regular Season, 5-13 Playoffs) Two things impressed me about Schottenheimer. The first was that he won eight of his last 11 games as Redskins coach with Tony Banks at quarterback. Stop and let the enormity of that statement sink in. The second was his contract that gave him complete control of all football decisions thus protecting the team from the owner.
If we knew for certain that Shanahan and new GM Bruce Allen had that authority by strength of contract, then Shanahan would rank in this spot.
Norv Turner’s Redskins developed the reputation for being soft. Punch ’em in the nose early in a game and they would fold. In comes hardnosed Schottenheimer and the team toughened up. Washington might have won 11 or 12 games with Schottie in 2002. Alas, Snyder paid Marty off and kicked him out when he refused to renegotiate terms in his agreement to allow the owner to interfere in the decisions. Snyder replaced Shcottenheimer with unproven Spurrier at twice the money.
Yes, you can be too rich.
1. The Second Coming of Joe Gibbs (30-34 Regular Season, 1-2 Playoffs) In the history of Washington, DC, sports, there was no more joyous occasion than that January day in 2004 when Joe Gibbs walked back into Redskins Park. I’m including the joy of championships. By then, we all know how much we had taken winning for granted around here.
Vince Lombardi was a legend when he came in 1969. But he was a Packer legend and his time here was all too short. George Allen came in 1971 as the best coaching alternative to the late Lombardi. Allen was fun and funny, but made one Super Bowl appearance. Gibbs made four, winning three.
What fans craved from Gibbs was more professionalism from the players and less interference by the owner. But Gibbs needed the 2004 season to get the hang for the NFL after an 11 year absence. We thought Gibbs would change Snyder. Instead, Snyder changed Gibbs approach for building a roster, especially in 2006 with the disastrous additions of Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd to the roster. The Lloyd deal was so bad that he still counted $5 million against the Redskins salary cap in 2009.
That’s surprising given that Gibbs came through the NFL ranks as a offensive line coach.
Joe Gibbs showed his true strength as coach in the aftermath of Sean Taylor’s death. He held the team together enough that they charged into the playoffs after the 2007 season. Still, it all took a toll on the old coach. He stepped down after that season. I was sorry to see him go. But it was time for him to go.
Gibbs overall record is 154-94 Regular Season, 17-7 Playoffs, 3-1 Super Bowls. I won’t again see likes of that from a Redskins coach in my lifetime. If Gibbs and Schottenheimer combined for 36-44 over five seasons under Snyder’s ownership, there’s no reason to get overly excited because Mike Shanahan is here.
Snyder is allowing two good things to happen. Shanahan is building his own coaching staff. Snyder hired a general manager, Bruce Allen, with real GM skills. That’s reason for hope, but be suspicious of the Danny. Don’t look for a double digit winning season around here until 2012.