Mike Shanahan, head coach of the Washington Redskins, deserves respect and all the credit in the world.
I was looking over the Redskins’ roster last night, when I noticed the vast majority of this team is less than 28 years old. That really put quite a few things in perspective for me, one of the most important, that there are a lot of guys on this team who won’t see their prime begin for a few more seasons.
When Mike Shanahan took over this team, the Redskins were, on average, one of the five oldest teams in the entire NFL. Shanahan even made the team older, going with running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, WR Joey Galloway, and QB Donovan McNabb over Jason Campbell.
Redskins fans look back on year one in disgust. I’m quick to remind them we were transitioning to a 3-4 defense, a move that is never easy and instantly successful. I’m also quick to remind people of the following: Mike Shanahan had no other answer at Quarterback.
Redskins fans wanted Jake Locker and Mark Sanchez. They needed a rookie to come in with the new head coach and offensive coordinator. What Redskins fans fail to realize, is that Mike Shanahan didn’t feel comfortable with any of those options, and quietly felt he had to buy some time. McNabb’s dedication to the game of football was the problem, and something Mike hoped wouldn’t be, because Donovan ultimately was talented and good enough to win some games. And then the Haynesworth situation. But fans have to realize that Mike adopted a lot of Vinny Cerrato’s problems, and when cleaning up a mess, you’re going to want to throw some things out.
Then comes year two, and Redskins fans just knew we were going to get Blaine Gabbert, or Ryan Mallet. Instead, Shanahan drafts defense, and the offense is stuck with Rex Grossman and… John Beck? The truth is, Mike Shanahan didn’t like any of the quarterbacks he was going to have available. After seeing Gabbert for two seasons, it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have been the answer. What Shanahan saw was that he had one more year, and he could have a shot at a guy he loved. Admittedly, Robert Griffin III wasn’t on the RADAR at the beginning of last year, but a lot of these young QB’s were, and Shanahan knew he had a broader class to select from.
So he let fans think he was okay for another year, which he was. He settled for guys he was comfortable with opposed to guys he didn’t really like, and the end result of it all? He got himself one of the two QB’s that he really loved. He also did all of this with a young stable of running backs, and late in the year, focused on their game so they could improve the offensive line’s confidence despite injuries and suspensions.
And in the process of it all, the age turnover got even more impressive. The Redskins still aren’t one of the youngest teams in the league, but they’re considerably younger than they were, especially at skill positions like halfback and wide receiver.
In year three, a year I said would be a key year in the Shanaplan, Mike has his quarterback. He found a running back he and the fans love. He has a young stable of WR’s who have speed and play hard. He has an offensive line that is greatly improved (albeit, not quite good enough to take over every game). He has a young defense that started the year off rough but is settling down and starting to work together.
One of the biggest reasons I bring up the youth of this football team, is that they’re still learning how to play, how to play together, and how to win. We’ve lost so far under Mike Shanahan, but the entire turnover and all of the personnel decisions have a young team who don’t know anything about the losing culture. There are young, fiery guys alongside a few old, motivated, fiery veterans. There’s a blend of age that is suitable to success.
Not lost in all of this, is the NFL’s penalty of the Redskins which stole $36M in cap space from the Redskins over this year and next. Instead of complain and throw in the towel, Shanahan went about his business. At 3-6 in week 9, the Redskins looked every bit of $18M short of a good football team. But what none of us accounted for, was the hunger, the motivation, and the passion this team would find during their week 10 bye. Shanahan knew he had it. He told us with every guy he liked, a smile on his face, “he’s hungry, he loves the game, and he’s going to fight to make a play.”
We all got angry because we never saw it in all of these guys. We didn’t account for the team factor; the motivation of others. Perhaps Robert Griffin III diving to get a first down late in the game vs. the Panthers really sparked this fire, because since that play, wide receivers have been going after it, and running back Alfred Morris has been running violently. It surged the youth on this team, and guys started going all out. One young guy, who knows nothing about losing on this level, got sick of it, and went out of his way to show the team he still believed.
Having a Pierre Garcon back helps. Young WR’s can play the roles they were supposed to. Familiarity is back in the lineup. But Garcon playing through injury may be motivating this team even more. There’s no quit in this team. There’s just fight.
But the biggest credit goes to Mike Shanahan. He showed patience, and he found the guys he loves instead of the guys he really liked. Yes, there are positions that need vast improvement. Even some of Shanahan’s guys have been far less than stellar, yet he has a majority of his team. And his team, right now, is in control of their destiny trying to make a postseason run for the first time since 2007.
Oh, and remember when Donovan McNabb said Mike & Kyle Shanahan were stubborn and couldn't adapt to the strengths of their QB. Something tells me this year is a great big, "Screw you!" to Donovan McNabb from Mike & Kyle.
Also, say thanks to Daniel Snyder, who told people he was going to finally step back and let a coach do his thing.