A Peek Into The Mind Of Mike Shanahan
By Ronald Guy
NFL head coaches are fascinating figures. Their journeys to the pinnacle of the football coaching hierarchy, while unique, all seem to involve tales of a gypsy-like existence while roaming the lower-48 (and sometimes beyond) with little more than a suitcase and a dream. Resumes usually include an unpaid gig or two that were just a psychological slither above demeaning, a few low-level jobs at directional colleges, a meager entry into the NFL and a slow, methodical ascent to head coach. Typically, their big breaks resulted from a chance association with an iconic head coach, rubbing shoulders with a transcendent player or both.
The reward for being an elite professional survivor is often just one chance (few NFL coaches get a mulligan) to realize a dream — and that opportunity comes via a situation that was messy enough to prompt the firing of the preceding coach. Once in place, time is not on a coach’s side. The ire of diva players, impatient owners, passionate fans and bloodthirsty media arrives at the first sign of trouble. A coach who suffers a prolonged losing streak or posts a sub-.500 season becomes a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti. In other words, hide your eyes if you’re squeamish, there’s a bad ending pending.
Coaches that snatch one the NFL’s 32 leading man positions and then figure out a way to make a career of it deserve profound respect. They also warrant a standing ovation for providing their own unique brand of entertainment for the NFL fan. The veteran coaches have a tendency to develop a healthy ego and an invisible but easily detectible callous over their personalities. It’s an understandable reaction to overcoming the arduous climb, the endless critiquing by Monday morning and armchair coaches and intense pressure of the job. It also contributes to hilarious press conferences where the league forces these great oracles of football knowledge to engage (in their minds) the detestable, sub-human life forms in the media. Bill Belichick’s curt, mumbling post-game exchanges; Bill Parcells’ flippant, “let me dumb this down so the audience of idiots can understand” tone; and Mike Shanahan’s evasiveness and willingness compulsively lie are some of the priceless episodes of “When ‘The Egos’ Indulge the Minions.”
This attitude toward curious external entities with unknown motivations is understandable. The best coaches obsess over every detail and are intimately familiar with all aspects of their football team. Their knowledge, coupled with a high degree of success breeds ego and a feeling of intellectual superiority. That’s why critical questions occasionally provoke: these guys sometimes just don’t see their flaws or the vulnerabilities created by being so close to their squad.
Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has a healthy professional ego and a penchant for knowing it all as it relates to his football team. But does he? Well, it’s a good time of the year to wonder aloud (or in print) and, at the same time, have a little fun with the two-time Super Bowl winning coach. Here are 10 hot topics — some more serious than others — where I’ll speculate about what Shanahan is thinking as compared to what he should be thinking. Will a problematic disconnect be revealed? The answer is up to the individual reader, although I could probably sell tickets to a live broadcast of Shanahan reading this piece.
What Shanahan’s Thinking (WST): I’m a genius. I dumped that Gano kid last year. What was his name? Graham? I love graham crackers. And s’mores … killer. Anyway, I take a disastrous situation and discover Kai Forbath on the scrap heap. What did he miss, one kick? Mike, you’re good; real good.
What Shanahan Should Be Thinking (WSSBT): Now that I have a quarterback, kickers are the bane of my existence. I was foolishly patient with Graham Gano. Nice kid, but his eyes didn’t lie: the deer never adjusted to the bright gameday headlights. Then I compounded the error by cutting him for Billy Cundiff. What was I thinking? I watched his meltdown in the 2012 AFC Championship game. We’re not good enough yet to dominate, so I’m going to need a reliable kicker. If this Forbath kid turns out to be a fluke, kickers may undo my fabulousness! And the Wicked Witch of the West was embarrassed by a bucket of water taking her out? Geez.
WST: I don’t know why everyone is so worried about this unit. Don’t they know I’m an offensive line guru? My scheme is brilliant — often copied but never replicated. My goodness, this town is obsessed with offensive lineman. They think I should draft one in the first round every year. Wasn’t Trent Williams enough? I have enough that fit my system for this to be an exceptional unit. I mean for crying out loud, didn’t I take a rookie sixth-round pick from Florida whatever University and run him past Riggo’s and Portis’ hallowed records?
WSSBT: That damn salary cap hit really bit me in my two-time Super Bowl winning derrière. I have a solid starting lineup but not much else. Trent Williams better stay out of the clubs and have the cleanest urine on this team. And these cast-off free agents we pulled off the discount rack don’t enhance my sunny disposition. It’s going to be a test of even my considerable coaching talents to keep this unit productive. If we sustain a couple of injuries, or if Williams mistakes NFL marijuana law for Colorado law, we’re toast.
WST: Who are these guys? Does it matter? I am a running back’s worst nightmare! Whose movie line was that? Schwarzenegger? Van Damme? Stallone? Seriously, has anyone devalued a position in sports the way I’ve depressed the value of running backs? I am to running backs what George W. Bush was to the real estate market. One thing I don’t worry about is running backs.
WSSBT: I need a viable backup to spell Alfred Morris and someone that can provide RGIII a dump-off option out of the backfield. I drafted a couple of talented kids. Maybe they’ll inspire Roy Helu to remain on the field and play through hangnails. I’m confident one of these players will provide what I’m looking for. Only a fool would doubt me.
WST: Where have you gone Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey? Your old coach turns his lonely eyes toward you. I’ve tried drafting wide receivers and signing them as free agents, but I still don’t have a reliable one. Santana was great last year, but he’s Kyle’s age. These young guys make my head hurt. When Leonard Hankerson or Aldrick Robinson runs a route the same way twice, it will be the first time. Josh Morgan’s lucky I didn’t cut him last season after that outburst against the Rams. I just love his down field blocking. Shhh … don’t tell him.
Garcon’s my difference maker. I absolutely nailed his free agent acquisition last year. He was spectacular when healthy, but now there’s this toe thing. A toe? Do we need a trainer and a pedicurist? All I know is this unit has something to prove. I just reduced myself to re-signing Donte Stallworth! If I have to kick the tires on Terrell Owens in the preseason, I won’t be happy.
WSSBT: Where have you gone Rod Smith and Ed McCaffery? Your old coach turns his lonely eyes to you. Seriously, where have you gone? Are either of you in shape? If so, I’ll see you in D.C. soon.
WST: Well, I think I’ve officially retired Chris Cooley! No offense, Chris. Paulsen played well last year — great draft pick … by me. I shrewdly called Fred Davis’ free agent bluff. I knew he wouldn’t find a lucrative market. Now, if I can keep him healthy and waking up on time, we might have something. Jordan Reed’s my long-term solution. The league and those so-called draft experts will be humbled by my brilliance in a couple of years. Wait for the eat crow tsunami — it’s coming.
WSSBT: I was about to start complaining and hen-pecking this unit, but there’s no room for self-loathing. Just like I used to tell Kyle, “don’t complain about what’s for dinner, just be happy you have dinner … a lot of people are going hungry tonight.” I don’t have tight end problems. Bill Belichick has tight end problems.
WST: This unit left me so fatigued last season. Week after week, my dynamic offense with my new sports car behind center overcame their deficiencies. I know we had some injuries, but such is life in the NFL. Jim Haslett was lucky to get a holiday card. As of Thanksgiving, he would have been left wanting. Well, like most things around here, I fixed the problem. Jim’s equipped with a few new toys in the secondary, so performance better improve. Maybe the Ol’ Bawl Coach was on to something. Maybe I should start calling him “Haze-let”, just to rattle his cage.
WSSBT: Coach Haslett did a great job rallying a depleted unit down the stretch. Would I have done the same had my offense dominated the injury report? Honestly, and I know that’s an oxymoronic term with me, it’s doubtful. The defense had its problems, for sure, but they found a way to create the turnovers I was looking for and were better in points against than they were overall. I have Orakpo in the last year of his contract, and hopefully that will inspire his pectoral muscle to remain attached to bone. Hey, a coach can dare to dream.
We have better talent in the secondary, but they are young and youth in critical positions scares me. I’m a coach, okay. I worry. Hey, does a priest pray? Does Roger Goodell obsess over CTE? Does Rex Ryan appreciate good feet?
Robert Griffin III
WST: I feel like Alfred trying to talk sense into Batman. I love this kid tremendously, but he has to be straight with me — I’m begging him to be straight with me. I took a lot of heat for that debacle in the Seattle game, and I’m not happy about it. If he doesn’t remain available to me and to the team, I’ll be out on my keister and he’ll be a cautionary tale. Truth be told, I’ve never seen the combination of intellect, athleticism, arm talent, character and charisma offered by Robert. We paid a heavy price to acquire him, but my regime was directionless entering the 2012 NFL Draft, and he provided an immediate path forward.
WSSBT: Pinch me. Is RGIII really my quarterback? This kid rescued my tenure in Washington, my good name and my son’s future in the NFL from the coach killing clutches of Rex Grossman and John Beck. I should probably take him to lunch. Ha! Look at me … I’m delirious and a little punch-drunk on RGIII — like the entire town! Seriously, though, I failed him after the Seattle game. I should have been the adult, stepped up and taken the blame for our reckless use of this franchise treasure. I owe him an apology. A coach needs to protect the player from himself. I didn’t. Shame on me. I acted like a teenager joyriding with dad’s ’65 Mustang fastback.
WST: I’m so proud of Kyle. His talent is apparent. Of course, with my genes and tutelage, how could he fail? Shush your mouth!
WSSBT: This is a big year for my offensive coordinator. Top to bottom, we have assembled quite a bit of offensive talent. He has to get more consistent performance from the young players, to identify roles for everyone and to strike a balance with the read-option. I kept a late-30s John Elway with a bum knee healthy enough to win a couple of Super Bowls. The fruit of my loins needs to do the same with RGIII or his head coaching aspirations and the typewriter will ride together into oblivion.
If things go terribly awry, would I have the stones to whack my offensive coordinator the way John Harbaugh did on the Ravens way to a championship? It’s one thing to order junior to clean his room or eat his vegetables, but sending him to the unemployment line might get me in trouble with mom.
WST: This guy is so lucky to have me. He went from the botched hiring of Jim Zorn to a complete PR meltdown to hiring a guy (me) with two rings and a whole bunch of creditability. Why he hasn’t backed his Brinks truck up to my front door and offered me a lucrative extension is beyond explanation. Sure, I have two years remaining on my deal, but the whispers are soon to start. What’s he waiting for? I won the division for him last year. His precious Joe Gibbs couldn’t even do that. I flipped a horrible roster into something competitive, arrested his frivolous spending, saved him from his bromance with Vinny Cerrato and delivered the ultimate marketing chip (RGIII). I do appreciate the opportunity he gave me, but let’s be honest: if not him, then it would have been some other owner. Hey, unemployed two-time Super Bowl winning head coaches are hot commodities.
WSSBT: Dan Snyder has given me more money and more power than any other coach he has employed. Yes, I won two Super Bowls, but was that more me or just John Elway and Terrell Davis being the vodka and Kahlua in my White Russian? The McNabb trade (my foolish grasp for John Elway 2.0) completely botched my first season in D.C. Vacillating between Rex Grossman and John Beck in year two was painful. Through it all, Snyder’s been largely silent and supportive when prompted. If I could restrain my ego for a second, I’d probably admit we needed each other.
WST: They are going to screw up my bust. I’ve seen some bad one’s recently. I wonder who will give my introduction speech? Pat Bowlen? I don’t think so — no one fires Mike Shanahan … no one. John Elway? Nope, this will be my moment and he could steal the show. Dan Snyder? All the king’s money and all his bequeathed power can’t buy my love. Kyle? Na, I’ve done enough for his career, don’t you think? Wait, I got it … Al Davis! Ha, ha, haaaa … I crack myself up. I’ve got it! I’ll introduce myself. Has that ever been done before? I’m sure the Hall of Fame won’t mind.
WSSBT: My Super Bowl titles were a long time ago, and I haven’t done much without Elway. I have one playoff win since 1999 and just one winning season in my last five as head coach. This is it for me. And much like Elway secured my place in the NFL, RGIII will decide my legacy. Will I be remembered as a pretty good head coach or a Hall of Famer? If I can keep RGIII healthy, I like my chances to earn a bronze bust in Canton. But keeping him healthy will be my greatest challenge. I still have nightmares about James Andrews and RGIII disappearing into that on-field exam room. Are you feeling me, ‘Skins nation?
This is a great piece. Good insight, fun read.