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Mike Shanahan Is The Fall Guy

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Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Boy, last season was a drag — like unpaid overtime, tofu burgers and non-alcoholic beer. But things are looking better now. In an ode to Lee Majors and bad 1980s television, D.C. found its fall guy and eradicated the human virus. In January, D.C.’s viral football infection, Mike Shanahan, was fired. He and his significant ego packed separately — no single suitcase could even hope to contain them — but they left town the way this inseparable duo of self-proclaimed football excellence always travels: together. For the Sons of Washington and all who give a hoot about this cartoon franchise, the coaching reset was something of an organizational vaccination. At least that is what’s being indirectly sold. Is it true? Well, considering the peddler is the “Snyder-Skins”, your gut instinct should be triggering acid-burbling skepticism. 

My goodness this smells. The Tampa Mediocre Mafia — Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden, Raheem Morris, Doug Williams, et al. — has been suspiciously reassembled. This isn’t exactly the reunion of Robert, Jimmy, John Paul and Bonzo from the grave for a conquering world tour. Nope, this gang of Florida cronies was merely so-so (and that’s being kind) in the land of Ponce de Leon and the fountain of youth.  Apparently, we are to assume a simple geographical relocation to the mid-Atlantic, where they’ll be doing exactly the same thing as they did in the town where male urges and “ladies of the night” claimed the reputation of Bart Starr Award winner Eugene Robinson a day before the Super Bowl, will produce different results.

Mr. Einstein, I fear Mr. Allen is hell bent on further proving your definition of insanity.  Truth is, if I had worked under Bruce Allen in the past, there’s a good chance I would be on Washington’s staff, regardless of prior production. Same goes for you. Same goes for the dude emerging from the corner liquor store with a 40 poking out of the top of a brown bag.

A proud and accomplished Shanahan slayer, I was buying Snyder’s new menu for a while. But after partaking in its superficially succulent dishes, a disturbing flavor is now dominating my palate. It tastes all too similar to the nasty fare exiting the prior management’s football kitchen. The hiring process, one that tapped Gruden as head coach, promoted Sean McVay to offensive coordinator, hired Ike Hilliard as wide receivers coach and signed Doug Williams to do … something, feels no more legitimate, open and competitive than the dubious and now failed process the previous regime used to select its offensive coordinator (Mike’s son Kyle).

The coup that overthrew The Shanahan Empire didn’t leave much restructuring to do on the defensive side of the ball.  Despite the defense managing little more than passive resistance in 2013 and generally being a liability for years, the uninspiring status quo soldiers on. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the majority of his ho-hum brain trust is back and prepared to re-deliver its leaky pigskin brand of National Defense, a version that falls considerably short of the United States military’s standard … thankfully.

Is the fan base supposed to be excited about all this? Are ‘Skins fans rushing to grab a pen and rip off a check to renew season tickets or out to the world wide web to procure new burgundy and gold gear adorned with the bothersome nickname? Is this weird, maybe even unprecedented, front office tweaking (head coach and fruit of his loins ousted, everyone else stays) supposed to calm my jaded, bitter nerves and renew my hope for next season? Tell me, assuming you’ve absorbed the tone of this article, do you think it is working? 

Where was the nerve to go off script post-Shanahan, the open-minded approach that scores unheralded talent or the courage to select someone, anyone, that presents a bit of mystery and provides a new voice? If you want to work for Bruce Allen, D.C.’s current Big Cheese, you don’t necessarily have to be good, you just have to be familiar. 

And now, with his football coaching and front office family back under one comfy roof, proud Papa Allen turns his attention to the roster, a group of players that is 6-20 over the past two seasons absent that seven-game anomaly to close the 2012 season. Considering the inability of the team to sustain offense, get off the field on defense, or be anything but an embarrassment on special teams, and with a bunch of cap room and several incumbent free agents, surely sweeping — or at least noticeable — changes are pending.

Or maybe not. Allen’s first significant personnel move was to resign DeAngelo Hall to a four-year, $20 million contract. After signing a modest, one-year contract late in free agency last year, Hall turned in a solid season and was the best of one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. But did he earn yet another lucrative, multi-year deal? What is he? A left-handed, innings-eating starting pitcher? Where was confidence in any internal candidates to cover the modest void Hall’s departure would have created? Shouldn’t 2013 second-round pick David Amerson be ready to play leading corner? Where was the confidence in Richard Crawford’s return from injury to play the opposite corner or the front office’s ability to either score a serviceable talent via the draft or a cheaper veteran in free agency? More to the heart of recent ‘Skins personnel history, where was the patience to let the market dictate Hall’s value? What was the rush to ink an aging, average veteran coming off a productive “show-me” season? I know, I know. That maddeningly unanswered question sums up this millennium’s root of football evil in D.C. If Bon Jovi’s words were bastardized and applied to football, that question is the shot through ‘Skins fan’s hearts … and Snyder is to blame.  

Brian Orakpo is the next organizational test. ‘Rak has been with the ‘Skins his entire career — a fact that matters much to Allen (because familiarity breeds insatiable lust) — but his production hasn’t matched his promise, a fact that might matter to Allen (we’ll see). It is hard to imagine a scenario where the ‘Skins don’t overpay, either through the franchise tag or a long-term deal, to retain Orakpo. In a league where the best teams coax free agents to give hometown discounts or accept less money just to be a part of a professional program, the ‘Skins have to overpay to keep their own. Orakpo’s a nice player, but he has his warts. He’s a decent pass rusher (a valuable commodity), but his elementary techniques and over-reliance on speed will not age well. He is a liability in pass coverage and has Carlos Rodgers-like hands of stone (see his one, lonely career interception). Does that sound like a player deserving top dollar as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? It doesn’t to me. Does it to Bruce Allen? Hold for the answer.

Since Shanahan grabbed his suitcase stuffed with $7 million of Snyder’s fan-subsidized cash and bolted town, the organization’s activity — the retention of incumbent coaches and players and the reassembly of Allen family — sends one clear message: last season’s disaster was all Shanahan’s fault. He broke the quarterback physically and psychologically. He caused the $36 million cap penalty. He professionally neutered defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. He didn’t maximize the talent on the roster. He caused the 3-13 record and left the House of Skins in flames. 

I won’t argue that any of that is untrue. I’m just not sure it’s entirely correct or, dare I say, fair. Was Shanahan at fault? Absolutely. Was it all his fault? That’s an argument that is hard to swallow but it is precisely what Daniel Snyder, Bruce Allen and Allen’s football mafia is alleging. Free of the tyrannical Shanahan, all involved — Allen, Haslett, Robert Griffin III and anyone with seven or less degrees of separation from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — will magically become an elite force. Snyder and Allen have loudly and skillfully advertised that they delivered the antidote to cure the organization’s disease when they issued a pink slip to Shanahan and his ego. They better be right. For the time being, forgive me for still feeling a bit achy and feverish.