It will be interesting to see what history says about Mike Shanahan after his career is over. He has two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos with teams that had John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Gary Zimmerman and Rod Smith. Even after Elway retired, he turned teams with Brian Griese and Jake Plummer into productive offenses and routinely spit out huge rushing yards with numerous backs. I was afraid of the Shanahan offense, but in looking back, maybe that is because of Greg Robinson. Those cutback runs followed by the rollout bootleg passes were devastating.
On the other hand, there’s this: if he fails to do so this year (highly likely after the last two games), Mike Shanahan will have only won a division title in 3 of the 18 seasons in which he was head coach. That’s pretty abysmal for a coach that some may argue should get Hall of Fame consideration because of the titles, especially coaching half his career in a 4-team division era. For comparison, among current coaches with at least 8 seasons, Belichick and Reid have won a division nearly half the time, Tom Coughlin is 5 for 15, Norv Turner is 4 for 13, Lovie Smith is in his 8th season and has won as many as Shanahan, and guys like John Fox and Marvin Lewis have also won a division a higher percentage of time. You don’t want to be only ahead of Jack Del Rio (0 in 9 years) if you are supposed to be an elite coach.
Dan Steinberg also points this out: “The Skins are averaging 16.6 points per game, 26th in the NFL. In Zorn’s second season they averaged 16.6 points per game, 26th in the NFL.”
Ouch. In fairness to Mike Shanahan, Jim Zorn had a better quarterback. But in fairness to that fairness, Shanahan kind of picked the guys he has now, and the decision to go into a season with Rex Grossman and John Beck was what he wanted. He’s the one that put together the offense that just got shutout, a first ever for a Shanahan-coached team after 267 games.
Whether it is hubris, nepotism, or just a coach aging, Mike Shanahan has not been very good at picking the parts to run his offense lately. On NBC Sports Talk last night, Doug Farrar of Yahoo Sports and former Redskins return man Brian Mitchell said the game has passed Shanahan by. He’s 59, and we don’t know what effect all the natural sunlight leading to orange skin has done for the aging process. If his team misses the playoffs this season, it will be since 2005 that he last coached a playoff team.
Chris Cooley has come out and says the team needs to maintain consistency, which is what the fans have asked for in the past:
So you criticize Dan Snyder for trading coaches and players every year and trying to do things every year, and then you call and say this is what we’ve got to do? I hate it. What we’ve got to do is keep consistency over a period of time, and continue to try to build, trust me, under Mike Shanahan, who knows football and knows players.
Cooley has a point, and the team did a better job of not being the offseason signing champs this season, and has added some good players in the draft. The problem, though, is that older established coaches do not get a long time to get a program going, and that’s true whether the owner is Daniel Snyder or not. You don’t go five year plan with a coach who will turn 60 in year 3, and has just staked the franchise on two quarterbacks that should be backups. Dan Reeves went 14-2 in his second year in Atlanta. Bill Parcells made the playoffs in his 2nd year in both New England and New York, and in his first in Dallas. On the flip side, Mike Ditka went 6-10 in his second year in New Orleans at age 59, and was gone a year later. Chuck Knox went back to the Rams at age 60, and had three losing seasons and was gone.
Mike Shanahan may have been a great coach, but if his pride, involvement in personnel decisions despite many failures there, his insistence on his son as offensive coordinator, or his age prevent him from turning things around by this season, it’s likely not going to happen in Washington. Stability may actually be going a different, younger, direction, but with the same philosophy that the team employed this offseason in free agency.