When Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs stunned Washington by ending an 11-year retirement and returning to the Redskins in 2004, his wife Pat worried that he was “going to ruin your good name.”
These days, it’s another one of the six coaches with multiple Lombardi trophies who should be having those fears.
After sitting out 2009 following his dismissal by Denver, Mike Shanahan arrived in Washington last season as Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s latest big coaching hire. Shanahan, second among active coaches with 146 victories in his 15-plus seasons with the Broncos and Los Angeles Raiders, was going to succeed where fellow control freak Marty Schottenheimer (2001), college wizard Steve Spurrier (2002-03) and the legendary Gibbs (2004-07) had fallen short.
Instead, Shanahan only matched the .375 winning percentage of Spurrier and neophyte head man Jim Zorn (2008-09). So the 58-year-old coach is about to enter his second season with a lesser quarterback than he had in 2010 and with a defense that was the NFL’s second-worst last year.
Redskins history isn’t on Shanahan’s side if he fails to improve on his poor 6-10 beginning. Spurrier and Zorn both went downhill in their second seasons and weren’t asked back for a third. In fact, Otto Graham (1966-68) and Turk Edwards (1946-48), both Hall of Fame players, are Washington’s only coaches to fail to improve on their debut in year two and hang onto their jobs.
Shanahan has some Teflon thanks to those Super Bowl victories with the Broncos in 1996 and 1997, but even the mediocre Redskins won more playoff games (two) during his last decade in Denver than he did (one).
The coach can also point out to the trigger-happy Snyder that the four-month NFL lockout hamstrung his rebuilding efforts this offseason and makes 2011 almost a mulligan of a season.
The owner could counter by blaming Shanahan for the Donovan McNabb fiasco which has crippled the Redskins at the most important position and for installing a 3-4 defense when he didn’t have the personnel.
In any case, if the Redskins are as non-competitive as it seems they might be this year, it will be very interesting come December and January to see if Shanahan really has as much sway with Snyder as Gibbs — he who could do no wrong – did before retiring for good in January 2008. If not, the owner could be looking for the next big thing yet again.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.