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Mike Shanahan is the Prince of Spin

by David Elfin
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Mike Shanahan shakes the hand of Daniel Snyder during his introductory press conference as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2010. (credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Mike Shanahan shakes the hand of Daniel Snyder during his introductory press conference as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2010. (credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

If Jay Carney has had enough of the arduous role that is being the White House Press Secretary, Mike Shanahan, who might well be unemployed in 19 days, is surely up to the task.

Today’s Redskins Park press conference about the coach’s decision to bench star quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season in favor of Kirk Cousins rather than have him keep taking a pounding as Washington plays out the string was extremely well-delivered spin.

“What I’m trying to do is be as honest as I can and I don’t normally do that,” was Shanahan’s best line, nearly matched by his declaration that Redskins owner Dan Snyder doesn’t care about any position on the team other than quarterback, a comment that the coach tried to explain in a subsequent conference call with Atlanta media members.

Over and over, Shanahan said that he’s sitting Griffin, who had major surgery on his right knee three days after last January’s playoff loss to Seattle, to allow the quarterback to have a healthy offseason after only working on the side during spring practices. Shanahan also said he regrets not going with his gut and sitting Griffin once it was obvious the quarterback was hurting against the Seahawks. The coach even said that keeping Griffin in that game cost the Redskins, who led early 14-0, a victory, which ironically would’ve advanced them to a divisional round game at Atlanta, where Cousins will start on Sunday with veteran Rex Grossman, the third-stringer the last two years, as the backup.

If Shanahan was being devious in having his camp leak ESPN.com’s Sunday story that he contemplated quitting before the Seattle game because of his distaste for Snyder’s tight relationship with Griffin, the coach was downright brilliant today in declaring over and over that he, Snyder and nominal general manager Bruce Allen were in full agreement that the quarterback needs to be de-activated for his own safety and the franchise’s future well-being.

Brilliant because now the onus is now on Snyder and Allen, who rarely speak to media members, especially on the record. If they don’t deny Shanahan’s version of the decision-making process about Griffin, then the embattled coach no longer appears insubordinate.

That definitely wasn’t the case heading into Shanahan’s presser when the general perception was that the coach was threatening to bench Snyder’s prized quarterback/pal in order to get the owner to fire him so he would still be paid the $7 million he’s due in 2014 which he wouldn’t get if he resigns.

“If I’m going to try to get fired, I’m not going to call up Dan Snyder and ask his opinion on the player,” said Shanahan, who’s 24-38 during his four seasons. “If he says no, I’m not going to go in that direction.”

However, the decision to bench Griffin — who has been sacked 38 times, more than all but four NFL quarterbacks — for the less talented Cousins goes against Shanahan’s endlessly stated policy that he always pays the best player. It also contradicts the coach’s recent statement about not replacing underperforming starters with less experienced backups even though the Redskins are going nowhere.

“If you’re going to put a guy in that’s close, you’re not playing your best player, then what you’ve told your football team is you are evaluating these young guys and you really don’t care about the game – what you do is care about the future,” Shanahan said then. “If you want to lose a football team, that’s the first thing to do.”

Shanahan said today that the rules are different for Griffin as “your franchise quarterback … your future,” so the Redskins can’t risk having him get hurt again and miss a second straight offseason.

Griffin was understandably downbeat when he spoke to the media.

“I expressed my desire [to Shanahan] to play], [but] at this point, I just have to leave it up to Coach, like it always is,” Griffin said. “It’s a tough time, [but] if I allowed it to break my spirit, then I wouldn’t be the person that I think my parents raised me to be.”

Last week, Griffin said that he “loved” working with Shanahan and the coach’s son/offensive coordinator Kyle. Asked today if that was still true, Griffin wasn’t nearly as effusive, saying, “[There’s a] general misconception that players in our locker room want people gone.”

Of course, we’ve been down this road before with Shanahan. When the coach benched Donovan McNabb for the final three games of 2010, the first year in Washington, it was clear that the Shanahans had won the battle of wills with the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback. The over-the-hill McNabb never played here again and was traded to Minnesota the next summer for a sixth-round draft pick.

Shanahan’s benching of the 23-year-old Griffin, the face of the Redskins and the record-setting Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, is a whole different animal. While Griffin hasn’t played that well as Washington tumbled from NFC East champions last season to 3-10 this year, he remains as Cousins said, “the franchise quarterback.”

But until this ugly campaign ends on Dec. 29, Griffin will be a virtual non-person in Ashburn. If somehow Shanahan defies expectations and is back in 2014, the coach and the quarterback will have to heal their breach or there won’t be much point to even playing the season.

 
 

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.

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