Updated: Dec. 30, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Original: Dec. 30, 2013 9:45 a.m.
ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) — What began with so much promise and hype four years ago came to halt Monday as the Washington Redskins fired head coach Mike Shanahan.
Also gone are offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt Lafleur.
The head coach’s dismissal was a move that was a long time coming and had to be made for many reasons. The reasons go well beyond an atrocious 3-13 2013 campaign — the team’s worst in 19 seasons.
Monday’s firing was almost like a release valve for the coach who was all smiles when he entered Redskins Park. He waived to reporters being kept outside the facility as he drove up to the gates.
“What’s going on today?” Shanahan jokingly asked one media member.
Roughly 45 minutes later he would be out of a job following a meeting with team owner Daniel Snyder.
“Redskins fans deserve a better result,” Snyder said. “We thank Mike for his efforts on behalf of the Redskins. We will focus on what it takes to build a winning team, and my pledge to this organization and to this community is to continue to commit the resources and talent necessary to put this team back in the playoffs.”
Shanahan was given the opportunity to speak with the media for a final time after his dismissal.
“I believe we’re better off today than we were four years ago,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said battling salary cap issues during his tenure was problematic. However, Shanahan insisted the franchise made good personnel decisions in clearing cap space.
“When we first came in as a staff we knew we had to make some decisions,” he said. “Anytime that you release $100 million worth of players, you’re talking about a lot of football players, players that have been very successful and that’s hard to do… The thing that we felt pretty good about, not one of those players played a full year the next year. So, we did make some good decisions.”
But the good decisions did not produce good results on the field.
The Redskins’ 24-40 regular season record under Shanahan tells only part of the story.
The relationship between Shanahan, quarterback Robert Griffin III, Snyder, and others in and around the organization has grown so toxic it is beyond repair.
The toxicity has grown to a point that Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen felt as though they had to hit a $7 million reset button.
Indeed, Monday was inevitable.
Make no mistake about it. Shanahan was Snyder’s guy.
The coach was courted and recruited with all the pizzazz of a blue chip athlete being wooed by a top-flight college program beginning in 2009. Snyder spared no expense in landing the coach he had coveted for years.
On Jan. 5, 2010, Shanahan was introduced as the team’s new head coach and vice president of football operations.
Surely a return to glory was on the horizon for a franchise that boasts of winning the Super Bowl on three separate occasions.
And glory was restored. For seven games. In one season.
For the other three and a half seasons coached by Shanahan there was little to celebrate. The Redskins were just 17-40 during the regular season outside of the worst-to-first improbable run to capture the NFC East divisional crown a year ago.
Worse yet for Washington was the constant turmoil at Redskins Park that would come to embody the Shanahan era.
It was impossible to know at the time, but Shanahan’s five-year restoration plan for the franchise would unravel nearly as soon as it began.
The coach surrounded himself with friends and family, hiring his wonder kid son, Kyle Shanahan, as offensive coordinator shortly after the ink was dry on his own contract. Just two years earlier Kyle Shanahan had become the youngest coordinator in the NFL when the Houston Texans promoted him to lead their offensive efforts at the tender age of 28.
Sold on switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme, Shanahan hired former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator. Haslett reportedly did not have much experience in such a scheme.
In their first year in Washington, the group faced highly publicized dilemmas with Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb. Neither highly paid player would return for a second season with Shanahan and both continue to take public jabs at the coach to this day.
Haynesworth’s trouble with Shanahan began with a bitter preseason spat when he questioned his place in the new defensive scheme. The highly paid defensive lineman spoke his mind with the media and, in turn, Shanahan put him through conditioning paces during training camp.
The friction between McNabb and Shanahan would come later in the season, but was equally troublesome and perhaps fortuitous.
McNabb, whom the Redskins acquired for a second-round and conditional draft pick, was benched for the final three games that season. Earlier in the year Shanahan pulled the veteran quarterback in favor of having Rex Grossman operate the team’s two-minute offense against the Detroit Lions. The coach would later say the move was made out of concern that McNabb lacked “cardiovascular endurance.”
The next season would bring with it a quarterback battle between Grossman and John Beck. After opting not to draft a quarterback that season, Shanahan stated he would stake his reputation on the two.
Washington would finish in the NFC East basement for the second time in as many seasons and with one fewer win than Shanahan’s inaugural season in the nation’s capital.
But a new day was about to dawn in Washington. A savior was on the way.
The Redskins acquired the second overall pick in the 2012 draft from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for their first-round selections through 2014 as well as their second-round selection that year.
Enter Robert Griffin III.
The arrival of the quarterback, anointed by some as “Black Jesus,” brought electricity that had been absent from the franchise for the better part of two decades. All was well in Washington again.
The coach and quarterback were on the same page as the season began. Griffin and the Redskins opened his rookie campaign with a thrilling 40-32 upset win over the New Orleans Saints that showcased all the talents the young Heisman Trophy winner possessed.
The joy would be short-lived.
The Redskins would manage just two wins over the course of the next eight games and entered the bye week at 3-6. The rest, like Shanahan’s time in Washington, is history.
Under Griffin’s leadership, the Redskins rallied to win seven straight games and capture the division. But something curious happened along the way.
The beginning of the end came on Dec. 9, 2012 when Griffin’s knee whipped violently during a collision with Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. An MRI performed on the right knee in the hours that followed the game revealed Griffin had suffered a sprained LCL. He would be forced to sit out a game against the Cleveland Browns.
Griffin would return in time to deliver a Week 16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and another against the Dallas Cowboys in a winner-take-all season finale at FedEx Field.
The quarterback was clearly hobbled in the following week’s Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks. But Shanahan opted to leave Griffin in the game and paid dearly for the decision when the quarterback’s knee buckled while attempting to recover an errant snap in the fourth quarter. His LCL and ACL had been torn.
The Washington Post reported Mike and Kyle Shanahan met with Griffin in the week leading up to the playoff game to go over plays they would and would not use against Seattle. The trio agreed to leave the zone read offense, which would put the quarterback in the most vulnerable situations, largely out of the playbook, according to the report.
However, the younger Shanahan’s play calling in the game did not reflect their previous decision. The result was Griffin’s injury, a year of finger pointing and relationships fractured beyond repair.
Mike Shanahan had lost the trust of the face of the franchise. No good could or would come from this.
What followed were highly publicized “All in for Week One” campaigns and more jabs in the media — this time involving Griffin and sometimes his father.
As this December began, it was clear Shanahan wanted out.
Some speculate it was the coach, himself, who leaked reports to the media that angered Snyder. One such report said Shanahan was ready to quit at the conclusion of the 2012 season after becoming disillusioned by the relationship between Griffin and the owner. Shanahan has never denied the report despite being given the opportunity to do so on multiple occasions.
Like he did with McNabb three years earlier, Griffin was benched for the final three games this season.
Shanahan said the move was being made in the best interest of the franchise as he wanted to protect the quarterback’s health for the offseason, but some media reports suggested the move was made for performance reasons. Others suggested Griffin was simply a pawn being used to orchestrate Shanahan’s departure.
Regardless, all will be forgotten in the near future when Snyder announces the eighth head coach of the team since he purchased the franchise from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke in 1999.
The reset button will have been pushed at a cost of $7 million — the balance remaining on Shanahan’s contract. The price tag is expected to rise as assistant coaches receive pink slips as well.
Only in Washington could a 3-13 record and eight-game losing streak be overshadowed by a circus.
A new ringleader is on the way.