Washington Redskins: Image Isn't Everything for Mike Shanahan
His stare is one of the coldest ones in the NFL. It's deep, dark and blank and causes anxiety among players and coaches, who are often unable or unwilling to meet it. But don't let Mike Shanahan fool you. Behind those cruel and unnerving eyes is a kind, gentle soul, who loves and respects his team, his profession and most of all, the game.
As a head coach in the National Football League, Mike Shanahan is well known for a number of things. He is the owner of three Super Bowl rings (two as a head coach and one as an offensive coordinator). He coached one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. He has a penchant for producing 1,000-yard running backs. He also has a history of submerging himself in film, while tirelessly engaging in 100-hour work weeks.
But recently, there has been a change in Shanahan's demeanor. He seems a bit more relaxed, less agitated and more willing to heap praise upon those who deserve it.
Drafting a Heisman Trophy winner, who is destined to be one of the NFL's most entertaining players, will do that to you. But as he nears his 60th birthday in August, Shanahan may be recognizing that the game has changed and he needs to change with it.
Take Wednesday for example. The Redskins were participating in the second day of a three-day minicamp, which signals the culmination of the team's spring schedule that dates back eight weeks. It is also the last time the players will formally meet before training camp begins in July.
Pleased with the team's results, Shanahan expressed his gratitude at a press conference and made an announcement that surprised everybody.
We're not going to practice tomorrow afternoon [Thursday]. We're a little banged up. We've done a heck of a job throughout the offseason, all these OTA's. Tomorrow will be more of a workout, running and lifting, more of a meeting, but we won't go through what we did today.
The players were unavailable for comment, but it's fair to assume that they responded with joyous enthusiasm for a coach that is suddenly showing signs of civility.
So is Mike Shanahan growing soft? In a slow and subtle way, he is, but there are a number of factors behind the transformation. To analyze it, let's start at the beginning and move forward.
Time Off to Refocus
During his 14 years in Denver, Shanahan proved he could step up to a challenge, when he successfully followed in the footsteps of Dan Reeves, who currently sits in seventh place with 201 career wins. Shanahan even won a pair of Super Bowls with John Elway, which Reeves failed to do in three tries with the Hall of Fame quarterback.
But suddenly and without warning, Shanahan was fired, following the 2008 season. Although highly respected by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, proof of Mike's demise became clear, when he won just one playoff game in the decade that followed Elway's retirement.
Some coaches become devastated after a job loss. But Shanahan put it behind him and went right back to work, with a home office that often resembled a war room.
According to Associate Press writer Joseph White, Shanahan "spent the 12 months of downtime visiting other teams, watching games on television and making contacts with potential assistant coaches, so he could assemble a staff quickly when he got a new job."
Shanahan was also candid about how the year off affected him personally and professionally. Here's an excerpt from an interview he had with Larry Weisman of Redskins.com.
When you work for 35 years without any time off, 70-100 hour weeks for 35 years, and then you go through a season when you don’t have any time schedule except yours, that’s quite a difference.
The year away from coaching was odd for Shanahan, but as White points out, he stubbornly refused to tinker with a system that was instilled in him by San Francisco coach Bill Walsh in the 1980s. According to White, "nothing that he saw or heard persuaded him to change his style."
The Five-Year Plan
Prior to becoming coach of the Redskins, Shanahan won 154 career games. Now at 165, he is 15th among head coaches all-time and just six wins behind former Washington coach Joe Gibbs. In fact, a 10-win season in 2012 would catapult Shanahan to 11th place, just behind Bill Parcells, who retired as a coach for the third time in 2007 with 183 victories.
Unfortunately for Shanahan, the first two years of his tenure in Washington were frustrating and filled with drama.
First, there was the Albert Haynesworth scandal right out of the gate. Haynesworth proved to be lazy, out of shape and overpaid, but there were some who felt Shanahan singled him out from the start, when the coach put the player through a series of conditioning tests.
'Rome wasn't built in a day' and Shanahan knows that from experience. But with three years remaining on his contract, he knows time is limited to turn the corner.
Even an Old Dog Can Learn New Tricks
Shanahan has shrugged off criticism the past two years, but perhaps he has learned a thing or two along the way. Like it or not, the game has evolved and stringent systems are now giving way to athletes like Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. As rookies a year ago, both players proved that they can excel when given the freedom to deviate from a game plan.
During his days with Elway, Jake Plummer, Brian Griese and Jay Cutler, Shanahan did not stand for that. He also showed McNabb who was boss when Donovan decided to freelance and not follow instructions.
But that was then and this is now.
Since drafting RG3, Shanahan has praised his unique abilities and appears willing to ride the talented rookie as far as he can take him. He has even gone as far as to say that he'll tweak the playbook in order to play to the young man's strengths. Did you get that, Donovan?
An article on NFL.com has even suggested that Shanahan is smitten with Griffin and vice versa.
"I'm not sure if 'love' is always the proper term," Shanahan said to a roomful of chuckles by the media.
Meanwhile, the rookie who grew up idolizing Elway and the offense he played in was quick to have his new coach's back.
What some former quarterbacks have said about him, to me, isn't true. He seems like a great guy. It was a dream come true to be here and play for him and his offense.
A Coach and His Quarterback
Shanahan knows that there will be growing pains with Griffin at the helm. It was that way when he drafted the rifle-armed Cutler and handed him the reigns of Denver's offense. But Griffin's personality is far more engaging that Cutler's, who is often criticized for his pouting episodes.
Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Shanahan has kept the lines of communication open for Griffin, who has not been shy to ask, listen and learn. The two have even discussed the reasons why quarterbacks succeed or fail after being selected in the first round.
According to the Washington Examiner's John Keim, Shanahan "talked about how you can’t just throw the whole playbook at a rookie." In his own words, the coach even admitted that "nobody's ready for that."
Shanahan may be most impressed with the way Griffin was brought up. As the son of a pair of military parents, RG3 is kind, diligent, considerate and respectful. He is also hard-working and determined, thanks to years of training exercises with his father that were meant to make a man out of him.
He's done a great job. We talk about intangibles, we talk about people working extremely hard, people working at their craft, and that's what he's done. He's come in here from the first day, he's been attentive, he hasn't missed anything, he's here early, he's staying late, doing everything you need to do to master the position.
That almost sounds like something Shanahan would say if he were asked to describe himself.
Obsessive compulsive. Uncompromising. Perfectionist. Shanahan has been called all of those things and more. Some even say that his son Kyle is "a chip off the old bock," as Washington's offensive coordinator. But is Mike Shanahan heartless?
History suggests that he may have had a tendency to be if a game is on the line.
Shanahan probably wishes his voice was not mic'd during Super Bowl XXXII, when he sent Terrell Davis back on to the field, despite Davis' claim that he could not see straight due to a migraine headache. He and Davis laugh about it now, but Shanahan would be punished if he gave that order in today's concussion-conscious NFL.
In his defense, Shanahan has always been quick to heap praise upon those who deserve it. And as a dedicated coach and leader, he has earned the respect of his peers.
I’ve gotten to know Mike a little bit off the field, league meetings and stuff like that. He’s a great competitor. I have great respect for what he’s done.
Those are warm words from a man who is also known for his cold exterior. And in time, they may be repeated, if Shanahan's new young prodigy can lead the Redskins back to glory.
"He's definitely more relaxed," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, in an interview with NFL.com. "His chest is out a little bit and he feels good about this team."
Defensive end Kedric Golston chuckled and took it one step further. "I definitely see it. Coach Shanahan is smiling a lot these days."
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?