What is Mike Shanahan's legacy?
The Washington Redskins head coach had to be thinking about (or at least overhearing) those kinds of thoughts this week as he returned to his former stomping grounds in Denver where he won two Super Bowls alongside current Broncos VP John Elway.
While in the Mile High City, Shanahan's Redskins let go of a commanding lead in the second half, falling to quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos, 45-21, in as convincing fashion as humanly possible. It was a poor performance at almost every level for the Redskins, who look poorly constructed and poorly coached.
In case it wasn't crystal clear on Sunday afternoon, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is not John Elway.
Now 61 years old, Shanahan is sitting on a career coaching record of 169-129 (.576). In the playoffs, he's only 8-6 (.571)—a number he doesn't look to have a chance to improve this season. Yes, he's won two Super Bowls, but his career wins total only puts him 12th all time. His winning percentage is even worse at 47th among what Pro Football Reference considers "qualifiers."
When Shanahan came back into the NFL in 2010 to coach the Redskins, it was called an "important direction change" for a moribund franchise that hadn't really tasted success in any meaningful way since Joe Gibbs' first tenure in the '80s and early '90s.
The excitement around Shanahan only amplified when the franchise moved up to draft RGIII in the 2012 NFL draft. It went into a full-on fever pitch when RGIII helped lead the team to a playoff appearance along with a strong Shanahan-esque zone-blocking offensive line and rushing attack.
For a moment, it almost seemed as if Shanahan could be putting together Broncos Part Deux in the nation's capital.
Then, RGIII got injured. Now, the Redskins are 2-5 and in third place in a horrific NFC East.
To be fair, there's a lot of season left and a lot can change between now and Week 17. It wouldn't be out of the question for RGIII to rebound and to have more games like last week's win against the Chicago Bears. Nor would it be crazy to see the Redskins put together more halves like their first half against the Broncos.
So there's hope, Redskins fans. Cling to that hope. Don't let me take that from you!
Shanahan will be clinging right alongside you.
He's under .500 as head coach in Washington and he's got a team that mortgaged its future for its quarterback. It was the right move, of course, as RGIII has the ability to carry this team to the promised land. That means, however, that Shanahan doesn't have a lot of recourse for winning football games unless his QB is at his best.
Right now, RGIII is not at his best. Right now, the Redskins stink.
There's zero that Shanahan can do about that.
Think running back Alfred Morris should be featured more or be doing more to help? Redskins fans hated it when I left him off of my "Top 50 players of 2012," but I did so realizing how a running quarterback and a zone-blocking scheme can aid a running back. Take away the legitimate threat of RGIII running to the end zone on every single play and it's no surprise that the Skins running game is less dominant this season.
What about the backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins? Surely he can provide some sort of spark! Well, maybe he could in the short term. At his best, Cousins has the tools to win at the NFL level if he has a good supporting cast around him. He doesn't, however, have the ability to innovate like RGIII and elevate the offense purely on physical talent.
The defense? Led by Jim Haslett? No...just no.
So this team, and this head coach, simply needs to wait. Wait for RGIII not only to get back into game shape and shake the rust off, but wait for him to put some things together as more of an elite passer and less of a dual-threat quarterback.
The Redskins' future, Shanahan's legacy...it's all tied to whatever RGIII becomes in the next chapter of his young career. Maybe he improves over the course of the season. Maybe he comes back in 2014 with renewed explosion and a great emphasis on developing the tools he needs to take the next steps.
Or, maybe things go the other way. It's a grim future and one I don't wish on any team, but let's not pretend it's not feasible.
Wherever the RGIII roller coaster ends up—whether at a peak or in a valley—will define both Mike Shanahan's Redskins tenure and his overall legacy as an NFL head coach.