How the Redskins Can Overcome Firing of Mike Shanahan, Resurrect RGIII

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 30, 2013

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The Washington Redskins finally signed the divorce papers on Black Monday. With Mike Shanahan out, a talented but agitated team is now on the market for a head coach. 

“Redskins fans deserve a better result,” owner Daniel Snyder said in a press release issued by the team Monday morning. “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.”

What's the best way to quickly and efficiently accomplish that?

The Redskins don't have the luxury of being able to start completely from scratch. For better or worse—and despite his struggles this year, it's still for better—Robert Griffin III is locked in as the franchise quarterback for several years to come. Because of that, Washington didn't have a first-round pick last year and won't have one in 2014. 

The good news is that Washington isn't half-assing the reconstruction of the coaching staff. The team fired most of the staff, according to's Brian Tinsman, including offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and special teams coordinator Keith Burns. 

They can now hire a head coach who they believe will contour to Griffin, and to a lesser extent to Alfred Morris and Trent Williams. It doesn't necessarily have to be somebody who has a history with RGIII, like Baylor's Art Briles, but the relationship between the head coach and quarterback must be strong. It has to be somebody who believes in the 23-year-old Griffin, and that should be established directly and indirectly during the courting and interview process. 

The next head coach also doesn't have to be offensive minded. Who the Redskins hire to coach the offense and defense will be particularly huge this time, because the last offensive coordinator lacked accountability and the defense is pretty much in ruins right now. 

The new offensive coordinator will likely be replacing the team's zone-blocking scheme, will have to rebuild the offensive line and will have to ensure that the offense as a whole does a better job at protecting Griffin (schematically, not just as a matter of blocking prowess). 

The new defensive coordinator will have to fix a unit that over the last two years has given up an NFC-high 27.1 points per game. They'll have to help general manager Bruce Allen and the head coach decide on whether to re-sign Brian Orakpo, DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Perry Riley. They'll have to replace London Fletcher. They'll have to decide whether to adopt the 4-3. 

Most points allowed, 2012-2013
TeamPoints allowedRecord
1. Oakland Raiders8968-24
2. Jacksonville Jaguars8936-26
3. Washington Redskins86613-19
4. Tennessee Titans85213-19
Pro Football Reference

There's no right or wrong approach here, per se. Instead, it's about adhering to the standard hierarchy. If they're keeping Allen around—and it would appear that they are—he has to be more than just a figurehead. Overlord-like head coaches are overrated. The Redskins just learned that the hard way. Checks and balances go out the window, and too many elements of a billion-dollar operation become handcuffed by the stubborn whims of one man.

Bill Belichick is an exception, but even he was never hired strictly as a czar-like leader. He built his empire after arriving in New England. And even as the Patriots began building annual Super Bowl contenders, the personnel decisions were shared. 

Hiring a Shanahan-type retread with the belief that they'll bring a Belichickian touch to their organization is foolish. There's a reason why these guys are on the market. They often do more harm than good because they're able to command far too much control. 

The Redskins don't need a pushover, but they need somebody amenable. They need somebody who won't demand final say over personnel, who will cooperate with Allen, RGIII and both coordinators, rather than dictating to them. 

If ESPN's Adam Schefter's initial tweet on potential candidates is any indication of what they're thinking, it would appear they're on the right track in that respect. 

Of those four coaches, only Lovie Smith has "NFL head coach" on his resume. That's not to say they should rule out anyone with head-coaching experience at the pro level, but Snyder may have realized that chasing dinosaurs isn't the best route. 

The funny thing is that owners like Snyder usually hire obedient yes-men who lack backbones. Snyder has never really been that way. Unlike Jerry Jones in Dallas, he's always swung the bat with big-shot head coaches. 

Here, he and Allen have to find a happy medium: Somebody who still has something to prove—which Shanahan lacked—but who can also work with those around him while leading effectively. 

That's pretty specific, which is why this coaching search shouldn't be wide ranging. Jon Gruden and Mike Zimmer are superb candidates and would probably have the ability to pull in some quality coordinators. If either could, for example, get current Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampeze to come run the offense in D.C., it could be the best thing that ever happened to Griffin. Just ask Jon Kitna, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton.

But the theme here is that the Redskins have to eliminate power trips. After the Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb and RGIII debacles during the Shanahan reign, it felt as though everybody at Redskins Park was walking on eggshells during the miserable 2013 campaign. 

Redskins: Worst seasons in the last 50 years
SeasonRecordPoints dif.
Pro Football Reference

Griffin can become a Super Bowl-winning, All-Pro-caliber quarterback, but he needs a healthy environment in which his safety and his evolution are prioritized. He needs coaches with the humility to deal with that as well as the skill set to make it happen. 

The Redskins can benefit greatly here from Allen's presence. He's fairly well-respected and can help Snyder identify those candidates. Ideally, they'll be current NFL coordinators like Gruden, Zimmer, Todd Bowles, Greg Roman, Darrell Bevell, Adam Gase or Pep Hamilton. And ideally, they'll have a chance to spend time with Griffin during the process. 

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 16: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins jokes with head coach Mike Shanahan also of the Washington Redskins during pre-game warm ups prior to playing against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on September
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

That's where the Redskins have to break from the conventional approach to hiring a head coach. As unhealthy as some might argue it is, they have to allow Griffin to participate. That doesn't mean they have to give him a say, but they do have to give the quarterback and the head coaching candidate a chance to get to know one another and talk shop. 

RGIII has to be comfortable with this hire, period. That's how it must work when you invest four top-end draft picks in one player. The Redskins have gone all in on the kid, so they can't afford to end up in the same situation two years from now because he has once again clashed with his coaches. The best way to make sure that doesn't happen is to bring everyone together before Snyder cuts another multimillion-dollar check. 

In the NFC East between 2011 and 2013, the Redskins went from worst to first to worst again. Nobody has won that division two consecutive years in the last decade. With a healthy, happy Griffin supported by Morris and Williams, and with the money freed up post-cap sanctions in order fix the defense, this team can be dominant in 2014. 

In other words, this is the type of transition that can happen successfully overnight. But if the 'Skins don't learn from the mistake they made in hiring Shanahan, they could squander the opportunity by pissing away the largest investment in the history of the organization.