A Complete Timeline of Mike Shanahan's Demise with the Washington Redskins

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2013

A Complete Timeline of Mike Shanahan's Demise with the Washington Redskins

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

    Mike Shanahan has finally been fired by the Washington Redskins, with news of his dismissal being confirmed by The Washington Post's Mark Maske and Mike Jones.

    While The Post's Mike Wise eloquently argues this is not cause for celebration, this author says let the champagne corks fly.

    Shanahan's tenure in D.C. has featured consistent failure, bad decisions and an endless cycle of spin designed to shift the blame. He made unnecessary schematic moves that backfired, alienated personnel and consistently broke promises of imminent success.

    And that was before Robert Griffin III, the young dual-threat quarterback Shanahan is supposed to have so many problems with, even arrived.

    In four years, Shanahan has gone from anointed franchise saviour to a fired head coach. Here is a timeline of how it happened.

January 7, 2010: A Coach Is Hired, Cue Initial Optimism and Credibility

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    Shanahan was all smiles with owner Dan Snyder back in January 2010.
    Shanahan was all smiles with owner Dan Snyder back in January 2010.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    When Shanahan was officially unveiled as the new head coach of the Redskins in 2010, the buzz words became "culture" and "change." The idea was that a two-time Super Bowl winner brought credibility to a franchise that almost lost all of its own during an embarrassing 2009 season.

    The Redskins had just crashed and burned to finish 4-12 under the stewardship of Jim Zorn, a comic figure hopelessly out of his depth. When that farcical campaign ended, Zorn was gone.

    So was Snyder's puppet, Vinny Cerrato who had misused almost unchecked power over personnel decisions. Sherman Lewis, the offensive play-caller Snyder dragged out of a bingo hall, was also sent packing.

    With the comic relief hitting the road, now was the time to get serious. Cue Shanahan and his two Lombardi Trophies and new general manager Bruce Allen.

    The general consensus was that finally the dysfunctional NFL franchise in Washington had got it right. Barry Svrluga, a staff writer for The Post at the time, was quick to emphasize Shanahan's glowing resume and how it lifted the profile of the Redskins:

    Though Shanahan was criticized at the end of his tenure in Denver for failing to get the Broncos to the playoffs for three straight years -- including a collapse over the final three games in 2008 that cost him his job -- his record with the Broncos trumps anything the Redskins have accomplished during the same time period. In Shanahan's 14 years with the Broncos, he had nine winning seasons, seven with 10 or more victories. Over that same time period -- from 1996 to 2008 -- the Redskins had five winning seasons, two with 10 victories.

    When news spread among Redskins players of Shanahan's hiring Tuesday night, most were ecstatic. Middle linebacker London Fletcher, for instance, called him the "face of the franchise," and cornerback DeAngelo Hall said Shanahan was a man "people are going to respect off his name alone."

    On Wednesday, that endorsement was backed up by some of Shanahan's former players.

    "Mike Shanahan's a Hall of Fame-caliber coach," said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, an offensive lineman who played for the Redskins and under Shanahan in Denver. "How can you go wrong with that? There's no question, from a credibility standpoint, I think that's the number one thing, you instantly [as] a franchise garner a certain amount of credibility from a guy who's been there, who's done that, who's won two Super Bowls and consistently won in that league."

    But hidden amid all the hoopla surrounding this supposed "can't-miss" hire, there were some early warning signs of what was to come.

January 6-7, 2010: Early Warning Signs Evident Between the Lines

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    Many of the things that had doomed Shanahan in Denver would do the same in Washington.
    Many of the things that had doomed Shanahan in Denver would do the same in Washington.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    To those who avoided the euphoria of Shanahan's first unveiling at Redskins Park and read between the lines, there were some early warning signs about the franchise's supposed saviour.

    The news that Shanahan would join the Redskins was initially reported by The Denver Post's Mike Klis. He was very familiar with Shanahan from the coach's days leading the Denver Broncos to two NFL championships.

    Klis made some interesting observations about how Shanahan had operated in Denver:

    With the Redskins, Shanahan will work in concert with general manager Bruce Allen, much as he did in Denver with Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist from 2002-07. In that business partnership, Sundquist oversaw the draft, contracts and roster construction, but Shanahan had final say on every decision.

    Right from the start, nobody was unclear about the level of power Shanahan would wield in Washington. As the losses mounted in D.C., Shanahan and his supporters were quick to point the finger of blame at Snyder.

    But thanks to Shanahan's history, explicitly noted by those who had observed him in Denver, that argument just doesn't wash.

    Michael Wilbon, another staff writer with The Postwas even more prescient about why Shanahan and the Redskins were a match fated to fail:

    The whisper of a famous name alone means nothing here. The questions aren't even about Shanahan, the coach. They're about who's running the joint, who is calling the shots as they relate to personnel. It almost never works, being coach and making all the football decisions. It's a structure doomed to fail, oh, 95 percent of the time.

    And it's not like we don't have a book on Shanahan the talent evaluator: He's bad at it. Like Joe Gibbs, Shanahan is one helluva coach but not particularly insightful as a talent evaluator. In fact, the record already shows Shanahan drafted bust after bust after bust in an effort to fix the defense when he was coach in Denver. Even Elvis Dumervil was drafted to play the wrong position and became an all-pro after Shanahan departed. Shanahan the personnel man undermined Shanahan the coach so badly, he was fired after twice not making the playoffs. So, moving from Denver to Washington is going to change all that?

    Wilbon's warnings about poor talent acquisition and failures to improve a defense proved particularly telling. No sooner had Shanahan arrived in Washington than trouble on that side of the ball began.

January 13, 2010: Shanahan Hires Jim Haslett and Makes 3-4 Switch

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    Shanahan's decisions immediately put his staff at odds with key players.
    Shanahan's decisions immediately put his staff at odds with key players.Win McNamee/Getty Images

    Less than a week into the job, Shanahan began making decisions that seemed to suit his personal whims, rather than what was best for the team.

    The first came on January 13 when he hired Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator. That is when the talk of switching to a 3-4 scheme really began.

    The problems inherent in such a transition were obvious, or at least they should have been. A report from the time by ESPN's Matt Mosley, spelled them out:

    It's believed that Shanahan wants Haslett to run a 3-4 scheme, which would place more of a premium on the pass-rush in 2010. With the arrival of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in '09, the Redskins increased their sack totals and there's reason to believe that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo could flourish in a 3-4 defense. I think Haynesworth's talented enough to play either nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4, but I'm not sure Andre Carter will make a smooth transition to being an outside linebacker. 

    As I've already stated, it will be tough for a smaller player such as London Fletcher to function in a 3-4 scheme because he'll have to fight off 330-pound guards on a regular basis. If the Skins are truly going to make this transition, you'll see them draft some completely different types of players than in the past. Zimmer transitioned into a 3-4 defense for Bill Parcells in Dallas, but he was more comfortable using a 4-3 scheme. I think Haslett's a little more open-minded when it comes to the two schemes, so you could see some type of hybrid used until the Skins have the right personnel to make a complete transition.

    The call for a hybrid front was a smart one, but no such front ever materialized. Instead, Shanahan had Haslett impose a two-gap system without the players to adequately run it.

    That soon put the team's defensive coordinator at odds with its highest-paid player.

March 2010: The Albert Haynesworth Fiasco

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    Shanahan let Haynesworth become a distraction.
    Shanahan let Haynesworth become a distraction.Al Bello/Getty Images

    As soon as Shanahan decided he wanted a 3-4 defense, a very public spat with Albert Haynesworth was inevitable. The defensive tackle Snyder had paid $100 million the previous summer had made his name as a one-gap pass-rusher.

    Haynesworth was never going to warm to the idea of playing over the center and drawing double-teams in a 3-4. In March 2010, Shanahan's feud with Haynesworth took over the team's preparation for the season.

    The player was doing radio interviews telling anyone who would listen that he was not suited to his new coach's plan, via The Post's Dan Steinberg.

    Shanahan was also at odds with his D-lineman over the best training regime, and there were even rumors of Haynesworth wanting to be traded.

    In short, the Redskins' first offseason with a head coach who was supposed to restore credibility to the way the franchise did things had turned into yet another media circus.

    When the Shanahan era opened a few months later with a home game against the Dallas Cowboys, the focus was still on the Haynesworth problem.

    This wouldn't be the only time a Shanahan spat with a key player dominated the headlines.

April 4, 2010: The Ill-Fated Trade for Donovan McNabb Is Completed

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    Shanahan seemed happy enough with McNabb early on.
    Shanahan seemed happy enough with McNabb early on.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    By early April 2010, the Haynesworth situation was more than simmering, but at least Shanahan had his quarterback. On April 5, the Redskins traded for former Philadelphia Eagle Donovan McNabb.

    USA Today's Sean Leahy detailed what the Redskins had given up for the veteran, as well as Shanahan's initial optimism:

    The Philadelphia Eagles transformed the landscape of the NFC East on Sunday night when they traded six-time Pro Bowl QB Donovan McNabb to the rival Washington Redskins.

    The Redskins surrendered the 37th overall pick in this year's draft, plus a pick in the third or fourth round next year in return for McNabb.

    Shanahan said in a statement he was thrilled to acquire McNabb, though he did not address the future of QB Jason Campbell, the team's starter since 2006.

    "He knows our division and the roadmap to success in the NFC East. He will set a high standard of excellence."

    But as most things would in the Shanahan era, optimism soon melted under the glare of depressing reality. That reality was a stubborn coach and equally intransigent quarterback unwilling to meet each other halfway when it came to the team's offense.

    Shanahan had given up draft picks, the team's best chance to build a sustainable structure for the future, for a short-term fix and got it wrong.

    McNabb, like Haynesworth, would eventually be traded for little value. Shanahan appeared to win his power struggle with both players. But these sorry chapters still damaged his standing, as The Post's Sally Jenkins notes:

    But he made enemies for his policy of corrective intolerance with star players. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was equal parts unfit and unwilling, and Shanahan’s prediction that he and his $100 million contract would be out of the league within a year was exactly right, but left wounds. Shanahan was only a little more politic with Donovan McNabb, for whom the Redskins gave up multiple draft picks. When McNabb lacked both legs and any interest in learning a new offense, Shanahan benched him, and McNabb too was out of the league by the following year. The result was not what he intended: instead of being seen as tough and forthright, Shanahan was labeled abrasive and one willing to throw players under the bus.

    By the end of year one, two ugly fallouts had conspired to see the Redskins struggle to a 6-10 finish. Things would soon become even more muddled.

2011: The John Beck-Rex Grossman Merry-Go-Round

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    Shanahan subjected Redskins fans to a dire double act at quarterback in 2011.
    Shanahan subjected Redskins fans to a dire double act at quarterback in 2011.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    With the McNabb fiasco now in the rearview, Shanahan had another decision to make at quarterback. His choice was between John Beck or Rex Grossman.

    Neither inspired any confidence, yet Shanahan resisted seeking an alternative. At first, he was determined to make Beck a viable NFL starter.

    As Gregg Rosenthal, writing for Pro Football Talk at the time, pointed out, that was a very tough sell:

    The team reportedly never seriously considered a first-round QB, and never were going to trade up for one. They reportedly thought Beck gives them a better chance to win.

    Not liking this rookie crop is one thing. Pinning your hopes on Beck is another. The Redskins are trying to sell the idea that Beck had better stats as a senior at BYU than anyone in the draft. That ignores the fact that Beck played in a weak conference and he hasn't taken a snap in a game since 2007, when he was a disaster.

    Shanahan's bravado regarding Beck didn't even survive the preseason. Grossman was the team's starter on opening day.

    He played well during a 3-1 start. But once defenses caught up with the passer who throws enough interceptions to make you believe he is chasing an all-time record, the Redskins were in trouble.

    That led Shanahan back to Beck. But after Beck threw five interceptions and just two touchdowns in four straight defeats, Shanahan needed Grossman again.

    This embarrassing flip-flop between two mediocre quarterbacks was the main reason the Redskins, who had improved in other areas, slipped to 5-11 in Shanahan's second year.

December 29, 2011: Spinning Failure and Moving the Goal Posts

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    Shanahan had endless excuses for his failures.
    Shanahan had endless excuses for his failures.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    During his four years in charge of the Redskins, Shanahan became a pass master of trying to put a positive spin on his failures. His most common ploy was to redefine the definition for success.

    After he had won only 11 games in two years, Shanahan shifted the goal posts. Rick Maese of The Post reported Shanahan's shocking claims that the job was bigger than he thought when he agreed to do it:

    Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Shanahan acknowledged for the first time that the task he faced in returning the Redskins to competitive form was bigger than he expected when he accepted the job — and a lucrative five-year contract — in January 2010. The Redskins haven't reached the playoffs since 2007 and getting back there is taking longer than many in the organization expected.

    Shanahan has been careful in the past when discussing the state of the organization he inherited, but on Monday the veteran coach said the job required a bigger roster overhaul than he initially realized.

    This was nothing more than a coded plea to give him a free pass for producing consecutive losing seasons in a league where quick turnarounds have become commonplace.

    It was followed by the sudden announcement of a so-called five-year plan, as reported by The Post's Mike Jones:

    Shanahan said he made it clear to Snyder that patience would be required for him and Allen to transform the Redskins into a franchise that will enjoy long-term success. The coach expects to receive that time.

    "Like I talked to him about when I first got here, I said, 'Dan, if you don't plan on me coaching here five years and doing it the right way, you're hiring the wrong guy. It's going to take some time to do it right."

    What better way to excuse bad decisions already made and any you might make in the immediate future than to imply you're only just getting started and you have time to work with?

    Thankfully, Shanahan won't coach the Redskins for a fifth year. That is a good thing, because nobody needs to hear it was actually supposed to be a 10-year plan.

March 13, 2012: The League Hits Shanahan's Team Where It Hurts

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    Roger Goodell took away some of Shanahan's resources for two seasons.
    Roger Goodell took away some of Shanahan's resources for two seasons.Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    In mid-March 2012, Shanahan received the blow he would have his critics believe was fatal to his attempts to rebuild the Redskins. That was when the NFL levied a two-year salary-cap-restriction penalty against his team.

    It meant that Shanahan would be without $36 million in squad-building funds over two offseasons. It was certainly something that could hamper any coach.

    But Shanahan has overplayed the impact of this punishment. He has used it as an excuse for every major failing.

    Even as he leaves the team, he is still spinning this narrative, according to NFL.com's Kevin Patra:

    He said he believed the Redskins made some strides, especially with the offense. Shanahan blamed the NFL's $36 million cap penalty for crippling the team's ability to obtain some defensive talent they had targeted in the market.

    Shanahan also blamed the cap restrictions for his lack of depth this season. He specifically pointed to the epic struggles on special teams as a result of the team's inability to afford quality depth.

    How convenient that the two issues Shanahan repeatedly failed to address can be explained away so easily.

March 22, 2012: The Quick Fix Made to Look Like Something Else

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    In late-March 2012, Shanahan did Jeff Fisher and the Rams a huge favor.
    In late-March 2012, Shanahan did Jeff Fisher and the Rams a huge favor.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    He may have used spin to try to mask the mediocre reality of his first two years in charge, but Shanahan knew only wins would help him in 2012.

    He needed a major move, and that is just what he got on March 22. Shanahan was part of the trade that saw Washington swap its first-round pick with the St. Louis Rams.

    The Redskins also gave the Rams their second-round choice that year, as well as their first-rounder in both 2013 and 2014. It was a monster trade that let the Redskins own the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

    Shanahan used it to select Griffin, finally giving him the quarterback he had apparently been waiting to find since 2010. The deal for Griffin sent many Redskins fans and pundits into a frenzy, but it was one of the great hoodwinks of the Shanahan era.

    It was another quick fix from a franchise that had found trouble chasing short-term solutions so often in the past. But that is just what the Griffin trade was.

    This regime hoped nobody would notice because it was the draft. It was a young player who represented the future, not one of those nasty old free agents who had taken Snyder's money and laughed all the way to the bank.

    But the reality of the Griffin trade was that Shanahan, Snyder and Allen had all mortgaged the team's future on Griffin being an instant hit and staying that way.

    They had dealt away the mechanism enabling the team to continue steadily building a strong core. This was a complete philosophical U-turn from a coach who had previously endorsed the need for patient, thoughtful team-building.

    But initially at least, things went well between Shanahan and Griffin.

December 2012: Griffin Wins Shanahan a Division Title

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    Things looked good in the beginning.
    Things looked good in the beginning.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    When Shanahan unleashed Griffin and a heavy dose of the read-option offense in 2012, the NFL wasn't ready for either. That helped Griffin deliver the team's first NFC East title since 1999.

    Griffin's maverick playmaking skill was the catalyst behind a seven-game winning streak to end the season. Just like that, all seemed well and Shanahan had the team on the up.

    But it was merely an illusion. Griffin's big-play proficiency had distracted not only the Redskins' opponents, but also their fans from realizing the team still had serious problems.

    It took a cruel twist of fate to bring those issues back into focus.

January 6, 2013: Griffin Is Injured and the Coach-Player Relationship Breaks

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    Griffin's injury in the playoffs was the beginning of the end for Shanahan.
    Griffin's injury in the playoffs was the beginning of the end for Shanahan.Al Bello/Getty Images

    When Griffin's knee twisted the wrong way in the NFC Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks, Shanahan's future took its own turn for the worse.

    Griffin was seriously hurt and would soon need major surgery. While that surgery was a success, the damage between coach and quarterback could not be repaired.

    In the aftermath of the injury, people wanted to know who was responsible. Some blamed Shanahan and his less-than-quarterback-friendly read-option play-calling.

    Others blamed Griffin, who had already suffered a knee injury the previous month, for not leaving the field earlier when he was visibly lame.

    The Post's Kent Babb and Mark Maske have provided explicit details about how the relationship between Shanahan and his star player began fraying at this time:

    Two weeks later, according to a person familiar with the discussion, the Shanahans sat with Griffin before Washington's playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and went over plays they would and wouldn't use. The men agreed to leave the zone read mostly out of the game plan, relying more on Griffin's passing, according to this account. But when the offense took the field, Kyle Shanahan called one zone-read play, then another.

    The play-calling deeply affected Griffin's trust in the Shanahans, according to one person in the quarterback's camp.

    Griffin appeared to aggravate his knee injury in the first half, and Shanahan said earlier this month he had wanted to remove Griffin from the game. Instead, Griffin again talked his coach into allowing him to remain in the game, and James Andrews, the team orthopedist, said there was no medical reason to remove him.

    The blame game between Griffin and Shanahan would rage back and forth all offseason.

August 2013: Operation Patience

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    By the eve of the 2013 season, things were very different between Shanahan and Griffin.
    By the eve of the 2013 season, things were very different between Shanahan and Griffin.Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    By the time summer arrived, Shanahan was still trying to maintain control over Griffin regarding the player's recovery. That led to the period dubbed "Operation Patience."

    It was Shanahan's way of putting the brakes on Griffin, who believed he was ready to play in preseason. Needless to say, the quarterback bristled under his coach's demands.

    The stage was set for this power struggle to go from covert to overt during the 2013 regular season.

December 2013: Shanahan Finally Blames His Owner

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    It took him long enough, but Shanahan finally got around to blaming his owner.
    It took him long enough, but Shanahan finally got around to blaming his owner.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Once it became clear Griffin was not the same player post-knee surgery as the one who had dominated the league in 2012, Shanahan was in major trouble.

    By December, his team was a mess, and the writing was on the wall. That meant it was time for the blame game to be kicked up a notch.

    Shanahan only had one target left, owner Dan Snyder, that arch-meddler so often justifiably the brunt of fans' frustrations. It had taken him long enough, but Shanahan finally got around to blaming his overbearing boss.

    A report from ESPN's Dan Graziano stated Shanahan was wary of Snyder's close relationship with Griffin. Graziano even claimed Shanahan had wanted to quit after the playoff defeat to the Seahawks.

    As Babb and Maske reveal, Shanahan had potentially burned his bridges with the man who paid his salary:

    More than four months later, with Washington's record at 3-9 and Shanahan's job security under fire, a gameday morning began with an ESPN report suggesting Shanahan had been displeased with Snyder's relationship with Griffin and had considered quitting after the 2012 season. Members of the Redskins organization felt they had given Shanahan everything he wanted, and people close to Snyder said the owner was angered and bewildered by the story, which came just hours before the team played the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Shanahan has yet to deny the report's details, and an assistant coach who said he confronted Shanahan about it said Shanahan told him he had, in fact, considered stepping down — though he had given no indication to the other 20 or so members of his staff.

    With a constant blame shift being played out in public, there was room for one more defining moment in the Shanahan era.

December 11, 2013: Shanny Shuts Down Griffin

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    Shanahan's last defining act in charge was to send Griffin to the bench.
    Shanahan's last defining act in charge was to send Griffin to the bench.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    A week after Graziano's report, Shanny shut down Griffin. Try saying that three times really fast.

    It turned out to be the last defining move Shanahan made as Redskins head coach. It was the final gambit in a brewing battle for authority between a controlling coach and his defiant quarterback.

    Unfortunately, that battle had ended too late to salvage the season it had wrecked.

December 30, 2013: Shanahan Is Fired

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    Shanahan was sent packing just hours after his team's season had ended.
    Shanahan was sent packing just hours after his team's season had ended.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Shanahan didn't have to wait long to receive his walking papers once the Redskins' terrible 2013 season had ended. His meeting with Snyder was brief and put the final exclamation point on an era defined by bad decisions and avoiding criticism by hiding behind the failures of the past.

    Shanahan changed the dynamic and remit of his job every year in Washington. He used the reputation acquired with the Broncos and the sheer scale of the mess the Redskins were in when he arrived to avoid his own culpability in making this franchise worse.

    What he leaves behind is a team with some solid talent on both sides of the ball, but also one with many holes on the roster and some worryingly big egos.

    So, pretty much right where things were four years ago.

    Over to the next man.