Washington Redskins Hire Mike Shanahan: The Good and Bad

Dan AdamsCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

DENVER - OCTOBER 21:  Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos leaves the field after defeating of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 21, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Steelers 31-28.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Washington Redskins fans are finally satisfied with the man they have leaving their beloved team. Even Joe Gibbs didn't get the hype that Mike Shanahan is going to have in the nation's capital. Most people here the name Shanahan and they immediately think success when it comes to football coaches. If you ask fans in Denver they might give you a little different story.

As a little kid, I began to love the Broncos just before Mike Shanahan became coach. I remember the Wade Phillips year of Broncos football in 1994 and from that point on everything was Mike Shanahan football in the Mile High City. Here's what you can expect as a Redskins fan beginning immediately.

What Will Be Shanahan's First Coaching Move in Washington?

You can expect him to clear the locker-room of anyone who will not be on the same page with him when it comes to work ethic. Remember this, before Pat Bowlen came and blew his door down in Denver, he was planning on trading or releasing Brandon Marshall prior to this past season.

If you don't already know what Washington needs on their team, Mike Shanahan did months ago. He is a knowledge-nut. He completely understands the situation he is walking into coaching in the NFC East. He will go out and sign all of the free-agents that he thinks the Redskins need to be a playoff team in 2010. He was a master at constructing contracts in Denver and will likely do the same in Washington.

He won't have sole duty in Washington which will help him concentrate on coaching a little more than he could in Denver. He will work very closely with Bruce Allen, the General Manager of the Redskins.

As a condition of his employment, I am pretty sure that Shanahan requested and endless pocketbook in which he is allowed to go to the max at any point in time. He was granted this by Pat Bowlen and I am sure that one of the conditions of employment with the Redskins was the ability to do whatever it takes.

Past Free Agency and Draft Strategy

Learn this about Mike Shanahan coached teams right now. Most of the time they will look completely different defensively from season to season. His big contracts typically went to offensive players in Denver. He had a handful of very good defenses in Denver. When they were good, they made very deep playoff runs (1996, 1997, 1998, 2004).

Here are some successful acquisitions he made in Denver during his 14 years. 

Some people under estimate his knowledge on the defensive side of the ball, but his signing of Bill Romanowski, Neil Smith, and Keith Traylor to go along with the great secondary led by Steve Atwater and Tyrone Braxton all turned out very well.

Each of those veteran players contributed in different ways, in different games. He acquired John Lynch from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in his first-year with Denver, he looked rejuvenated and led them to the AFC Championship.

Offensively, most of Shanahan's great acquisitions have come through the draft. He developed one of the most underrated wide receiver duos to ever play the game. Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey were the top two wide receivers for John Elway during his final years, McCaffrey caught 329 passes for 41 touchdowns, Smith caught 351 passes for 32 touchdowns.

Remember this, he was also responsible for drafting one of the greatest running-backs who ever played the game in Terrell Davis. Shanahan was noted for finding late-round gems in his drafts. Davis was drafted with the 196th pick in the sixth-round of the 1995 NFL Draft. In his first four years in the NFL, he ran four 6453 yards and scored 61 touchdowns in those seasons.

Not many people remember him outside of Denver because he tore his ACL shortly after John Elway retired and he was never able to recover.

In Shanahan's last few seasons in Denver, he tried everything to reestablish his running attack to the days of Davis. He tried so many backs in the backfield over years following, but all of them continued to get injured. The one back he drafted in the top two rounds was Clinton Portis of the University of Miami (FLA).

Shanahan found exactly what he was looking for from the 2002 draft pick. Portis rushed for 3099 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Broncos. The only problem was his head got a little too big and he threatened to hold out for a new contract heading into year three.

As I stated before, Shanahan will not deal with you if you are not on the same page as him. If you put in the time and earn your paycheck he would have rewarded Portis, but with the hold-out threat on the brink, he traded the Pro-Bowler coincidentally to same place he will now be coaching, the Washington Redskins.

There are definitely some blunders in his resume as well. The Broncos struggled mightily after John Elway retired and Shanahan could just not find a quarterback to run his offense. He went with Brian Griese immediately following the retirement.

Griese obviously wasn't paying much attention to what Elway was doing on the field because he had zero playoff success. Then he brought in Jake "The Snake" Plummer, he compiled a very good record of 39-15 with Denver, but his late season mistakes ended up costing him his job.

He also signed Travis Henry to a big contract that turned out to be a huge mistake. He also signed free agent cornerback Dre Bly to a hefty contract that was also a big mishap. If you are with a franchise for 14 seasons there are going to be a lot of good and bad decisions along the way.

One things for sure with Shanahan, he will take the biggest risks possible to make his team the best it can be. That includes going after the big egos. It could include going after a Brandon Marshall via trade, it could include taking a long look at Terrell Owens and his situation in Buffalo. Let's move on to some more analysis of his on-field coaching.

Shanahan's Offense and Coaching Style

Offense Type: West Coast

Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Shanahan (his son) and Mike will share duties

Pass vs Run: 40 percent run - 60 percent pass

Mike Shanahan has run one of the most prolific versions of the West Coast offenses since its inception. He has mastered everything that this offense can do. When Gary Kubiak left him for Houston, Shanahan seemed to have a little too much on his plate in Denver. From the outside, it looked like the only person within the organization that he could trust with the offense was himself.

In Washington, he will be stealing his son away from his longtime assistant Kubiak to become his offensive coordinator. Typically, Shanahan did most of the play-calling in Denver and will likely have a lot to do with it in Washington. It has yet to be seen how much he trusts the younger version of himself.

Unlike many NFL teams who specialize in certain sets and perfect those over time. Shanahan is more of a "game-by-game" coach. He will put in new sets and completely change the formations and shifts in his offense every week. With the Shanahan duo running the show, they will find a way to run the exact same play from at least five different formations.

He will likely enable some version of the zone-blocking scheme that was so successful in Denver. It is yet to be seen whether old offensive line coach Alex Gibbs will tag-along for the new opportunity. Clinton Portis must be licking his chops though, knowing the only coach to get him to 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns will be back teaching the five in front of him again.

Play-action pass the biggest key to success in Shanahan's offense, so he will want a mobile quarterback running the show. Jason Campbell has the skills to be a very successful quarterback in Washington, but Mike Shanahan might look to the draft for a playmaker.

If Jimmy Clausen is sitting on the board when Washington selects, I wouldn't be surprised if Shanahan would pull the trigger. Shanahan will be asking for three things out of a rookie quarterback before he even considers him.

First, arm-strength. So many of the throws that need to be made are across-the-body to the opposite side of the field or they are those 20-yard deep-out routes that every NFL quarterback needs to be able to make.

Secondly, mobility and awareness in the pocket. His quarterbacks always seem to be moving in the pocket. His offense tends to drift on the field and his quarterback will need to have similar numbers to what Cutler and Plummer had moving on their feet (higher completion percentage and QB rating outside the pocket than inside the pocket).

Lastly, competency. You will need to be very smart upstairs to have success with Shanahan. If you two are not on the same page, you will end up on the list you don't want to be on, the free-agency list. From week to week, plays will be changing, personnel will be changing, anything could be changing.

If he does decide to pull the string on a rookie quarterback, I would not want to be that guy this year. With him just beginning a new era of his coaching career, Shanahan will not be taking anything for granted this time around.

Special Teams

I watched just about every Broncos game pretty closely over the past fifteen years and I can tell you a lot about what to expect from the Redskins special teams. Expect absolutely nothing special at all. He will never fake a punt, he will never fake a field goal. There will never be any trickery on returns. He will most likely put somebody back there to return that has a little speed but more importantly, they will hang onto the football.

It's just that simple,  I don't even think you need three fingers to count the amount of times that Shanahan would fake a punt or field goal. He is a very conservative coach when it comes to the special teams and he will usually take the most cautious approach.

From what I have heard he doesn't take a huge role in what happens on the special teams either. He delegates all of that to his special teams coaches and typically if they don't play well he goes right to their coach. He is using the majority of his time to concentrate on offense.

Critical Decisions in Games

When it comes to challenging plays that are unsure on the field, Shanahan has always taken the safe route. If they are close, he will challenge. I don't know his success-rate on challenges but it is probably not near the top of the league.

So, many of his mistakes come from his offenses inability to provide consistency. It could have a lot to do with the changing of offense from week to week, but most of it has to do with the inability to run the ball. If Shanahan's teams can't run the ball effectively on the zone-stretch and zone-cutback runs, than the team in large-part will lose.

One good thing for Redskins fans is he always has been able to run the ball. With Clinton Portis healthy, there is no reason he should not creep towards that 1,500 yard plateau again in 2010. He still has his legs when he gets out in open field.

The plays that are going to drive Redskins fans crazy are going to be the amount of times you need 8-15 yards on third down and you only get five. The West Coast Offense is set up for a ton of short passes and he is not going to change anything now after he has been so successful with it.

You can expect him to go for it on most fourth and less than a yard-to-go situations on the oppositions side of the field. He will not take the risk that Bill Belichick did in New England.

You can expect your team to get off to some nice, comfortable leads in many of their games. Typically, by the third-quarter though the margin will be less than a touchdown either way. Blowouts were few and far between after the Elway-era and that inability to put away weak opponents was a huge factor in his termination.

The late season collapses in Denver did not have so much to do with Mike Shanahan as they had to do with the streaky play of their defense in Denver. Shanahan was firing defensive coordinators year after year because none of them could even get decent defensive play out of the crew. 

It's interesting because after Shanahan left this season, Mike Nolan turned Denver's defense back into the Orange Crush. They punished teams all year and were the sole reason for the Broncos 6-0 start. It will be interesting to see how Shanahan will handle the defense in Washington. Bruce Allen and him are going to take a long look at what they have going on defense.

Over the past couple seasons, that has been one of the only bright spots for the struggling Redskins.

How Successful Can the Redskins Be in the Short Term?

It's possible that Shanahan could have them contending for a Super Bowl within three years. He accomplished that feat twice in his first four with Denver. If it wasn't for a big upset by Jacksonville in 1996, Denver may have won three straight Super Bowls. If you were to rate coaches by gemstones, Washington got a diamond in Mike Shanahan.

If Dan Snyder gives him the reigns, he is going to take the Redskins to places they have not dreamed of since the early '90s. You can count on saying goodbye to the joke of an offense that has been operated there over the past five seasons.

My prediction is that by 2012, the Washington Redskins will be in the NFC Championship game. Who will be their quarterback? Who will be running their defense? Who will be their leading pass catcher? All of those questions will be answered very soon. Congrats 'Skins fans, you're very, very lucky.


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