Mike Shanahan Demands Excellence: Can Donovan McNabb Achieve It?
If the amount of mud that has been thrown at Mike Shanahan over the course of these past two weeks is any indication, football analyst, columnist and fans would all welcome Jim Zorn back to the head coaching job for the Washington Redskins.
To see anyone suggest that Mike Shanahan should be fired after half a season with nothing to work with undermines the entire culture Shanahan has striven to established. A culture that hasn't been seen at Redskins Park and at FedEx Field since Marty Schottenheimer was unceremoniously fired.
Let's get this out of the way; Shanahan's decision to benching Donovan McNabb in the final hour in a game that was way closer than it should've been was stupid. It was a silly call.
That being said, one has to wonder—if he were still in Denver, would this have been as universally panned and annihilated and raked over the coals of Broncos fans? They've dealt with this before, when Shanahan benched Bubby Brister and replaced him with Brian Griese. He then benched Greise for Steve Beuerline. And then yet again, he benched Jake Plummer for a young upstart Jay Culter.
Each time he benched or threatened to bench his quarterback, it was to light a spark and a fire under his quarterback's ass. If they didn't perform up to his standards, they were benched and stayed bench. If they worked hard, they were able to get back in the line-up.
Plummer recently did an article for Yahoo Sports, in which he stated, "I had a coach that, regardless of how well I thought I was playing or how well the majority of fans across the country thought I was playing, it was never good enough for him. And that kind of gets frustrating."
He said that he felt Mike Shanahan was always searching for the next John Elway to take him to the next level. He didn't say this as a bitter ex-player; he just said it because it was the truth. Some guys can take it, other guys can't.
When Shanahan took over the Washington Redskins on January 5, 2010, he looked back through all the film and did all the studying he needed to do. One by one, casualties of the Jim Zorn era fell by the wayside.
Rocky Cartwright, gone. LaDell Betts, gone. Antwaan Randle El, gone. Marko Mitchell, gone. Colt Brennan, gone. One by one they fell, and one by one, people wondered why.
Then Larry Johnson and "Fast(ish?)" Willie Parker and Joey Galloway came in, and people's heads exploded. Not too long after that, Devin Thomas was shown the door.
If you were on the outside looking in (and most people are—I hear about Joey Galloway daily from other football fans), you'd think Mike Shanahan took a good team that just needed better coaching and is trying to force his will on it.
This is a bold face lie. Let's face it, ladies and gentlemen—the Redskins haven't been a "good" team in a long, long time.
To expect Mike Shanahan to come into the organization and change that in a matter of months was insanity. But that is precisely what people demand on him—take a team that went 4-12 last season and turn them in a Super Bowl contender now. If you can't give us a Super Bowl, hit the bricks, we'll find a coach who can.
This is pro football. This is the NFL. Championships and Vince Lombardi Trophies aren't bought. Championship teams aren't bought, either. They're built.
Mike Shanahan has been given the monumental task of taking a team that has been historically bad and get them a championship as soon as possible.
Well if that's the case, and we're going to demand a Super Bowl or bust, then we have to face facts--Coach Shanahan has to establish a culture of excellence, a culture of winning and a culture of accountability. And he has, at most, three seasons to do it.
Benching Donovan McNabb was doing just that. When he was asked about it, he should've simply said, "Because I'm the head coach, and I stand by my decision." In this era of round the clock sports coverage via the Internet, TV and even radio, it might not have flown, but that's all he had to say.
What Coach Shanahan is doing is precisely what no coach since Marty Schottenheimer has done—demand excellence. If you demand perfection and fall short, you're good or great. If you demand good or great and fall short...well, you're the Washington Redskins of the last 15 years.
As great as Coach Gibbs was in the '80s, that same spark was missing during his second run. Jim Zorn was a joke. But to hear Redskins fans talk, you'd almost think they wanted him back. I've even seen people refer to him as Mike Zornahan,
Really? Mike Shanahan is as bad as Jim Frakking Zorn?
To rip a line off from Triple H, Jim Zorn couldn't carry Mike Shanahan's jock. There is no comparison of the two.
Let's stop pretending the Redskins have been a good team that's been lacking good coaching. That's a lie. The Redskins of the last decade and a half have had good pieces, but they have rarely been a good team.
Mike Shanahan walked into, quite possibly, the worst situation a head coach in the NFL could walk into and not lose his mind. He walked into a team that had a 4-12 season.
The O-line was completely destroyed, and the most important player on it was retiring. The key players were nicked up. He had no draft picks to speak of and a weak free agency pool to gather from. And a culture of losing and losers had festered and bubbled up and would be hard for any coach to overcome.
Shanahan has done what he can with what little he has, while demanding what he has always demanded—excellence. The Redskins are not an excellent football team. We are barely scraping the bottom of being good.
Those who have bought into Shanahan's philosophy are being rewarded. Brandon Banks has worked his way into being a budding star on special teams. Anthony Armstrong and Ryan Torain are now full time starters. Shanahan's motto is simple—the better you perform for me, the better chance you have of working your way up.
Want to know why Joey Galloway is still in the starting lineup and Devin Thomas was released? Because Devin didn't get it. Devin mouthed off to the media. He constantly whined and complained about not seeing enough snaps on offense, without doing enough to improve.
He wanted his job handed to him, because he was drafted and that was always going to be the case; he'd done nothing to earn his way onto the field, and if Devin couldn't beat out a 39-year-old for a starting job, it's because he wasn't good enough.
That wasn't Mike Shanahan's ego, like some have suggested. That was Mike Shanahan demanding Devin step up, and him failing. It's why Malcolm Kelly is still (technically) with the team and Devin is gone—Coach saw something in Kelly that he didn't in Thomas.
When you demand excellence and get nothing in return, you get traded or cut, period.
Even Albert Haynesworth has learned that his pissing match with Mike Shanahan was ultimately fruitless. The two aren't going to be best friends or go to each other's birthday party, but there is now an understanding.
When Albert was pouting and mouthing off to the media and acting like a brat, his snaps were limited. Albert had a chance to work his way into the starting line-up in the fourth preseason game. What most felt like an insult to Haynesworth was Mike Shanahan sending a message: show me something. You're going to be stuck here at least for the rest of the season, so give me something to work with.
Albert gets it now. He doesn't have to like Coach Shanahan. He can like Jim Haslett. But he gets Shanahan's philosophy now: play hard for me, and I can work with you. They moved Albert out of the things he's comfortable with, and he's finally starting to look like he was worth the $100 million the team sunk into him. And every week, Haynesworth sees a little more playing time.
The message is clear: play hard for me, and you will be rewarded. I will even praise you. Don't play hard, and you can mope on the sidelines.
I like that mentality.
Apparently some think that's too harsh. We live in a very player friendly world, where the players are always right, and the coaches are always overstepping their boundaries. That's what got Wade Phillips fired, remember? Blame Wade. Don't blame Miles Austin, who gets a multi-million dollar contract and then starts dropping balls. Don't blame Michael Jenkins for not making a tackle. It's Wade's fault.
Donovan McNabb is still the best quarterback we've had in a long time...but if Coach wanted a "good" quarterback, he would've kept Jason Campbell and tried to mold him into some great. He was led to believe Donovan was great.
Donovan has not played great. He's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. At least two of those interceptions have destroyed chances for the Redskins to come back and win games. His decision-making is suspect.
Does the O-line share some of the blame? Yup, sure does (though I'm still trying to figure out how you fix an entire offensive line in one season with no draft picks, no great free agents and no one willing to trade an offensive linemen who's worth a flying frak).
But we've all seen Donovan make some throws this season that make us question his sanity: Throwing two costly picks that costs the Redskins games versus the Colts and the Lions. Throwing two picks versus the Bears, not including a third pick that he was lucky to have called back, otherwise it would've cost him that game. Throwing balls into the backs of people. Throwing a pick in the game versus the Eagles where the only person who was open to catch the ball was the Eagles receiver.
Donovan has been great for the big plays. That's what made him famous in Philly and so revered amongst the sports media. He's a great person and a true professional. But Coach Shanahan demands something other than big plays and a great persona.
He demands efficiency. And while Donovan has looked efficient sometimes, he has looked efficient all the time. Not even close.
He demands excellence, and Donovan didn't give him excellence. So he decided to bench him. He'd do the same to anyone on his roster.
His message to Donovan is clear to anyone who doesn't have their lips pressed to Super Five's backside; "You're good. We need you to be better. It may cost me this game, it may get me grief. But I will handle that. But I need you to be great. I need you to be that Hall of Game guy."
This Sunday, Donovan McNabb has a chance to step up. One of two things will be proved: either Donovan will be great, and the Redskins will start to roll...or he won't. And Rex Grossman will be put in the game. And the crapstorm will start a new.
I like Mike Shanahan. Doing things his way got him two Super Bowl rings and made him one of the winning-est coaches in NFL history. His teams have made the playoffs every year but two. When he has time, he can build a contender.
My fear is that Dan Snyder will not give him that time. That in two years, if we don't make the playoffs, Mike Shanahan will be fired. There will be no coach worth getting that wants to come to work for the Redskins organization. And the entire damn thing will collapse.
For the Redskins players, I hope they continue to buy into the culture of excellence. Several times this year this team has claimed "This is not a game we would've won last year." I hope this Donovan McNabb business doesn't cause them to question everything, because the things Shanahan does are in the best interest of the TEAM. Not his ego, not himself. Certainly not his image. For his team.
For us fans, I'm asking one thing...patience. Please. Let's be real with each other. We are not an o-line away from being in the Super Bowl. We are not one wide receiver or one running back away from being a Super Bowl team. We are not a switch back to the 4-3 defense or a nose tackle or a corner back who can catch away from the Super Bowl.
This has been the mentality that has ruined one of the greatest franchises in NFL history. This idea that if we get get this one part we will be great. The very same mentality that Redskins fans have slammed Dan Snyder for year after year is the same one I see parroted on message boards and in comment sections.
It takes time to build a team. It takes time to be excellent. It takes time to win a Super Bowl. None of the teams that have won the Super Bowl in the last decade became Super Bowl champions overnight, no matter what people say. Those teams were built to be great.
The Redskins roster and their fan base has to stand collectively and demand to be excellent, and demand to build a great team.
Otherwise, in two or three years, we'll be right back where we started. 4-12, hopeless, with a new coach and no hope of going anywhere.
Let's hope it doesn't get that far.
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