When the Washington Redskins hired a two-time Super Bowl winner to take over for out-of-his-depth novice Jim Zorn, the future appeared bright.
But now that another season has been officially lost, it's time to seriously question the future of Mike Shanahan.
A 6-10 mark in his first season could be forgiven by some. Many fans might not like the word "transition," but just as many are understanding enough to expect one in the wake of a 4-12 campaign.
But the second season is often the year most rebuilding efforts begin to be properly judged, free from allowances and understanding.
Year two is usually the time where signs for optimism can be seen and the changes implemented by the new coach and his staff begin to take hold.
Except none of this has happened under Shanahan. The major problems which plagued the Redskins in 2010 are still present.
Then there is the question of whether or not the Redskins team Shanahan inherited even required a major rebuild.
At 3-7 it would take a Herculean effort just to match last season's lowly mark. Things have not changed for the better and Shanahan must shoulder the blame.
He are seven reasons why Shanahan and his staff have to be shown the door at the end of the season.
One look at the mess at quarterback does little to strengthen any justification that Shanahan is the man for the future.
For a coach who was hired largely based on a reputation for expertise coaching quarterbacks, Shanahan's handling of the signature position of the team has been diabolical.
Beginning first with the trade for Donovan McNabb, Shanahan appeared to have provided his offense with a steady and reliable veteran.
That's exactly what McNabb was. But just a few short months exposed to the intense critiquing of Shanahan was enough to seriously damage McNabb's confidence.
Things came to a head when Shanahan pulled McNabb on the road in Detroit. His very public mishandling of the whole affair condemned the Redskins' season and meant that McNabb had to be shown the door.
Granted, McNabb's form with the Minnesota Vikings indicates that his departure would have been inevitable. But if he was washed up to begin with, why did a coach as experienced as Shanahan not recognise it?
Next up, Shanahan announced to anybody who would listen that the untested John Beck was good enough to be his starter. He was certain.
But come the start of the season, Rex Grossman was under center. Shanahan then demoted Grossman in no time at all and finally gave the job to Beck.
It quickly became clear that Beck was in fact not up to the task and Grossman was given back his job as the lesser of two evils.
Twice Shanahan got it wrong at quarterback. Neither of his main choices lived up to expectations. Zorn was not afforded as much slack after his failed attempts to mould Jason Campbell into a quality starter.
The other side of the ball has failed to escape similarly rash decision-making. One of the first things Shanahan did when he took over was to announce that the defense would be switching to 3-4.
This was despite the fact that he inherited a unit made up of 4-3 personnel and one that was one perennially ranked in the top 10.
The decision inevitably led to a spat between the new coach and Albert Haynesworth. No excuses for Haynesworth, but why ask a dominant 4-3 tackle to learn a new position and completely alter his style of play?
People rightly complained about Haynesworth's lack of effort, given his massive contract. But equally it is the responsibility of a coach to do whatever gets the most out of a player in whom the Redskins had made such a large investment.
Similar demands were made of Andre Carter, even though he was coming off a stellar 2009. Look how well Carter is doing now that he is again allowed to do what he does best.
Shanahan could have taken advantage of an already-stout defense and devoted most of his energies to fixing his favoured side of the ball—the side which just happened to be the Redskins' biggest weakness.
But by forcing an unnecessary schematic switch on ill-suited personnel, Shanahan created more work and needlessly increased the transition time.
The defense fell from 10th to 31st in Shanahan's first season. While the unit has performed admirably at times this season, it has also struggled in critical moments during games. Similar problems with personnel persist.
Would the likes of Brian Orakpo, Rocky McIntosh and Barry Cofield really not be best served by reverting to their more natural 4-3?
Shanahan may be able to share the blame for his alarmingly poor record with personnel since he took over the Redskins. General manager Bruce Allen would have a few questions of his own to answer in this department.
But Shanahan has been a significant part of several bizarre choices in regards to personnel. His quarterbacks have been badly chosen and his own desire to play 3-4 doesn't properly suit most of the players at his disposal.
Then there is the number of veterans who failed to make any impact. This is particularly evident at running back, another long-time Shanahan area of expertise.
When he was appointed, Redskins fans eagerly anticipated seeing the success of Shanahan's famed zone-blocking, running scheme.
But instead the Redskins running game has become one of the worst in the league under his watch. A slew of runners have been tried out in a "see what sticks" approach to the problem.
Experienced rushers like Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were signed, only to be quickly released. Tashard Choice recently joined the same company.
Shanahan's stubborn urge to force players into his specific systems has led to many mistakes. He has tried out numerous players for various roles and consistently got the key positions wrong.
Shanahan's rash decision-making and constant backtracking has painted a picture of a man unsure of himself and quick to blame others when his choices are proved wrong.
This has created an environment that suffocates the team. Too many players walk around the field with their heads down.
What kind of trust can players have in a coach who could pull them at any time and then just as easily reverse his decision a few short weeks later?
Players publicly criticise the coordinators and vent their frustrations far too often. When a veteran performer like Barry Cofield tells the press the team may not win again, Redskins fans everywhere have to start to seriously worry.
The atmosphere around the franchise has become increasingly negative and this has happened on Shanahan's watch.
He has created controversies which can inevitably divide a team. His treatment of Grossman and Beck has engendered sympathy for both, even though neither has performed adequately.
It's not difficult to imagine that players can take sides and become loyal to one man over another. This sort of fractious feeling amongst the squad certainly does not translate well to game day.
This is exactly the kind of thing that was supposed to come to an end when Shanahan was hired. The image of Dan Snyder's Redskins as an ill-disciplined, unmotivated, overpaid and dysfunctional rabble was supposed to be guaranteed to change.
Does it feel as though anything has changed?
It may seem crazy to some to even question the wisdom of a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach. There is no denying that Mike Shanahan did an outstanding job with the Denver Broncos.
But the numbers he achieved there do not guarantee success and those two Super Bowls do not tell the whole story.
Shanahan secured back-to-back titles after the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Following the retirement of John Elway, the Broncos' fortunes rapidly plummeted.
In the 10 seasons after Elway's retirement, Shanahan's Broncos only made the postseason four times and got past the Wild Card Round once.
Granted, the retirement of Elway, coupled with the career-ending injury suffered by Terrell Davis, would be hard for any coach to overcome.
But elite coaches are given their reputations and commensurate salaries based on their ability to regenerate, rebuild and create new winners.
Since 1998, Shanahan's record in this department is far from elite.
Shanahan has plunged the franchise into a complete overhaul and subjected the fans to the prospect of a long transition. Is this really what was expected when he was hired?
When Shanahan took the reins many could be forgiven for envisaging a quick turnaround. The Redskins had a talented and experienced roster and installing a fiery, proven winner would surely translate into a swift reversal of fortunes.
The common feeling left over from the Jim Zorn era was that the Redskins had underachieved because they were poorly coached—not because they were in need of a major influx of fresh talent.
After all, if a 1989 Dallas Cowboys- or 2009 Detroit Lions-style rebuild was called for, then why trade for a veteran signal-caller like McNabb?
Why sign a number of experienced players instead of gutting the existing squad and starting properly from scratch?
The truth feels more like Shanahan attempted a quick fix, but his poor team decisions and personnel choices prevented a rapid return to form. This forced him into the kind of wholesale changes he made heading into the season.
But the NFL isn't built for four- and five-year plans anymore. Quick turnarounds are very possible and often expected.
The Redskins had the building blocks in place to be another team who experienced a fast recovery. The defense and dependable skill players meant that only a few minor tweaks should have been needed.
What kind of future can the Redskins expect if they persist with Shanahan? Any theories are probably best served by looking at what Shanahan has put in place.
Where are the young blue chippers for the Redskins? Ryan Kerrigan is performing well and has the potential to develop into a legitimate talent.
Injuries have robbed fans of the chance to see what Jarvis Jenkins and Leonard Hankerson might have done over a full season.
But where is the elite offensive lineman, or the game-changing runner? It's hard to point to reasons for optimism under Shanahan.
Instead more large-scale retooling seems certain, leading to yet more transition. If the defense is deemed good enough, it is not as simple as merely tweaking the offense.
Drafting a quarterback is a priority. Drafting the right man is as much about luck as judgement. Shanahan has been woefully short of both during his time in the nation's capital.
The offensive line has still not been fixed and is as bad now as it has ever been—and who will eventually emerge to carry the ball?
If the 3-4 is ultimately judged a success, it will have taken two years to properly implement. Will it take Shanahan another season or two to mold his version of an offense?
As Redskins fans prepare to wait another few years to see their team contending, it is painful to consider how quickly other teams have been turned around.
Jim Harbaugh took over a 6-10 San Francisco 49ers team who had been badly handled by a coach out of his depth. Sound familiar?
With just a few slight adjustments on either side of the ball and a new attitude and spirit, the 49ers sit at the proud mark of 9-2.
Nobody can convince this author that the 49ers possess significantly more talent than the Redskins did when Shanahan assumed control.
Harbaugh inherited similar offensive woes and a strong defense. He has matched the offense to the abilities and limits of his personnel and left the defense largely intact.
He didn't look at a unit containing Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and NaVorro Bowman and demand a switch to 4-3 simply because he believed it was better.
Of course there is no guarantee that Harbaugh will be able to maintain his initial success. But he has shown that an underachieving squad doesn't have to be ripped up before they can become winners.
Mike Shanahan's time in Washington has often resembled the tyrannical reign of a stubborn autocrat. Decisions have been made as though they were taken to emphasise his authority, rather than ensure the success of the team first.
Instead of adapting to what he has at his disposal, Shanahan has attempted to force players into systems for which he does not have the right personnel.
From this point the Redskins would require a 5-1 finish just to secure an even mark for the season. Shanahan and his staff have not satisfied their remit and it's time for the Redskins to consider the alternatives.