Mike Shanahan's Ego Consumes Redskins
In the NFL season before the much-ballyhooed arrival in Washington of two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan, the team in Washington that Shanahan took over had lots of problems. The defense, however, was not one of them. It even featured a new two-time Pro Bowl player, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who team owner Dan Snyder bought off the free-agent market with a $100-million contract that made him the richest defensive player in NFL history.
But on Tuesday, an ugly dozen games into his Washington coaching career -- for which he has produced just five wins -- Shanahan kicked Haynesworth off the team for the rest of the season. "Conduct detrimental to the team" was the explanation.
Shanahan didn't even let Haynesworth suit up last Sunday. The Giants then literally ran over Shanahan's Haynesworth-less defense en route to a 31-7 beat down that became the most embarrassing loss of Shanahan's Washington era. And it wasn't the first game Shanahan refused to play Haynesworth without citing injury. He shelved Haynesworth in October against the Colts and lost that game too.
Haynesworth won't be a Pro Bowl player again this season for a lot of reasons. Some are his doing. A big one is Shanahan.
Watching Shanahan coach Haynesworth this season has been like the Disney comedy "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." He took a player who arrived in the nation's capital as an MVP candidate and turned him into a backup.
Shanahan took an asset on a team with few and reduced it to penny stock.
Shanahan proved to be an alchemist in reverse.
"Yesterday [Monday], when Albert was at Redskin Park, he told our General Manager Bruce Allen that he [Haynesworth] would no longer speak with me," Shanahan said in a prepared statement released Tuesday. "Although suspending any player is not a decision that a head coach enters into lightly, I believe the situation has reached the point where the club clearly has no alternative."
Consider the disrespect mutual.
There was one calculation Shanahan was correct in making about Haynesworth. It was that he could positively juxtapose himself against Haynesworth, casting Haynesworth as another overpaid, couldn't-care-less athlete who fans, and much of the media, love to loath.
Haynesworth was an easy mark, too. He looked the part of the despised with his protruding belly. He acted the part by bypassing involuntary workouts and showing up at headquarters only when required to, and then doing so in a brand new car that only a $100 million athlete can buy.
Haynesworth appeared to be the perfect malcontent. The disgust he garnered kicked up so much dust that it blinded most observers to Shanahan's own shortcomings.
After all, that defense Shanahan inherited with Haynesworth as an anchor was the 10th stingiest in yards allowed in 2009. It played a 4-3 alignment in which Haynesworth prospered. Through 12 games in 2010, however, the same defense ranks dead last in yards allowed. Shanahan instituted his preferred 3-4 alignment that Haynesworth had to be dragged kicking and screaming to play.
Haynesworth was alone early on in his protest of Shanahan's philosophy. But as the defense continued to get shoved up and down the field, other teammates began to side with his critique. But with Shanahan, it was going to be his way or the highway. Shanahan's way, quietly as it's been kept, is to nowhere nowadays.
It's been a long time since Shanahan was a Super Bowl-winning coach. Come next season, it will be over a decade since Hall of Fame member John Elway quarterbacked Shanahan's Denver Broncos to back-to-back titles.
It's even been a while since Shanahan was a playoff participating coach too. The last time was in the 2005 season when his Broncos finished 13-3 and lost to the Steelers in the AFC championship game.
Since then, Shanahan has been nothing more than an average coach in this league. He went 9-7, 7-9 and 8-8 in his last three seasons in Denver before Snyder swooped in last offseason and whisked him away to the East Coast.
With a 5-7 record thus far this season, Shanahan is 29-31 since last going to the playoffs.
Shanahan isn't a winning coach anymore, he's a losing coach.
More disturbing, the Haynesworth episode evidenced that Shanahan is willing to absorb whatever cost in order to win his way, whatever way that is, increasingly less as it is. With Haynesworth it meant trying to shove his square body into a round hole. For 31-year-old veteran defensive end Andre Carter it meant trying to cover receivers in the flat as an outside linebacker. Last season was his second best since his second season in the league. This season he's been a near flop.
Same can be said for the dealings with Donovan McNabb. For the stand-up star quarterback, McNabb, whom Snyder went out and traded draft picks for in the offseason, Shanahan's intransigence meant angrily snatching McNabb out of a game with minutes left and an opportunity to win it. Shanahan first explained that McNabb, known for his offseason fitness routine, wasn't in shape enough to run the two-minute offense. Then Shanahan amended his comments only to insult McNabb's mental acuity by suggesting the veteran hadn't grasped the peculiarities of his offense coordinating son Kyle's playbook. That made me tweet weeks ago @ProfBlackistone: "Problem with Childress (Moss) & Shanahan (McNabb) is that they crossed the fine line between coaching and hegemony."
The next game McNabb directed a come-from-behind win with guile and in a hurry.
Never mind all of that, though. Haynesworth was Shanahan's Washington problem and now he is gone, and for good. Washington will be left to trade him for, at best, middle round draft picks, far below his true market worth.
The team will try to get back some of the tens of millions they paid him. That was what the statement was all about. It was the same thing Philadelphia did when it began divorce proceedings years ago with Terrell Owens. An arbitrator threw out their case.
Smart money will be on Washington losing any similar challenge for Haynesworth's dough. He likely will keep his $41 million guaranteed. Washington's defense will be no better. The team's record won't improve.
But that's a win to Shanahan.
FanHouse TV's Dan Graziano thinks there were no winners in the Albert Haynesworth situation and it's a shame it got as ugly as it did.