I hope you had a chance to read today’s story about the relationship between Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and head coach Mike Shanahan. So much has been written about Mike’s relationship with his son, Kyle; I thought it beneficial to explore the head coach-coordinator union on the other side of the ball.
Other developments prompted the story idea, as well. First and foremost, the defense emerged this season as the foundation for whatever success the Redskins might achieve in the next year or two. There also were negative elements, such as the costly ‘zero’ blitz calls late in both losses to Dallas and the questions about preparation in the Carolina loss.
Yet another element: Shanahan brought with him to Washington several coaches who worked with him in Denver, such as running backs coach Bobby Turner and defensive backs coach Bob Slowik. Haslett was not one of them.
On the contrary, Haz was a head coach for six seasons, and an interim in St. Louis for 12 games, and developed his own methods and beliefs about how to run a team. As Brian Orakpo put it: “He’s not just a guy that’s just under the head coach and whatever he says.”
The differences in Shanahan’s and Haslett’s personalities are clear even to us reporters who are around both coaches every day during the season, but in talking to those who work with them more closely, it became apparent that the pairing works because of their mutual understanding of the other’s responsibilities, a mutual respect for the other’s coaching abilities and their common goal.
“I think they coexist well,” defensive captain London Fletcher said near the end of the season. “Coach Shanahan will ask Coach Haz’s opinion on some things knowing that he has been a head coach. Coach Shanahan will obviously help out with different things he sees from an offensive standpoint that can help us defensively.
“I think Haz is more boisterous. Coach Shanahan is very fiery and competitive and obviously you can tell that by the success he’s had. One just talks more.”
As for the interaction between Haslett and Shanahan on game days, Haslett described it as “great.”
“He doesn’t say much,” Haslett said. “If he wants something, obviously he’s the head coach. I got no big ego. If he wants something, then I’ll call it. Usually he’ll make a suggestion here or there or ask if you want a time out or what you think about this. But he’s pretty good about letting you call your game.
“I’m sure if there was an issue or a problem, he might tell you, ‘Let’s speed it up, Jim. Get it out of your mouth faster,’ or something like that. But I think he’s pretty good on game day. He’s really calm. Nothing really fazes him.”
That, of course, leads to the ‘zero’ blitz calls that failed late in losses to Dallas. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant extended game-winning drives with receptions against DeAngelo Hall on third-and-21 on Monday Night in Week 3 and third-and-17 in overtime in Week 11.
I was interested in how their relationship and collaboration evolved after those high-profile negative plays. Neither coach would discuss the specific blitz calls, but Shanahan did speak generally about such decisions.
“You have to understand protections,” he said. “If you’re going to have a blitz, you have to understand why it’s going to work. You don’t just blitz to blitz.”
In other words, what the Redskins call in those situations results from meticulous planning during the week. Those plans are a collaborative effort, and it’s up to the coaches to review why the blitzes didn’t work and adjust.
As the season neared its conclusion, Shanahan and Haslett shared the same outlook about the defense: Improved but clearly not a finished product. Those of us outside Redskins Park would agree.
At this point, I don’t believe the Redskins are in danger of losing Haslett to one of the remaining four head coach openings. He could be a very attractive option – he’s the only person to win both the NFL Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year awards. He’s a college football Hall of Famer, players love him and he’s well versed in both the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.
However, the Redskins’ defense probably needs one or two top-10 or top-5 seasons for his name to really heat up. Plus, Haslett isn’t in any rush to be a head coach again. One of the few things he hasn’t accomplished is a Super Bowl title, and although the Redskins’ offense must be fortified to make that a possibility, he believes they’re at least headed in the right direction.
“I came here because I want to win a championship,” he said. “You have all the pieces, meaning that you’ve got an owner who wants to win and is willing to spend money. You’ve got an organization who wants to win. You’ve got a city that loves football.
“You have a head coach that wants to win another championship. He’s given us a lot of good pieces on defense to move forward, and he still knows that we need a few, just like offense. Everybody needs it until we do it. As long as we’re all on the same page and we all want to win games, there’s no reason not to stay here and try to win a championship.”