ASHBURN, Va. | Mike Shanahan smiled, joked, looked positively giddy at times. He even allowed reporters to watch an entire Washington Redskins regular season practice for the first time, daring them to brave the 21-degree wind chill. It was hard to tell he has a team that’s 5-7 and out of the playoffs.
That’s what happens when the weight of eight months of Albert Haynesworth drama is lifted from a coach’s shoulders.
Shanahan on Wednesday discussed his decision to suspend the two-time All-Pro defensive tackle without pay for the rest of the season, a move that brought a sense of relief to Redskins Park that a long-running soap opera of a distraction is finally over.
“I was going to share the conversation Albert and I had, but since he wouldn’t talk to me I couldn’t share that conversation with you guys,” said Shanahan, opening his post-practice remarks with a bit of dry humor. “So that was a little tough.”
Inside, Haynesworth’s locker was cluttered as usual, with a towel, cleats and clothes. A shirt was draped over the front, obscuring the nameplate so all that was visible was “ORTH 92.” The team’s weekly schedule sat on the stool, a useless piece of paper for a player who won’t be around.
For at least one more day, however, the player who wore No. 92 was the talk of the team, as he has been for countless days since the team begin offseason workouts in March. The battle of wills between Shanahan and Haynesworth got to the point where it was probably for the best that the two not share the same building, something that’s now assured for the final four games.
Haynesworth might indeed get to enjoy a relaxing December, having played only 20 games for a team that signed him last year to a seven-year, $100 million contract with $41 million in guaranteed money. He is appealing the suspension, which would cost him $847,000 in salary if upheld, but he no longer has to concern himself with fitting into a defense in which he was “a square peg into a round hole,” to use defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s words from earlier in the season.
“He didn’t like the 4-3 defense a year ago,” Shanahan said. “He didn’t like the base defense. He didn’t like the nickel defense. He didn’t want to play nose tackle, didn’t want to play defensive end (in the 3-4 defense). We got him playing the nickel package, first and second and third down. He didn’t like first- and second-down nickel, wanted to play third-down nickel in passing situations. Hey, it was just time. It was just time to go in another direction.”
The suspension, officially for “conduct detrimental to the club,” is the most emphatic statement yet that Shanahan is indisputably in charge in his first season with the club. Gone are the competing agendas of years past, when owner Dan Snyder and departed front office head Vinny Cerrato would share or diminish a coach’s authority or question his decisions.
“I haven’t even discussed this situation with Dan,” said Shanahan, a stunning statement given Snyder’s history of hands-on ownership.
That’s the kind of control a coach can get when his history includes two Super Bowl titles with the Denver Broncos.
“You’ve got to do it his way or you won’t be here,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. “He just suspended a guy that’s making $100 million and is probably the best at what he does, so what it’s to stop him from doing this to anybody else on the team?”