Mike Shanahan hasn't done much that deserves applause during his brief tenure as head honcho, inheriting one headache and creating another, then exacerbating the situations by gross mismanaging. But give him a hand for swiftly addressing the dueling dramas that overshadowed everything else at Redskins Park.
We would've sung his praises had he cut his losses by simply cutting Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb before Friday morning, when the team has its first official practice since the NFL lockout ended. The fact that Shanahan got something — anything — for the disastrous decisions-turned-distractions earns him extra credit.
He needs all the points he can muster entering his second season at the helm, with his success in Denver pushed a year deeper in our memories. While the images of Haynesworth and McNabb took major hits under Shanahan, the coach didn't exactly burnish his own reputation — unless the only subjects he cares about are Stubbornness, Inflexibility and Miscommunication. If that's the case, give him straight A's.
You could say the same thing about Haynesworth and McNabb, distinctly different personalities and circumstances, but forever joined in Redskins' lore under "Shanahan Era: Year 1." But it's the coach's job to make the most of his roster and get the most from his players, by literal pats on the back or figurative kicks to the rear.
Like a good pitcher, a good coach uses a varied approach, mixing speeds and changing locations to reach his goal.
Among the criticisms of former Redskins coach Jim Zorn was the team culture, as some players resented being held to standards that didn't apply to everyone. But "equal treatment" and "fair treatment" are not synonymous, especially when dealing with accomplished, veteran players.
Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson famously boasted that he was totally consistent because "I treat everybody differently." A third-stringer would be cut for falling asleep in the film room; Emmitt Smith was nudged and told to wake up.
Maybe Shanahan never mastered the ability to adjust his style according to the individual.
Not every coach is skilled in that area and Shanahan didn't show interest in improving, at least not outwardly. But it's clear that his approach in dealing with Haynesworth and McNabb alienated the players, divided his locker room and cast a cloud over the entire season.
With his lack of pride and professionalism, Haynesworth was the bigger problem child. That makes him the perfect reclamation project for New England coach Bill Belichick, who has a penchant for malcontents and knuckleheads. Haynesworth is likely to become a valuable contributor for the Patriots, even though they (like the Redskins) play the 3-4 defense he detests.
But Belichick will find a way to keep Haynesworth happy and extract the talent that made him a two-time Pro Bowler.
The fact that Haynesworth is playing for his next contract helps, too, another reason that Belichick's interest makes sense.
Neither Haynesworth nor McNabb could've shown up Friday without sapping the team's morale from the start. Shanahan long ago lost any credibility where those two are concerned, and keeping them around for even one day of camp would've further eroded his standing among the other players. Through his words and actions — shaming and disciplining Haynesworth, and shaming and benching McNabb — Shanahan forfeited any chance of restoring those relationships.
Thank goodness he didn't let his ego get in the way. There was talk that Shanahan might hold on if he didn't get what he wanted. He wasn't crazy about releasing Haynesworth for nothing, letting him "win" their battle of wills and sign wherever he pleased. Shanahan also didn't want McNabb walking away for free, knowing there'd be suitors in a quarterback-starved league.
If necessary, however, those would've been the right moves, to cut them and move on, with no compensation for the wasted money and draft picks.
I'd like to think Shanahan realized as much and was fully prepared to do so, essentially admit "defeat" in trying to make Haynesworth a nose tackle and McNabb the answer under center.
Shanahan still "lost" the battle, though he traded them instead of cutting them. But give him props for moving decisively and acquiring a couple of late-round draft picks for his troubles.
If New England and Minnesota prosper with the former Redskins, so be it. They're no longer Shanahan's problem or concern.
As much as it must hurt him to acknowledge failure, there's a lesson in the ordeal that could be a long-term benefit.
Shanahan still has to prove that he learned it.
But at least he aced the first test.
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