NEW ORLEANS | Mike Shanahan spent Tuesday morning in a plush hotel dining room answering questions as he nibbled on a bagel and sipped orange juice.
It is about as relaxed as you’ll see Shanahan, who has coached for almost 40 years. He would discuss almost any topic except the controversial ones such as whether Donovan McNabb will be the Redskins quarterback next year or whether Albert Haynesworth will ever start acting like an NFL player instead of a middle-schooler who had his lunch taken away.
Even if he wanted to discuss those topics, Shanahan has an excuse because of the NFL lockout, which prohibits coaches from having any contact with players or their agents. Shanahan hopes the lockout will be resolved by May so the Redskins don’t miss OTAs - an especially valuable time for a young team still trying to learn the intricacies of an offense that can take years to master.
“They understand the system a lot better than a year ago, and we understand a lot better what the players can do,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan was rejuvenated during his year off from football in 2009, when he spent some time visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers’ and New England Patriots’ training camps. He watched how two of the most successful teams over the past 15 years conducted their practices with a particular emphasis on the tempo and physicality of their teamwork.
Shanahan saw how the Patriots focused on end-of-game and two-minute situations, something that should be emphasized this year as the Redskins try to learn how to win close games. They lost six games by four points or fewer last year. Shanahan said he learned how his players responded in difficult situations.
“The good thing about it is you find out who can do what, and that is valuable information for the coaches,” Shanahan said. “Now we just need to win those games.”
Shanahan, who turns 59 in August, said this lockout is a lot different than the players’ strike in 1987 - the last work stoppage in the NFL - because that one happened during the season. Shanahan, who was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator at the time, said the strike didn’t affect him because the league only missed one game. He’s trying to take the same approach this time around
“We, as, coaches are still going from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, looking at the draft, looking at film from the season, still looking at all your cut-ups,” Shanahan said. “So that won’t change until the middle of May, when, possibly, we won’t have our OTAs. So from my standpoint, nothing has changed. Until the middle of May, nothing has changed.”
Shanahan said he didn’t miss the normal free-agent period in March - partly because this year’s class of 500 free agents would have made it an incredibly hectic period.
“The biggest part of free agency is evaluating your own players and seeing what you need,” Shanahan said. “With 500 free agents, you need to be pretty focused and have a plan.”
As for what that plan is, like everything else with the lockout, it remains anybody’s guess.